What Options Are Available for Industrial & Commercial Skylights?

By Jeff Brain | March 02, 2015

The benefits of sustainable lighting are becoming more obvious as electricity costs rise and environmental awareness spreads. Unlike electric light fixtures, which account for 56% of the average company's electrical costs, skylights fill indoor spaces with cost-free, renewable sunlight.

Commercial skylights are more sustainable and cost-effective than any other commercial lighting option. Even highly efficient LED bulbs still require electricity. Learn how the following skylight options conserve energy.  

Passive Skylights

The following three skylights are considered "passive," because they do not have moving parts, and they rely solely on the sun's position to bring natural illumination through their panes.

1. Fixed and Ventilating Skylights

Fixed and ventilating skylights are the most basic passive commercial skylight option.

How they work

Both fixed and ventilating skylights follow the traditional window-in-the-roof design. The primary difference between the two being that while ventilating skylights can be opened to let in air, fixed skylights are sealed. Both have a stationary design, so the amount of light they receive depends on their position on the roof and the time of day.

Benefits

They require very few materials and man hours for the installation, so the initial cost is minimal. Ventilating options can also aerate spaces with heat-generating machinery.

Limitations

Fixed and ventilating skylights only work when the sun shines directly through them. Ventilation is limited by outdoor temperatures and wind conditions. Debris and condensation can also accumulate on flat surfaces.

2. Prismatic Skylights

Prismatic skylight options have an acrylic, polycarbonate, or polystyrene lens with ridged or rounded prism designs infused into the material. The prismatic design is meant to insulate the interior from direct heat and diffuse the sunlight in different angles and directions in the room.

How they work

The outer layer of a prismatic lens is infused with a ridged or rounded prism designs that allows it to push light down while diffusing the brightness of the sun as it moves across the sky.

Benefits

Unlike fixed or ventilating skylights, prismatic skylights reflect sunlight in multiple directions throughout the day. They also reduce glare which can harm the eyes and distract workers from performing tasks well. They do not provide outdoor views, as so they are perfect for industrial spaces with minimal aesthetic concerns.

Limitations

Each prismatic layer blocks some of the light that can enter the space below. Prismatic skylights are also, like fixed and ventilating skylights, dependent on the sun's relative location.

3. Tubular Skylights

Tubular skylights have highly-reflective cylindrical lightwells, capped above the roof and at the ceiling by transparent lenses.

How they work

The reflective interior of the lightwell reflects the incoming light downward and can bend light around ducts and other obstacles, potientially extending bright, natural light through attics or multiple stories.

Benefits

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) found that tubular skylights distribute light more evenly and efficiently than other passive options. Small openings and diffusing lenses help prevent heat gain and are ideal for small enclosed spaces.

Limitations

Condensation buildup is a concern when insulation does not prevent hot, cold, or humid air from seeping into the lightwell. In addition, these skylights are not optimally sized for commercial applications.

Active Skylights

Active skylights have moving parts which help maximize light flow and prevent temperature fluctuation in your facility.

1. Fiber Optic Systems

While they do not fit the traditional definition of a skylight, fiber optic cables can be used to transfer sunlight into indoor spaces.

How they work

Outdoor solar panels with multiple lenses collect sunlight, and then send it across a series of fiber optic solar cables to indoor light fixtures that spread the light through the room.

Benefits

Fiber optic options are ideal for rooms that share no walls or ceilings with outdoor spaces. They recreate the intensity and health benefits of natural sunlight without the need for direct access to the sun’s rays.

Limitations

Running cables through walls and ceilings is expensive and time-consuming. Fiber optic systems also require the use of solar panels, which depend on the amount and location of available sunlight.

2. Solar-Tracking Skylights

The Ciralight SunTracker is one example of a solar-tracking skylight that uses solar power and GPS technology to follow the sun through the sky, providing healthy, natural sunlight throughout the day.

How they work

A solar-powered GPS unit locates the current position of the sun, then a motor moves a set of mirrors so that the mirrors are in perfect alignment with the sun and can reflect the sun’s rays down into a lightwell towards the interior of a building. Finally, a diffuser lens distributes the light evenly throughout a space.

Benefits

While passive skylights create glare and light pooling, solar-tracking skylights reflect and diffuse direct sunlight, optimizing both comfort and brightness. Thanks to the GPS tracking system, sunlight is consistently available  for 10+ hours per day.

Limitations

Solar-tracking skylights do cost more than passive alternatives upfront, but they will provide the shortest payback period of all options.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), commercial buildings are responsible for 40 percent of the world's total energy consumption, energy waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Commercial skylights can lessen your contribution to this statistic, especially if you invest in an active daylighting option. Visit Ciralight’s website or contact our sales team today to learn more about Ciralight SunTrackers.

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