The Daylight Factor

Daylight is one of the most vital, natural elements in our daily life...

Daylight is one of the most vital, natural elements in our daily life. On the simplest level a clear blue sky lifts our spirits and energizes our day. But there’s a growing body of evidence that proves beyond doubt that bringing daylight into buildings – where we spend 90% of our time – significantly improves our health and wellbeing, makes us more productive and has a positive impact on the environment and business costs. Kingspan magazine shares some current thinking on the growing movement to create more holistically successful buildings

Workplaces with good daylight had up to 40% gain in productivity and sales; view quality and daylight explained a 6.5% variation in sick leave, while creativity in another study rose by 15% in spaces with natural elements such as greenery and sunlight.

It is estimated that today around 90% of a business’ operating costs are staff related, so it stands to reason that even the most modest intervention to enhance employee happiness, health and wellbeing will have a compounded positive effect; individuals feel better, businesses benefit – saving money among other things – and, guess what – the planet breaths a sigh of relief!

So what’s behind these super-positive claims about daylight?

First, let’s look at the people factor. Human beings are generally happy to work, rest and play, which, for most of us, means sleeping at night and finding a healthy mix of work and play during the day. Our brains function and respond to the stimulus of daylight; it helps regulate our circadian rhythms, boosts the effectiveness of vitamin D and helps the efficient development of serotonin and melatonin to positively affect our mental and physical health as well as contributing to a sense of happiness and wellbeing. It’s pretty clear then that daylight is fundamental for people to function well.

Translating this fundamental need for natural daylight into what it means for schools, hospitals, places of work, and recreational spaces there are some fascinating facts emerging. In an article entitled ‘Why natural light matters in the workplace,’ that appeared in Eco-Business earlier this year, wellness and sustainability expert, Ash Buchanan cited reports by the World Green Building Council, International Building Institute and Human Spaces, which bring together a wealth of academic research on how the presence of natural elements can promote health, wellbeing and productivity.

Of all the elements, daylight has been found to be the number one wanted natural feature in the workplace. When you dig deeper into the findings it is easy to see why. Interestingly, office workers with windows and natural light had on average 46mins more sleep per night than those who did not; workplaces with good daylight had a 3-40% gain in productivity and sales; view quality and daylight explained a 6.5% variation in sick leave, while creativity in another study rose by 15% in spaces with natural elements such as greenery and sunlight. And the hard financials of not getting things right are quite staggering: absenteeism in the US is costing private and public sector employers US$2074 and $2502 respectively per person, per annum, and in Australia the aggregated cost of ill-health and absenteeism is estimated at AU$7bn per year, while presenteeism (not fully functioning at work due to medical conditions) is costing AU$26bn.

And it is not just office and factory workers who are better off in environments with good availability of natural daylight; it accelerates recovery in hospitals; attendance, concentration and performance levels improve in schools; and it’s no accident that shopping centres and department stores are designing spaces with central roof lights and open, well lit areas that banish gloomy corners while rendering colours and merchan dise at their most vivid thereby creating a whole new sensorial shopping experience.

But there’s another side to all of this. Increasing environmental consciousness, new building regulations and the rising cost of energy bills are prompting a major attitude shift to the need for natural daylight in commercial and industrial buildings. The environmental impact of harnessing natural daylight is immediately clear. For a start, there’s the lower demand for electric lighting and saving on heating costs with reduced CO2 emissions as a result. More windows are not the only solution. By contrast, improvements in daylight materials and optical technologies mean that total roof area – are now even more effective at allowing light to flood into, and illuminate a space. Furthermore for building owners looking to maximise Solar PV, the higher performance rooflights can be used in lower ratios, thereby increasing the available roof space.

Smart thinkers will go one step further and look to holistically design a buildings lighting system by combining the benefits of daylight with smart LED lighting for a fully integrated solution that enhances occupancy comfort with reduced building energy costs.

Dr. Miguel Paya-Marin Ph.D., UK BREEAM AP and ACIAT member is Head of Sustainability Innovation Management at Kingspan Insulated Panels. He has been instrumental in the company’s innovative work on, and application of new generation roof light products. One of the latest, Zer0 Energy Lighting, is an intelligent system suitable for use in buildings of all kinds. Zer0 Energy Lighting combines roof lights, LED lighting with smart controls and photovoltaic technology in one single package. Miguel said: “Kingspan’s pursuit of 100% Net Zero Energy for our own facilities by 2020 has driven substantial investment into innovation, which helps us to continually bring exciting new solutions to our customers too. The whole area of lighting and solar capture is hugely important. I believe Zer0 Energy Lighting is the most cost-effective lighting solution available to businesses today, taking into account capital and lifetime costs, while also improving the wellbeing, safety and productivity of a building’s occupants and improving environmental performance. Kingspan is very much about envelope solutions and of course light is an important factor. These new products and the way in which we work seamlessly with designers, engineers and the construction team to calculate a bespoke package for each installation is what sets us apart and makes us a special partner.”