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Shading Systems for Energy Efficiency: Solar Heat Gain Control in Commercial Buildings

When the sun's rays hit windows, doors and other building components, solar energy turns into thermal energy. This produces heat, increasing the temperature of offices, warehouses and other commercial spaces. Significant increases in thermal energy, also known as solar heat gain, have a huge impact on occupant comfort and productivity.

If you've ever heard coworkers arguing over the temperature in your office, you know how important it is to minimize solar heat gain. Even if your job doesn't involve much physical activity, it's difficult to concentrate when you feel like you're working inside an oven. It's even worse for people who stock shelves, load trucks and perform other labor-intensive tasks.

Solar heat gain is also a significant problem for building owners and managers. The hotter it gets inside a commercial space, the more work the HVAC system has to do to keep occupants comfortable. Therefore, solar heat gain has the potential to drive up utility bills and waste precious resources.

Fortunately, energy-efficient shading systems help with solar heat gain control, increasing energy efficiency and making it easier to achieve your sustainability goals. Learn more about how to use these systems to enhance occupant comfort without wasting energy.

Enhancing Building Performance and Occupant Comfort Through Smart Shading

Architects, building owners and development managers face several challenges when it comes to minimizing solar heat gain. Sure, you could remove all the windows from a building, but occupants probably wouldn't appreciate having to work in a cave-like atmosphere all day. Additionally, exposure to natural light has been linked to several positive outcomes.

For example, researchers from Cornell University discovered that optimizing the natural light levels in an office reduces drowsiness by 56% and eyestrain by 51%. Exposure to natural light also prevents headaches and improves mood, making occupants more productive.

Room temperature also has a significant impact on productivity. It's difficult to focus if your teeth chatter or you're worried about sweating through your suit jacket. Plus, employee morale is likely to suffer if occupants are always fighting over the thermostat settings. Researchers from Berkeley Lab report that work performance starts to decrease once the temperature reaches about 73.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Role of Energy-Efficient Shading Systems

Energy-efficient shading systems offer a dynamic solution to these problems. High-performance glazing and other static solutions are effective for minimizing solar heat gain, but they can also lower the natural light coming into the building too much on a cloudy day, reducing occupant comfort and productivity. Energy-efficient shading systems improve building performance in the following ways:

  • Reduced HVAC load: Shading systems reduce solar energy transmission, minimizing heat gains in commercial spaces. As a result, HVAC efficiency is enhanced when systems don't have to work quite as hard to keep occupants comfortable.

  • Increased sustainability: Lowering your HVAC load also reduces your energy usage, making it easier to reach your sustainability goals. In one study, researchers determined that using an appropriate shading system reduced cooling hours by up to 4%.

  • LEED certification: Installing a solar shading system may help you qualify for LEED credits. For example, climate-based daylighting studies show how the shading system impacts Spatial Daylight Autonomy (sDA) and Annual Solar Exposure (ASE) to receive the Daylighting LEED Credit.

Advanced Shading Technologies: Automated and High-Performance Systems

With traditional shades, you have to get up and pull a cord every time you want to adjust the amount of sunlight in the room. Talk about disruptive! But what often happens is that most people never move manual shades at all, making the shades less effective than they could be. Instead, people are less productive because they are uncomfortable and unable to focus well.

Automated shading systems are different. They can be scheduled to self adjust at certain times of the day or react to the sun’s position using daylight sensors. There is often a local switch or remote nearby for override control.

Some systems even integrate with building management systems (BMS) for optimal performance. A BMS allows you to monitor and control the following electrical and mechanical components:

  • Heating

  • Ventilation

  • Air conditioning

  • Lights

  • Shades

  • Access control systems

  • Elevators

  • Pumping stations

  • Building power

Automated systems also give building occupants more control over their work environments. For example, if Glenda is always cold, she can keep the shades in front of her desk open and bask in the sun's glow. Tom, who runs hot and sits three desks away from Glenda, can close his shades during the day as he chooses. Instead of arguing about the temperature, they can focus on their work and maintain productive relationships.

Solar Shading Materials

If you decide to install an energy-efficient shading system, it's crucial to choose the right materials. You need to think about how the materials affect light, heat and sound to control glare and heat gain while maintaining exterior views.

Color is one of the most important considerations, as it has a significant impact on thermal performance. Think about what happens when you wear a black shirt on a sunny day instead of a white shirt. The black fabric absorbs more thermal energy, making you feel hot and sweaty instead of cool and comfortable. The same can be said if your desk is right up against a window that uses a dark shade. It offers great glare control and excellent views, but the fabric itself absorbs a lot of the solar energy and it can radiate back to you.

However, some manufacturers produce high-performance fabrics in darker colors, giving you the best of both worlds. Mermet KOOLBLACK is just one example. KOOLBLACK reflects heat instead of absorbing it, giving you more control over solar heat gains without forcing you to switch to all-white shades.

Another option is to choose metalized fabrics, which have a lower emissivity (low E). Low-E fabrics reflect heat away from the building, improving thermal performance.

Note that every decision has tradeoffs. White fabrics typically have better thermal performance, but they don't work as well for glare control. Dark fabrics do an excellent job of preventing glare, but they tend to absorb more heat.

Design Considerations for Maximum Efficiency

When designing a commercial space, it's essential to make design choices with efficiency in mind. One of your main priorities should be to introduce an adequate amount of natural light without reducing occupant comfort. Automated shading systems, exterior shades, awnings and other window coverings make it possible to help manage heat regulation in buildings while maximizing daylight.

Energy-efficient solar shading systems have many benefits, but they also affect the aesthetic appeal of commercial spaces. Therefore, it's critical to incorporate shading systems into the underlying design of a building. It's possible to find a system with just the right balance of form and function, increasing occupant comfort without sacrificing the desire to reduce energy usage.

The Role of Shading Systems in Sustainable Commercial Architecture

Shading systems are essential for minimizing solar heat gain without limiting the amount of natural light in offices, retail shops, hospitality settings and other commercial spaces. Fortunately, many sustainable designs now include these shading systems, so you don't have to go back and add them later.

If you need help integrating a shading system into your design plans, contact our Design-Assist team for guidance. We're here to help you benefit from a unique blend of design excellence and performance.