Rethinking the Commercial Skylight: The New Technology You Need to See

By Torrin Greathouse | January 07, 2016

With climate change reaching new heights, many inventors and developers are rethinking old technologies in order to create new ones that reduce carbon emissions. One technology significantly aids in the prevention of climate change: commercial skylights.

For years there have been certain issues, such as excessive heat loss, light pooling, and glare, which are commonly associated with skylights and have created a stigma about using them to light a facility. Most of these, however, are myths based on the problems of outdated, traditional skylights. Because of this, new technologies must overcome not only the technical limitations of older skylight designs, but also the myths that stigmatize their current reputation.

Technical Limitations

There are a few key issues with outdated commercial skylight technology, which cause them to increase utility costs and lower energy efficiency:

Heat Gain & Loss

Two rating systems used by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) measure heat gain and loss caused by skylights or other daylighting technologies: solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) and U-Value. The first measures how solar radiation affects indoor temperature, while the second is a measure of how easily heat can escape your building envelope. The average skylight has an SHGC of .55 and U-Value of .76, which means the indoor temperature can fluctuate by as much as 50%, putting an unnecessary strain on your HVAC system.

Weather Resistance

Outdated skylights tend to waste energy because they lack proper weatherproofing. Leaking brings in moisture and leads to the development of mold, which can ruin skylights and damage the roof structure around them. Similarly, in the winter, ice dams can form below skylights, which wears down the roofing and contributes to an increased heating bills.

Roof Area Requirements

Outdated skylights robbed buildings of their efficiency, because they required a large amount of roof space. According to the NFRC the average commercial skylight system takes between 7-10% of your building’s roof space to provide adequate lighting. It is important to reduce this number because it subtracts from the space that can be used for other sustainability measures like solar panels or solar thermal arrays. More holes in a building’s roof also means more opportunities for both air and water leakage.

Inefficient Passive Design

Skylights also light in an inefficient and inconsistent manner. They provide light only during peak hours, and they often create glare and light pooling when providing light at all.

The Solution

Logically, the solution is a design which eliminates these four issues; that minimizes heat gain and loss, is properly weather-proofed, uses minimal roof space, and utilizes an efficient, active design. What you may not realize, is that skylights like this are already on the market. Solar tracking skylights are a new, advanced form of commercial skylight which combines solar power and GPS technology to provide light for 10+ hours per day with zero energy cost. This is because the system tracks the sun across the sky, reflecting its light down into your facility with an array of mirrors. This free lighting, as well as their superior protection from heat gain and loss, can reduce lighting and HVAC costs by as much as 80%. Not only that, but top-rated solar tracking skylights use as little as 1% of a building’s roof space and are certified for their weather resistance capabilities.

To see more about how solar tracking skylights compare to other daylighting solutions check out our eBook A Guide to Selecting the Best Skylight Solution for Commercial Buildings.


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