5 Reasons Architects Should Care About The Benefits of Natural Light

Posted in Construction & Architecture
5 Reasons Architects Should Care About The Benefits of Natural Light
By Tamir Horesh

Once considered ‘nice to have’ but non-essential, skylights are now being taken seriously in the construction sector. This is because bringing natural light into buildings is now recognised as having significant evidence-based benefits: both in human factors, such as wellbeing and workplace efficiency, and also in terms of energy in performance. As such, skylighting has been encouraged by building regulations in recent years, with polycarbonate solutions a growing option. Building regulations (Part L2A) recognise the contribution to energy saving and reduction in CO2 emissions offered by skylights.

1. Greater Energy Efficiency

It was once thought that skylights lost energy as a result of glazing, but the opposite is now the case: Skylights can actually help buildings to not only save energy, but to gain energy too. Firstly, they cut down the need for daytime lighting – an energy cost that can account for 40% of power consumption in commercial buildings.

Secondly, skylights allow passive solar gain. With sound architectural planning that takes in the orientation of skylights, and an understanding of energy performance ratings, they can help optimise energy usage. The cost is also lessened by greater value in skylight costs, particularly in less expensive polycarbonate solutions.

In addition, research shows that a rooflight area of 15-20% can contribute to an overall reduction in CO2 emissions in many buildings, illustrating that skylights also contribute to a greater environmental good.

2. Skylighting in Northern Climates

Maximising natural light in buildings is of particular interest in temperate countries such as the UK, where lower levels of natural illumination and higher cloud cover create the need to capture more light within buildings, particularly in winter months.

Skylighting is becoming increasingly more beneficial in all kinds of buildings — from retailers and residential developments to sports facilities and car parks — and its effects in functional spaces, such as offices and airports, can particularly help to optimise efficiency and well-being.

Warehouse (Mexico)

3. Skylights Bring Well-Being and Efficiency

Skylights have grown in popularity. This is partly because improved building technology has enabled their use, but also owing to their benefits being widely proven.

When you introduce light into offices, it increases morale and productivity. In schools, it can improve test results and student concentration. In hospitals, it can hasten recovery times. Meanwhile, in shops and stores, increased sky-lighting can be good for sales with an average of 5.5% increase over stores without natural lighting. 

These benefits may even carry over off-site: A study from the Interdepartmental Neuroscience programme at Northwestern University in Chicago showed that those who work in offices with daylight provision sleep better than those without. 

Because of these gains, many construction organisations advocate for increased skylighting, including the World Green Building Council and the International WELL Building Institute. In some cases, skylights may also offer the potential for ventilation, adding an extra benefit of natural light.

4. Benefits of Natural Light Are Acknowledged By Legislation

As the benefits of skylights have become more recognised, these advances are being increasingly reflected in legislation. They are seen to make a positive contribution with reference to the UK’s Building Regulations (Part L), which now recommends a minimum of 10% skylight area in commercial buildings, and a national standard of 20% skylight area. Also, skylights  are said to be up to three times more effective at supplying daylight than vertical windows.

5. Skylights are Easier to Install

All skylights have become easier to install, either in a new-build or in a retrofit of an older structure. Polycarbonate skylights in particular have gained in strength, performance and durability as technological improvements have been made. Although once known for showing scratches, they have now become tougher and easier to clean — as well as providing better insulation and lower U Values. There is a cost benefit over glass too, partly owing to the relative value of the materials, and also because polycarbonate skylights are generally lighter in weight and easier to fit.

There you have it: Five benefits of natural light to keep in mind before planning your next construction project. With daylight now recognised as helping to promote well-being and potential, as well providing benefits for energy usage, it is a good time to look at polycarbonate as a good value, high-performance and sustainable skylighting solution.