How Do Roller Blinds Work?

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Affordable, functional, and versatile, you'll find roller blinds in many different windows. The basic concept is simple: A piece of fabric gets rolled around a tube and mounted in or adjacent to your window frame. The fabric unwinds from the tube when you pull the blind closed and winds back around the tube when you open it. There are a few different ways to achieve this winding and unwinding, however, and the one you choose will affect the specifics of how you operate your window blinds.

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Roller blinds are pieces of fabric that are rolled around a hollow tube. This fabric winds on and off the tube as the blinds are opened and closed by either a pulley system or a spring-loaded mechanism. Sometimes, the roller is turned by a motor.

Over or Under?

When the fabric of the window shade comes off the roller, it can come off the front or back of the roll, just as it can with toilet paper. Usually, the fabric comes off the back of the blind, but there are a few scenarios where this isn't workable. If, for example, you have a large handle or crank at the bottom of the window, you will want the shade to roll off the front of the roller so it comes down in front of the crank rather than running into it.

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The Pulley System

Some roller blinds have a chain that hangs down from either the left or right side of the shade. This chain is the visible part of a mechanical pulley system. When you pull one side of the chain, the pulleys turn the tube at the top of the blind and unroll the fabric to lower the shade. When you pull the other side of the chain, the tube turns in the opposite direction, winding the fabric back onto the roller and opening the shade.

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Note that the chain pulley system on a roller blind does not work the same way as the cord on a Venetian blind. You must pull the cord on a Venetian blind to the left or the right before you adjust it, as this motion unlocks the mechanism and allows the cord to move. This is not the case on a roller blind. Always pull the chain on a roller blind straight down or the chain may jump out of its track and require repair.

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Spring Tension Roller Blinds

Cordless roller blinds are becoming increasingly popular because as their name suggests, they have no cord or chain. This makes for a cleaner aesthetic and may prove safer in homes with children and pets who may be tempted to play with the chain. You simply pull these blinds down, slowly stopping when the blind is in the desired position. To raise the blind, pull it down a short way using a quick motion and then hold it gently while it winds itself back into place around the roller tube.

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Although it's fun to tell your kids that these blinds are magical, the truth is that the mechanism that allows them to operate is hidden inside the roller tube. There is a coiled spring inside the tube held in place by a clutch. This clutch releases when you pull on the blind, allowing the spring to wind the blind up or down as needed. When you stop moving the blind, the clutch slides back in pace and holds the blind where you put it.

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Motorized Roller Blinds

If you're into tech gadgets, you're going to want to get yourself a motorized roller blind. Operated by remote control, these blinds contain a motor that turns the roller at the top of the blind for you, raising and lowering the shade as requested. These blinds are super cool, but they do come with a bit of a catch: The motor needs power to operate.

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One way to deliver this power is through batteries. You simply change the batteries in the motor when it starts to operate slowly or fails to respond to your commands. Some newer units feature rechargeable batteries that can last up to three months on a charge.

If you have an electrical outlet near your window, you can purchase blinds that plug into the wall. You won't have to worry about changing or charging batteries, but you may have to find a way to discreetly hide the cord depending on where it needs to run. You can also ask your electrician to hardwire your blind.

If you don't use your blinds often, you can upgrade to a solar-powered blind that will use sunlight to recharge the motor in your blinds. Solar blinds operate on a trickle charge, however, and may only have enough power to open and close your blinds once per day. You may also find them lacking on cloudy days.

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