4 Lighting Concerns Often Overlooked in Sustainable Building Solutions

By Jeff Brain | August 17, 2015

Sustainable building solutions run the gamut from the outside of the structure with features like solar panels and super-insulated walls to the inside with low-energy fixtures and water-saving technologies. Because there are so many varied components that must be considered in sustainable design, it is best to take a holistic approach. However, even when an integrated team of architects, engineers, and builders work together to create a sustainable structure, there are a few lighting concerns that are often overlooked.

Being aware of these potential pitfalls can help designers and building owners avoid common mistakes and assumptions about how lighting design is related to sustainable building solutions.

Lighting Concerns with Sustainable Building Solutions

Because lighting is such an essential component of building use, operating expenses, and the occupant experience, it is important to consider how all of your lighting choices will impact the project. Think about the following potential lighting concerns as you explore sustainable building solutions:  

  1. Peak daylight hours - If you are planning to use skylights to provide natural light, it is important to remember that the type of skylight you select will have an impact on how much natural light is available throughout the day. On flat and low-pitched roofs with traditional skylights, the angle of the sun informs how much light is allowed to enter the structure. This means that in the early morning and late afternoon, there is typically not enough light to meet the occupants’ needs and they will need to turn on electric lights.

  2. Glare - When the sun is directly in front of a window or over a skylight, the intense light that enters the building can create undesirable glare. This can cause migraine headaches, which reduces employee efficiency, and often forces occupants to close the shades and turn on artifical lights to achieve the desired lighting level. 

  3. Thermal comfort - Direct sunlight through windows and skylights can also create solar heat gain, making the room too warm and prompting the air conditioner to work harder. This not only increases HVAC costs, but also impacts the comfort of the people inside. Heat loss through poorly insulated window and skylight openings can also make the room too cold in the winter.

  4. Occupant habits - Even the most sustainable building solutions can be thwarted by the occupants who use the space. When it comes to lighting, low-energy solutions are always a good idea, but when the lights do not get turned off at the end of the day, energy is wasted and electricity costs rise. Possible answers to this problem are to use sensors that automatically turn off when there is no activity in the space. An even more elegant method is to employ daylighting solutions that provide natural light all day long and do not consume any energy at all.  

One solution to all of these potential lighting concerns is solar tracking skylights. They use a sophisticated GPS tracking system to adjust mirrors throughout the day and harness as much sunlight as possible, maximizing your building’s range of peak daylight hours. Glare is prevented with the use of diffuser lenses that provide consistent natural light throughout the space. A thermal barrier limits heat gain and loss so occupants stay comfortable with no resulting rise in HVAC costs. With ten or more hours per day of natural light, occupants may not even need to use electric lights at all during the work day, reducing wasted energy.

If you are exploring sustainable building solutions, add Ciralight SunTrackers to your list of products to evaluate. Start with our Guide to Sustainable Lighting to learn more.

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