FMJ - May/June 2017

Working on Sunshine

Bob Ford 2017-05-11 17:35:17

harnessing the power of daylight While warmer weather has well and truly arrived in many places around the world, research suggests life is not always sweet on the sunny side of the street…especially if you’re stuck in a windowless office, or battling with glare while attempting to hit a deadline. We don’t need science to tell us that sunlight, in moderation, is beneficial. Many people feel better on a sunny, rather than a dull, day. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s review of the effects of natural light on building occupants showed that it reduces the effects of seasonal affective disorder, increases visual clarity and color perception, boosts vitamin D absorption and stimulates the pineal gland, which helps to increase mental alertness, improves mood and regulates sleep patterns. Without access to daylight, the human body-clock becomes disrupted. It needs recalibration every day, and unless we receive adequate daylight, human beings become stressed and agitated. Any disruption to this circadian rhythm has negative consequences for our health, happiness and well-being — not to mention our ability to perform at work. The WELL Building Standard has daylighting at its core, with a focus on circadian lighting design. So too does Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the most widely used third-party verification for green buildings, with around 1.85 million square feet certified daily. The latest version of the tool, LEED v4, has a clear focus on daylight and quality views with up to four points offered to connect building occupants with the outdoors, reinforce circadian rhythms, and reduce the use of electric lighting by introducing daylight and views into the space. These organizational bodies, as authoritative voices in the industry, all recognize that good natural lighting in an office environment is absolutely vital. People need illumination to read, write, type and interact with one another. It can also help to improve mood, contribute to job satisfaction, and enhance the look and feel of an office. Productivity crisis or no productivity crisis, it’s obviously important that people function properly at work. They cannot do so if they are stressed, depressed, unfocused or sleep-deprived. Nor will they be of much use if they suffer from headaches and eyestrain, both of which can be caused by inadequate distribution of natural light. MANAGING DAYLIGHT “Too bright, too dull, too much glare, too hot by the window” — these are just a few of the complaints that a facility manager in a poorly lit workplace might commonly field. It’s the industry’s responsibility to bring the outdoors to the indoors, but this must be done in a way that doesn’t disrupt comfort or performance. Anyone who has been seated next to a window in direct sunlight will recall how the temperature soon rises. Solar gain occurs when the temperature in a space, object or structure increases as a result of the Sun’s rays. Whereas materials such as brick and concrete can absorb the short-wave radiation from the Sun, others such as glass cannot absorb to the same degree and the heat easily penetrates. Ideally, solar gain is taken into account at the design stage with the designer aiming to maximize solar gain in the winter to reduce the demand for artificial heating, and to increase it in summer — keeping occupants cool and reducing the need for air conditioning. However, facility mangers can implement certain interventions, such as exterior shading devices, window film or coatings, or use different types of glass depending on the local climate. Glare occurs when one part of the visual field is much brighter than the average brightness to which the visual system is adapted. When there is direct interference with vision, the condition is known as disability glare. Where vision is not directly impaired but there is discomfort, annoyance, irritability or distraction, the condition is called discomfort glare. The latter is related to symptoms of visual fatigue, but both types of glare can arise from the same source. While the recommended light level for a desk is between 300 and 500 lux (unit of illuminance, equal to one lumen per square meter), direct sunlight can be as much as 100,000 lux. This glare causes severe discomfort and can be as negative as no light at all. Glare can result in eyestrain as a result of squinting and poor posture because the individual assumes an uncomfortable position to avoid the source of glare, leading to back, neck and head pain. The good news is that glare from daylight can be easily managed through solar shading, window film or other methods, such as adjusting the position of furniture or allowing people to choose the space in which they work depending on the task at hand. The important thing is not to cut out the daylight entirely through thick blinds or curtains, since office workers need natural illumination, regardless of their role. Still, many workplaces get it wrong and fail to consider the downsides of poor natural light. These workplaces either admit too much daylight and create an uncomfortable work environment, or they block the daylight and create adverse occupant health, well-being and performance. LIGHTING AND PRODUCTIVITY Harvard University recently undertook a study to assess how a physical work environment can impact productivity and well-being. Examining a number of high-performance buildings across five cities in the United States, the researchers discovered that employees working in green-certified offices display markedly higher levels of cognition. What’s more, in these environments, absenteeism (caused by illness) was 30 percent lower than average. If people are happier and healthier, they tend to be more engaged — this, in turn, can boost performance. Relatedly, research over the past few years from the World Green Building Council and the International Well Building Institute has demonstrated the importance of natural light in employee engagement and productivity. Despite that, office workers are generally unhappy with the lighting provision in their workplace. Of more than 200,000 employees in 63 countries surveyed by Leesman, a leading assessor of workplace effectiveness, 77 percent state that natural light is important to them, yet only 58 percent are satisfied with the offering in their workplaces. Additionally, 80 percent of U.S. office workers experience at least one negative effect from poor-quality lighting, according to researchers Bruskin Goldring, including eye strain, headaches and postural problems; and 68 percent of employees complain about the light in their offices, according to a study by the American Society of Interior Designers. IT PAYS TO LEVERAGE THE POWER OF DAYLIGHT Creating and maintaining healthier buildings doesn’t just improve employee health and well-being levels. Going green and maximizing the power of daylight can also save money — but it takes thought and planning before businesses can reap the benefits. Up to 40 percent of a building’s electricity use is accounted for by lighting, according to the Carbon Trust, meaning that reducing the use of artificial light can yield substantial savings in energy use and boost an organization’s bottom line. By its very nature, daylight is not going to be sufficient to light a facility all the time. Using daylight sensors to adjust the artificial lighting according to the amount of natural light in a room, can reduce electricity use by up to 40 percent. Other studies suggest the figure could be as much as 60 percent, although there are also concerns that frequent switching between natural and artificial light can be disturbing for occupants. Facilities with good daylight levels make economic sense to both owners and occupiers. To achieve this within a workplace requires thought from the outset with daylight built into the original design through site selection, building orientation, window design, configuration and glazing, as well as strategic use of overhangs, interior design and furnishings. However, you can also retrofit existing facilities by simple acts such as daylight managing technologies, removing blinds and relocating desks. For example, many companies now place meeting rooms and cellular offices toward the middle of a floorplate to allow natural light to flood the main office space where the majority of people work. THE TAKEAWAY There is no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to lighting. Some older people require more light to perform tasks, have a harder time adjusting to varying light levels in the environment, or are less tolerant to glare. It is estimated that for the same amount of light entering the front of the eye, a 20-year-old’s retina will receive three times more light than a 60-year-old’s. This means that as we get older, our eyes need more light and higher contrast to see the same thing. With five generations working alongside one another in the office, facilities and real estate professionals need to carefully measure the amount of light in an environment and ensure it is suitable for all users, providing separate task lights and accommodating occupant proximity to windows, where appropriate. Turning once more to Leesman’s independent database on workplace effectiveness, just over half of the world’s employees agree that their workplace enables them to work productively. Regardless of the season, facility managers should make proper lighting (a balance of electric and natural lighting) a priority year-round. Daylight plays a vital role in this pursuit, so let’s do what we can to harness its power for the greater good of our people and our planet. BOB FORD has broad experience in green energy technologies (solar, wind and energy efficiency). In 2012, he joined SerraLux Inc. as president and CEO, tasked with taking the company and product launch worldwide. To date, a number of globally recognized companies have either specified or selected SerraLux’s daylighting technologies.

Published by International Facility Management Association . View All Articles.

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