Why True Integrated Lighting Can't Neglect "Natural" Aspects

By Jeff Brain | November 09, 2015

Integrated lighting design encompasses all aspects of illuminating a building, both inside and out. The goals of integrated lighting include minimizing energy costs, ensuring that spaces are neither over-lit nor under-lit, and employing technology to help seamlessly optimize lighting levels throughout the day.

In previous years, designers focused on elements of artificial lighting design that the building occupant could control manually, such as dimmers and lighting zones, which allow people to increase or decrease lighting levels as needed. Although these technologies are still in play, the introduction of new automated systems with sensors and timers, and the ability to remotely control lights from any location, are now an important part of many integrated lighting strategies.

Although all of these methods and tools are essential components of many modern-day integrated lighting strategies, one that is too often overlooked is the incorporation of natural light. One potential reason for this is that occupants typically do not have control over natural lighting solutions like windows and skylights. Because they cannot turn a skylight on or off, they do not get the physical satisfaction that comes with turning lights off when leaving a room and knowing that this simple act will help reduce energy consumption. Building owners also express concern over the perceived higher cost of daylighting solutions. However, as automated systems become more the norm, including daylighting into an integrated lighting plan should follow suit.

Why Integrated Lighting Must Include Natural Solutions

As an architect, it is up to you to provide the best possible building design, including a comprehensive lighting strategy. However, every design professional knows that there must be compromises because of budget constraints. Additionally, convincing owners to make upfront investments that will lower the lifetime energy costs of the building can be a major challenge. This is particularly true for daylighting solutions that might increase construction costs but will deliver a return on investment in multiple ways, both financially and through intangible benefits.

Some of the reasons that integrated lighting should absolutely include daylighting solutions are as follows:

  • Energy efficiency - One of the primary reasons that building owners want an integrated lighting solution is to reduce operational costs with minimal effort. Sensors that turn off lights in unoccupied rooms and timers that trigger lighting changes at certain points in the day are valuable energy-saving techniques, but nothing beats the free light from the sun. Including active skylights in a building design can reduce energy consumption by up to 80% and many building owners can achieve a return on investment in just a few years. The ongoing savings will continue for the life of the building.
  • Predictability - Energy costs will likely continue to increase over time, but sunlight will always be free. Using solar-powered active skylights that track the sun for maximum daylighting will continue to deliver the same amount of light (up to ten hours a day) as electric lights--but for the monthly cost of zero dollars.
  • Light quality - Although great strides have been made in light bulb technology, no technology compares to natural light. Improvements in productivity and worker satisfaction have been reported by companies that use daylighting, and stores that have skylights claim higher sales than those that do not.  

When it comes to natural lighting as part of an integrated lighting strategy, the numbers speak for themselves. Combining active skylights with sensors and energy efficient light bulbs is an excellent way to reduce energy costs and maximize natural light while seamlessly delivering sufficient light levels throughout the day. If you want to learn more about daylighting solutions, contact us today.

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