Many commercial builders have increasingly embraced the concept that natural lighting is not only more effective than artificial, electrically generated light; it is also much more energy efficient, economically friendly and cost effective. Now, business owners are finding that the same benefits can apply when a professional-quality daylighting system is installed in a business, whether the building is retail or office space, a warehouse, research facility, or manufacturing area.
Economic Benefits of Daylighting
With today’s skyrocketing utility costs, one of the greatest benefits of natural lighting is that, outside of the initial costs of installing the panels, it’s free, which can represent a savings of tens of thousands of dollars a year for a large business. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an average-sized grocery store can save as much as $16,000 a year in lighting bills, while a school can save nearly $7,500 annually. Likewise, industrial buildings can save approximately 12 cents per square foot. Overall, the Department of Energy estimates that, by installing effective skylights and panels, a business can cut its usage of traditional artificial lighting by as much as 80 percent, resulting in a substantially lower monthly utility bill.
Long known as an excellent building material in Europe and other parts of the world for utilizing daylight in multiple types of structures is cellular polycarbonate. A one inch-thick panel of insulated glass is exponentially heavier than its polycarbonate counterpart and does not offer the high thermal values provided by cellular polycarbonate. Lightweight and translucent, cellular polycarbonate often requires lower expenditures on framing and installation of the building’s structure as a whole.
Other economic advantages can be found in the many rebates that are now available to energy-compliant businesses. Depending on where you live and how much natural lighting you’re able to implement, you may be eligible for a wealth of financially lucrative rebates and even tax breaks, thanks to the federally funded LEED point program, as well as other sources of funding from both the local and federal government. Cellular polycarbonate and aluminum framing are both 100 percent recyclable and LEED credit friendly.
Health and Environmental Benefits of Daylighting
According to a variety of recent studies, daylighting can be significantly healthier for workplace employees. This is because natural sunlight provides a brighter, more efficient light with less glare than artificial interior lighting. This can result in less worker fatigue and eyestrain and, ultimately, higher productivity as well. According to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, employees working in buildings with natural light not only had fewer incidences of vision fatigue; they also had higher energy levels than employees working in buildings with traditional artificial lighting. Plus, the exposure to natural daylight creates a healthier atmosphere for workers, resulting in less stress during the day, as well as healthier, more restful sleeping patterns at night.
In July of 2002 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a literature review discussing the effects of daylighting on building occupants. The effects on office workers were such that workers performed better on tests of attention and alertness. Over the years, many companies, including Lockheed Martin, VeriFone, West Bend Mutual Insurance, Pennsylvania Power and Light and the Reno Post Office have seen worker productivity increase by as much as 15 percent, and in turn helped not only in savings, but gave these companies an edge over their competition. Some of the companies mentioned above even noted a lower rate of absenteeism among their workers. A study published by Carnegie Mellon University in 2004 cites 22-60 percent overall energy savings, 35-65 percent lighting energy savings and 0.45-40 percent productivity gains for ROI over 185 percent.
As for environmental advantages, natural lighting leaves little or no carbon footprint. In fact, installing a daylighting system is one of the most environmentally-friendly things that a business can do especially if the system consists of Energy Star and LEED-certified materials.
The Best Daylighting Systems for Businesses
A good daylighting system will utilize a variety of ways to harness, and optimize, natural sunlight. In addition to installing windows and skylights in peak areas, a top-notch daylighting system will also be constructed from the most effective state-of-the-art materials.
A reputable manufacturer will design a system using lightweight polycarbonate materials that are engineered for high performance. This means incorporating features such as low friction gaskets to reduce noise caused by expansion and contraction, and using controlled gasket pressure. In the design and installation of these systems, even the clips used to attach each panel are important to performance. They’ll also be constructed to optimally diffuse sunlight, thus mitigating solar glare. In addition, a reputable company will use 100 percent recyclable panels, as well as LEED-certified aluminum framing.
Whether you decide to implement natural daylighting throughout your building, or only in certain pivotal, high-performance areas, it’s important to choose a designer/manufacturer that will use only the best, most environmentally sustainable materials. By talking to a firm that offers engineering expertise, you’ll be able to find out the best way to maximize both economic and ecologic benefits of installing a natural daylighting system in your business or commercial property.
Article submitted by Connie Capiotis, Director of Marketing at EXTECH/Exterior Technologies Inc. a manufacturer and engineer of daylighting systems including translucent walls, windows, canopies and custom facades.