How to Compare Different Types of Industrial Skylights

By Jeff Brain | June 02, 2015

Operating expenses will always be part of the cost of doing business, but the more you can reduce them, the better your bottom line will be. One of the best ways to reduce facility costs is to implement energy-saving solutions that provide ongoing savings. For example, industrial skylights provide natural light all year long and help reduce monthly utility costs at the same time.

Like any other product you purchase, it is worth the time and effort to do some comparison shopping. Because industrial skylights are a long-term investment, it is important to consider a broad range of factors, including savings in energy costs and the expected duration of time before receiving a return on your investment. It is also worth comparing the light levels and quality, as well as the solar heat gain and the potential heat loss of each skylight option.

Comparing Industrial Skylights  

As you research the various options for industrial skylights, you will discover that they fall into a few different categories, each of which has pros and cons. When analyzing the differences between traditional, tubular, prismatic, and solar-tracking skylights, consider the following factors.

Whole Purchase Cost

One of the benefits of traditional skylights is their relatively low cost. However, low upfront cost does not necessarily reflect long-term savings. Traditional skylights do not diffuse light broadly throughout industrial spaces, so many units must be purchased in order to reach proper light levels. Similarly, tubular skylights are affordable, but large, industrial buildings require a very high quantity of tubular skylights since this skylight option illuminates only a small amount of square footage. The high number of units renders the purchase very costly. Prismatic and solar-tracking skylights are better choices for large, industrial spaces, because they diffuse the light evenly and broadly and require fewer units per square foot than traditional and tubular skylights.

Installation Cost

Installation costs depend on many factors such as the type of skylight, the size, the number of units required to reach your natural daylighting goals, and the cost of structural changes made to the roof or trusses as well as re-wiring of electric wires below the roof. Skylight systems require the addition of a curb and flashing, which also adds to the cost. Plus, the cost of light tubes and light wells grows as their length from roof to ceiling grows, too.

Efficient Use Of Natural Light

When the sun is low on the horizon, traditional, prismatic, and tubular skylights provide less natural light than when the sun is directly overhead. And when the sky is cloudy, these skylight options do not transfer much light indoors. In contrast, solar tracking skylights use solar powered GPS technology and mirrors to bring daylight indoors from sunrise to sunset, lasting for 10+ hours a day. They even collect light on cloudy days, so there is no loss of natural light when the sun is hidden behind the clouds, although on very dark and cloudy days, the light levels will be diminished.

Heat Gain and Loss

Because you cannot control the intensity of light that comes through a traditional skylight, direct sunlight creates hot spots and can cause the indoor temperature to rise, forcing air conditioning systems to run longer and increasing energy costs. In colder months, skylights can also serve as a source of heat loss, which increases heating costs. Prismatic skylights are like traditional skylights in this respect, because they are similarly rated to have high heat gain and loss. Tubular skylights provide better insulation and have relatively low heat gain and loss. Solar tracking skylights prevent heat gain and loss due to being designed like a dual-paned window.

Return on Investment

All of the factors listed above play a role in determining a skylight system’s return on investment. It is important to remember that the most efficient skylight systems might be worth a higher upfront cost, but then will return the investment in a shorter period of time. Passive lighting options like prismatic and tubular skylights deliver an ROI of 15 years or more. This might seem like an acceptable number when you are planning for long-term use, but when you compare it to the 2.5-4 year ROI of solar tracking lights, it suddenly seems like a very long time.

Daylighting technology has come a long way in recent years, so make sure you explore all of your options before you buy. After you have narrowed your choices down to a few, compare the amount of natural light that is distributed throughout the day, the solar heat gain and loss, whole purchase and installation costs, and the estimated ROI.

Ciralight SunTrackers are solar-tracking skylights that provide the benefits of natural light for 10+ hours a day while minimizing solar heat gain and loss. They offer the shortest return on your investment by significantly reducing the use of both electric lighting and HVAC systems. To learn more about how you can save money in your industrial facility with Ciralight SunTrackers, visit our website or contact us today.

Download A Buyer's Guide to Evaluating Industrial Lighting Products


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