Effective daylighting solutions and designs bring natural light deep into the interior of commercial buildings creating brighter, healthier spaces for occupants. Thoughtful daylighting strategies save energy by reducing the need for artificial lighting during daytime hours. It can also help heat buildings during the day in cooler environments or warm thermal mass to heat a building throughout the night.

What is required for daylighting in buildings?

Successful daylighting relies on several critical factors, including:

  • Building orientation: Maximizing natural light exposure requires a building aligned with the sun’s path.
  • Window placement: Strategically place windows, considering size and location, so that ample daylight reaches occupied spaces.
  • Shading devices: Incorporate shading devices like blinds and louvers to control sunlight intensity and glare.
  • Interior layout: Create open floor plans and use reflective surfaces to spread daylight to darker areas.
  • Materials and finishes: Select light-colored materials and finishes to reflect and distribute natural light.
  • Dynamic control systems: Integrate automated systems to adjust artificial lighting and shadings based on current daylighting.

The impact of daylight on occupants in commercial buildings

Natural light offers a wide range of significant benefits for building occupants. These benefits include:

  • Increased productivity: Daylight boosts occupant performance, concentration, and learning. Workers in daylight environments make fewer errors and work faster. They also tend to miss fewer days of work.
  • Improved well-being: Exposure to natural light regulates circadian rhythms and reduces eyestrain. This enhances occupant mood, comfort, and alertness while decreasing fatigue and symptoms of depression.

Improving real estate energy efficiency with daylighting

Thoughtful daylighting design strategies can improve real estate energy efficiency by reducing the need for artificial lighting. With artificial lighting accounting for roughly 48% of a commercial building’s total energy consumption, daylighting can minimize these expenses by offering free natural illumination of spaces.

In colder climates, appropriate daylighting also reduces the use of energy-intensive heating systems. When appropriately designed, large south-facing windows allow solar heat to naturally enter a building and warm interior spaces.

For developers and owners, embracing daylight’s potential represents an excellent opportunity to create highly energy-efficient, sustainable buildings that reduce long-term costs. It can also help developers and owners meet the criteria for ESG green buildings.

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What are some real-world examples?

A few real-world examples of commercial buildings that successfully use daylighting solutions and designs to optimize building operations include:

  • The New York Times Building uses ceramic rods on the south façade to provide shade while allowing daylight into office floors. It also incorporates automated interior roller shades to prevent glare.
  • Singapore’s School of Art, Design, and Media uses skylights, light shelves, and glass interior partitions to fill the space with natural light—the daylighting design incorporated exterior perforated metal screens to manage direct sun exposure and glare.
  • Denver’s Art Museum has a grid of protruding skylights that mimic mountain peaks. This unique and aesthetically pleasing design allows skylights to slope toward the building’s north side, evenly distributing diffused daylight throughout exhibit floors.
  • Apple Park’s Visitor Center gives a visual appearance of a floating carbon fiber roof that allows abundant daylight to enter below the roof through the minimal steel supports. It also uses wooden surfaces inside the building to create warmth while reflecting sunlight.

What is the best building orientation for daylighting?

To maximize helpful daylight hours, orient the building façade within 30 degrees geographically south. This captures balanced daylight throughout the entire day. East- and west-facing façades receive intense morning/afternoon sun but less sunlight overall. North-facing orientations collect low, indirect light. So, you can use these orientations to optimize lighting based on the space’s intended use.

Are there any disadvantages when bringing daylight into a building?

While the benefits certainly outweigh the disadvantages, bringing daylight into a building can come with a few drawbacks, such as:

  • Glare: Direct sun can cause visual discomfort without proper shading elements. You can minimize glare with exterior screens, interior drapes/shades, and smart glass.
  • Heat gain: Although an advantage in some environments, daylighting in hotter environments can increase HVAC loads. High-performance glazing, shading, and small window-to-wall ratios can help minimize solar heat gain for these hotter climates.
  • Variability: Daylight levels fluctuate with weather and time of day. This delivers inconsistent lighting to interior spaces, even with well-thought-out daylighting designs. Dimmable artificial lights can compensate for this variability in lighting.

Realizing the potential of a building with daylighting design

Commercial real estate can use daylighting design principles to realize significant benefits. A few key benefits of using daylighting design in commercial buildings include:

  • Increased asset value: Daylit buildings garner higher rents and occupancy rates with faster lease-up. Tenants are drawn to quality spaces with abundant natural light and views. This increases asset value as it reduces downtime between tenants.
  • Higher resale potential: Daylighting adds long-term value. It’s an amenity new owners seek as it keeps buildings competitive in today’s environmentally-conscious landscape.
  • Reduced churn: Quality spaces keep tenants renewing leases. This avoids costly downtime and renovations between occupants.
  • Marketing appeal: Incorporating natural light into commercial buildings showcases leadership in sustainability and human-centric design. Owners and property managers can use this as a marketable amenity for attracting tenants.
  • Cost savings: While adding some initial costs, excellent daylighting pays off exponentially in energy savings over a building’s lifespan.

Daylighting design strategies elevate commercial architecture to be healthy, sustainable, and responsive to human needs. When thoughtfully implemented, daylight realizes the full potential of any building while creating interior environments people love.

What difference does it make in commercial real estate?

Daylighting unlocks a building’s full potential by creating bright, inviting spaces that benefit occupants and the environment. To fully realize these benefits, artificial lighting, and HVAC systems must dynamically collaborate with daylighting conditions.

ProptechOS integrates these systems into one seamless platform that automatically adjusts lighting and climate controls based on available natural light. You can try ProptechOS for free today to see how integrating your building systems, data, and software into a single platform can enhance your building operations.

Dr. Erik Wallin

Chief Ecosystem Officer, and founder of ProptechOS and RealEstateCore is recognized as a leader in Building Operating Systems (BOS) and making the buildings of the world smarter. He holds an MSc and a Ph.D. in Media and Computer Science from KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Read his full bio and information here.