A sharp contrast to the Rollamatic, the Eclipse Opening Roof system is so unusual, in familiar terms it can best be described as a collection of giant Venetian blinds that have overtaken the ceiling. As peculiar as that image may seem, the Eclipse nonetheless dovetails nicely with the lines of the Eichler design. Its makeup is simple, thin, and lightweight; and its repeating rows of louvers offset the overhead beams, occasionally throwing long rays of patterned sunlight onto the walls and floor below.
The Eclipse system originated in Australia in 1985. Its design has evolved since then, and so has the company, which set up a U.S. wing in the mid-1990s in Modesto which has resettled in Gilbert, Arizona. There are now more than a dozen dealers in the western United States under the extended monikers, Eclipse Opening Roof USA and Eclipse America. The American branch draws 80 percent of its business from the residential market, mainly through home improvement shows.
Despite a low profile, Eclipse caught the eye of Sunset magazine in the late 1990s, and a feature article led to a flurry of inquiries from curious Eichler owners. What likely impressed those callers was the amount of light and rain control the Eclipse roof offered, and how its S-shaped aluminum louvers—five inches wide and up to 12 feet in length—are powered only by a small, quiet motor tied to a 12-volt solar-charged battery.
"With other kinds of systems," noted Eclipse USA president Wally Eagle, "the roof is either opened or closed. And in the middle of a hot day, when the homeowner is looking for shade, the shade just isn't there. The Eclipse is totally adjustable, so now they can follow the sun throughout the day, and allow in as much sunshine and shade as desired. "Then with a flick of a switch, the louvers can be interlocked, and become completely waterproof. Imagine the rain falling down on those louvers, and they're fully locked together to the point that even a high-pressure fire hose couldn't get in between them."
For a few hundred dollars, Eclipse will add a rain sensor, set to automatically lock the louvers when showers are near. When those slightly pitched louvers are closed, according to Eagle, the collected rain drains over the louvers and into nearby gutters, an integral part of each Eclipse installation. While Eagle's Eichler systems to date have been limited to horizontal installations, he feels comfortable with approaching any Eichler atrium and courtyard configuration, even those attached to A-frame roofs. "We do a lot of pitched-designed installations with other homes," Eagle said. "Our product can even stand straight up vertically, an angle that serves as an ideal wind block."
The Eclipse Opening Roof is available in a myriad of colors, though Eagle recommends beige and white for maximum light reflection. Eclipse offers a five-year unconditional warranty on its louvers' powder coating, a one-year on motor operation.
Eventually our search led us to Royalite Manufacturing, Inc., a San Carlos-based company of 12 years which, according to company owners Jack Engdahl and Bob Amarillas, produces approximately 1,000 tailor-made skylights each month. The company also produces custom atrium coverings, both stationary and retractable, which seem to complement the spirit of the Eichler architecture. Royalite has several Eichler installations to its credit, including one of its latest, a beautiful glass dome incorporating a "ridge" design in Foster City. That's where we met the colorful Engdahl for the first time.
Neither Jack, nor the owner of the Foster City Eichler, needed to be convinced that Eichler owners have many reasons to cover their atriums. First-hand experience is the best teacher. But they must have been wondering about our needs, as Engdahl cut to the chase with an essential query: "What do you want to gain from covering your atrium?" His simple question had a centering effect, dislodging essential truths, and we answered as though reciting the Lord's Prayer.
"We want our atrium to gain usability as an interior room," we said with great certainty, "and increase protection from natural elements while retaining the light and feel of openness." That was only part of it. We also wanted to gain some passive solar collection in the winter, and protection from the sun and heat in the summer. And adequate venting was important, to eliminate condensation associated with interior house plants. And lastly, we were looking to boost our property value by expanding the interior square footage. "I can tell you've been thinking about this for along time," Jack responded sardonically. He also seemed sure that he could customize a dome to fit our special needs.