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Eliminating Distractions: Optimal Glare Control With Window Shades

The future is bright, but that doesn't mean employees should have to squint or put on shades to get through the workday. Whether you're designing a new office building or making major upgrades, glare control is one of the most important considerations. After all, if you're constantly squinting or adjusting your computer monitor, you're wasting time that could be better spent on work-related activities. Too much glare also increases the risk of eyestrain.

Fortunately, commercial solar shades make it easy to manage the amount of natural light in any office space. Discover how using these shades can help you create comfortable, productive work environments.

Understanding Glare and Its Impact in Workspaces

Whether you're a principal architect or a development manager, few topics are as important as glare control in office buildings. In general terms, glare refers to an "uncomfortably bright light." When discussing building design, however, there are two types of glare you should know about. The first relates to contrast light levels, while the second relates to direct sun angles.

Contrast Glare

Contrast refers to a range of brightness, from pure black all the way to pure white. Although many people think that glare comes from extremely bright light, contrast glare is all about the contrast ratio of the light in a commercial space. For example, a tiny office with a single window may have more contrast glare than a large conference room with floor-to-ceiling windows. It all depends on the size of the space and how natural daylight and lighting devices interact.

When you're looking at an area with lower light levels, your pupils dilate, making it easier to see. If you look toward an area with higher light levels, your pupils need a few seconds to adjust. In the meantime, light floods into your eye, causing momentary discomfort. The more often your pupil has to adjust, the more likely you are to develop eyestrain.

Direct Sun Angles

Direct sun angles come from the glowing orb of the sun in your field of vision. If you're sitting at your computer, not only do you have to worry about the sun reflecting off the screen, but you also have to think about how much of the sun you can see in your peripheral vision. Too much glare makes it difficult to see what's in front of you, which is why it's so detrimental to employee productivity.

The Perception of Glare

One reason it's so difficult to control glare is because everyone perceives it differently. No two people have exactly the same characteristics, so one person may experience way more discomfort when exposed to glare than another person in the same office. These factors also influence the way a person perceives glare:

  • Age

  • Dark eyes vs. light-colored eyes

  • Use of glasses or contact lenses

  • Vision problems

  • Distance from light source

  • Angle of view

Emerging Technologies in Glare Control

Fortunately, solar shading devices are more advanced than ever, making it easier to control the amount of light entering offices, conference rooms and other commercial spaces. Even better, energy-efficient window treatments control glare and increase occupant comfort while reducing utility costs, making them a wise investment for building owners and managers.

Furthermore, architects and designers who perform a thorough analysis of the interior spaces, environmental data and external factors can identify potential issues and proactively address them early in the design process. Doing so ultimately reduces the likelihood of costly changes or revisions during construction.

Due to advances in daylight modeling, such as those available through Contexture's Design-Assist team, stakeholders can visualize how window shades impact the distribution of natural light within a space. It also provides a better feel for how that contributes to comfortable, healthier indoor environments and more productive workspaces.

The Role of Solar Shades in Enhancing Office Comfort

Interior glare control devices reduce glare without forcing employees to spend their time in dark, depressing work environments. Additionally, each device allows you to achieve just the right balance between light management and exterior visibility. The end result is that employees get to enjoy trees, grass, sunshine and blue skies without suffering from glare-related eye strain.

Commercial Solar Shades

Installing fabric shades is one of the easiest ways to control the amount of natural light in a commercial space. Certain fabrics block visible light and absorb heat, reducing glare and making it easier to control the temperature in an office building or commercial space. Best of all, you don't have to cover the entire window to benefit from using fabric shades, ensuring that employees, clients and visitors get to maintain a connection to the outside world.

Blackout shades are an option, but they block out all natural light, forcing building occupants to rely on interior light sources.

Light Shelves

You could also consider pairing light shelves with shading devices as part of your daylighting strategy, which is the process of using natural light to reduce energy usage. Light shelves are horizontal surfaces used to reflect light, making them ideal for reducing contrast glare. If natural light doesn't reach every corner of a room, you can easily install light shelves to brighten up those dark spaces.

Openness and Color

If you decide to use fabric shades, pay close attention to the openness of each fabric. Typical openness levels are 1%, 3%, 5% and 10%. Generally, 1% and 3% fabrics are ideal for indoor use, as they do the best job of controlling glare. Fabrics with a 10% openness level should be reserved for exterior applications. Although many building owners request fabrics with 5% openness, they quickly realize that 5% fabric isn't effective for reducing glare. Paying to replace shades with a lower openness due to occupants complaints is costly.

Finally, don't forget to think about the color of shades and other energy-efficient window treatments. It's common for commercial spaces to have white shades to match interior aestetics, but white increases the brightness of the room, which may have a dramatic impact on the amount of glare present.

For example, a 3% fabric in white has a visible light transmission of 13%, while the same 3% fabric in black has a visible light transmission of only 4%. The lower the transmission, the more of an effect a fabric has on the ability to control interior light levels.

Light-colored fabric is great for privacy, but dark-colored fabric enhances the view, much like you're putting on a pair of sunglasses. Here's why: The available light hits the light colored-fabric and bounces back to your eye, forcing your eye to look at the fabric, providing reduced view through and therefore privacy. Your eye is trained to look for light, so it focuses on people, buildings and trees in the distance. This causes you to look through a dark-colored fabric instead of at the fabric, prompting your mind to ignore the dark voids.

Integrating Solar Shades Into Smart Building Design

Smart buildings use Building Management Systems (BMS) to optimize lighting, security and HVAC functions and align the different systems to work together. For example, when shades go up, the interior light fixtures are turned down because there is ample light. When shades go down, the HVAC system does not have to work as hard. Automated shades that are tied into a building management system can actively respond to everchanging sun angles and weather conditions. On a cloudy day, the BMS reads the daylight sensors and keeps the shades up to maximize the amount of available natural light.

Manual shades are less expensive, but most workers don't want to get up to adjust them every time the angle of the sun changes or face scrutiny from coworkers in a large open-office layout. As a result, they may grimace and squint their way through the day instead of using manual shades as intended. Therefore, it's better to install automated shades with integrated daylighting sensors.

These sensors allow a shading system to track the sun's movement and maintain a desirable amount of light penetration at all times. Daylighting sensors also react to weather changes, allowing in more light when it's overcast and less light when it's sunny without a cloud in the sky. Integrating automated shades into smart building design eliminates the need to submit multiple change orders later on, reducing construction costs without sacrificing occupant comfort.

A Brighter Future: Embracing Advanced Glare Control Solutions

Modern glare control solutions increase comfort, reduce energy usage and help employees avoid the physical and psychological effects of glare in the workplace. To maximize these benefits, it's important to incorporate shading solutions early in the design process. Contact Contexture to find out how the Design-Assist team can help you make sure the final product aligns seamlessly with your design vision.