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Inviting Daylight: Efficient Daylighting Strategies with Window Shades

We all know how frustrating direct sunlight can be when it's shining right in your eyes. Maybe that sunbeam interrupted a great night's sleep in your hotel room while traveling, or possibly it's preventing you from finishing up an important presentation on your computer at work. Perhaps there’s so much sunlight pouring into your office that you’ve had to crank up the air conditioning over and over. Whatever the scenario may be, there's no question that sunlight affects our well-being, creativity and ability to focus.

Workers need to see what they're doing, but they also need to be comfortable to be productive. As a result, daylighting is one of the most important considerations in commercial building design. Daylighting is a balance between getting as much natural light as possible without creating too much glare of thermal heat gain.

The good news? Incorporating Contexture's shading solutions early in the design process can help you create a better experience for everyone. Here's what you need to know about daylight design with window shades.

The Vital Role of Shading in Daylight Management

Direct sunlight, diffused sunlight and reflected sunlight affect occupant comfort and productivity, making it critical that you incorporate appropriate shading into your building designs. For example, it's tough for employees to concentrate when there's a sunbeam streaming right into their face. Too much light also makes it difficult to see computer screens, preventing workers from writing emails, working with spreadsheets and completing other important tasks.

To make things even more complex, the amount of sunlight available changes throughout the day. One minute, it's bright as can be, and the next, you're switching on extra task lighting. Weather conditions, shadows cast from nearby buildings or trees, reflected light from bodies of water, the room location within a building and other factors all influence the amount of light available at any given time.

One of the best ways to manage these problems is to address shading issues in the design phase. Shades are often seen as afterthoughts, like furniture that interior designers will “pick out” later. A good shading system allows ambient light to enter the space without subjecting occupants to high levels of direct sunlight. Shades can be high performance products that have an impact on building performance, especially if you implement them in your initial design plans.

The Pitfalls of Neglecting Shading in Building Design

Reduced productivity from glare, higher energy bills from excess heat gain and privacy concerns are just a few of the potential consequences of viewing daylight management as an afterthought.

Reduced Productivity

In terms of productivity, think about how difficult it is to focus when you have to stop working to wipe the sweat from your brow or adjust your air conditioner. Now multiply that by 10, 100 or even 1,000 employees. If 100 workers lose 10 minutes of productivity per day due to comfort issues, that's more than 83 hours of lost work time each week. On a financial level, 83 lost hours per week at an average of $25 per hour translates to $2,075 — money that can be better spent on new equipment, better benefits or pay increases for loyal employees.

The amount of daylight in a commercial space also affects each occupant's mood and circadian rhythms. For example, the warm light of sunrise and sunset can be quite soothing. While the cool hues of daylight have been shown to increase alertness and reduce fatigue. If you don't incorporate shading considerations into the design process, building occupants may struggle to remain alert and produce high-quality work due to uncomfortable conditions from glare or excessive heat.

Higher Utility Bills

One of the many benefits of daylight design with window shades is that it gives building owners much more control over their utility expenses. Daylighting reduces the need for artificial lighting by allowing ample amounts of ambient light to enter an office or another commercial space. As a result, building occupants don't have to turn on as many overhead lights and lamps.

Solar shading devices also provide insulation, making it easier to maintain a consistent temperature. When the temperature stays steady, heaters and air conditioners don't kick on and off multiple times per hour. This is especially helpful when it's cold outside, as ambient light serves as a free heat source. Employees stay warm without fighting over the thermostat or leaving their desks to search for sweaters.

UV Damage

Ultraviolet wavelengths are so strong that they can penetrate building materials, causing damage to everything from furniture to artwork. For example, the furniture in a sunny atrium may fade quickly due to sun damage. Shades provide UV protection inversely to their woven openness (typically 1%, 3%, 5% or 10%, which is the amount of holes in the fabric). So a 3% openness fabric provides 97% UV protection from those shades. Keeping this in mind during the initial design process can help building owners mitigate replacement expenses.

Optimizing Natural Light With Advanced Shading Techniques

It's clear that daylighting has tangible benefits for building owners and their occupants. Here are just a few of the ways solar shading devices and other techniques can help maximize natural light while reducing heat and glare.

  • Shading devices: Shades, louvers, awnings and other shading devices reduce the amount of direct sunlight in a commercial space, reducing the temperature and helps mitigate glare.

  • Automated shading: Traditional shading devices must be opened or closed by hand. Because the amount of light available changes throughout the day, this can be a disruptive responsibility. Automated shading systems use motors and smart hubs to operate window treatments on a designated schedule or with a tablet or smartphone. Incorporating automated shading in a building plan makes it possible to achieve the right balance of natural light in the space throughout the day, mitigating harmful glare and optimizing the view outdoors.

  • Window treatments: Installing shades isn't the only way to reduce the temperature, prevent UV damage and promote glare control in daylighting. Curtains and valances may also help reduce the amount of direct sunlight in a commercial space. For example, room-darkening curtains are ideal for conference rooms, as they're capable of blocking out light that could make it hard to view presentations or work on a laptop during meetings.

  • Window films: Window films block the sun's heat, enhancing occupant comfort and reducing utility costs. One of the benefits of applying window film is that you can lower the temperature and prevent UV damage without blocking stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

Balancing Environmental Factors Through Strategic Shading

In a study led by researchers from the Energy Center of Wisconsin, lighting controls reduced operational costs by 22% overall. The biggest gains came from reduced lighting energy use, followed by a reduction in estimated demand charges and lower cooling energy requirements. If you overlook solar shading devices and other daylighting techniques early in the design process, it makes it more difficult to take advantage of these savings. In addition, they can look like a tacked on afterthought that does not integrate well with the aesthetic design of the space.

Using daylighting techniques also helps reduce the environmental impact of a company's operations. To deliver electricity, utility companies typically burn fossil fuels, a process that produces harmful emissions. Energy production also generates solid waste and uses large quantities of water. Strategic daylighting limits a company's carbon footprint by reducing energy demand, making it one of the best ways to achieve goals related to sustainability.

Future-Proofing Buildings With Smart Shading Solutions

Many people think of lighting in terms of aesthetics, but the amount of light in a commercial building affects everything from employee productivity to operational expenses. When you incorporate shading and other daylighting techniques into the design process, it's possible to reduce energy costs, limit the environmental impact of a firm's operations and prevent UV damage to furniture, electronics and other items.

Daylighting is also essential for keeping occupants comfortable. With the right solar shading devices, employees can focus better on their work, clients feel more at ease and visitors enjoy a more inviting space. Therefore, incorporating strategic daylighting options early on in your design process makes it possible to "future-proof" a commercial building and avoid costly changes at the end of a project build. This might even include pre-wiring for electricity, as it’s very easy to upgrade to motorized shade selections in a space if the wiring is already there.

Elevate Your Design With Contexture's Expertise

Discover more about incorporating daylighting into your initial building plans and how doing so can transform indoor environments for the benefit of human comfort and optimized performance. By prioritizing an ideal interior space as part of your design, you'll see increased alignment with goals for building performance and ROI.

Contexture's Design-Assist offers a distinct advantage to developers, architects and designers who seek to minimize the costly impact of specification errors and change orders. Design-Assist acts as an extension to your design team, making it easier to engage in HVAC, building envelope and interior design coordination. We leverage powerful data about solar gain and energy consumption to help you incorporate specifications that deliver on your performance-driven designs and the end-user experience.

Learn more about the proactive way we look at occupant comfort and the indoor experience.
Connect with the Design-Assist team at Contexture today.