Exploiting natural light in buildings
Exploiting natural light in buildings has a positive impact in many respects. It improves our sense of well-being and our visual comfort, and it lets us see colours and shapes clearly. It can also help save energy. That said, there are some negative features too, such as the potential for glare or overheating, not to mention that natural light is difficult to control.
In this article we will talk about...
- Positive effects of exploiting natural light
- How to exploit natural light
- Lighting control systems
Además, la dificultad de controlarla es otro de los inconvenientes. Por tanto, aprovechar esta luz y combinarla bien con la artificial son cuestiones clave para la planificación arquitectónica y lumínica.
However, exploiting and combining natural light with artificial sources is a key aspect of architectural and lighting planning.
Positive effects of exploiting natural light
Finding a way to incorporate natural light has myriad positive effects. Its impacts can be felt in the following areas:
- Thermal comfort
- Impact on our activity
- Impact on the environment, objects and surfaces
The different types of sunlight include:
- Direct sunlight
- Diffuse sunlight
- Light that reflects off obstacles
- Light that reflects off the ground
Knowing how to use light in architectural planning has huge benefits with a number of applications. We describe two of the main ones below.
Energy savings are greater the more hours of sunlight a space is exposed to. For example, the planning for a building in the Mediterranean is different than for a building in northern Europe, from both an architectural and a lighting perspective. Natural light should be exploited differently in each. Greater savings can be achieved when sunlight is used for longer.
The Spanish Technical Building Code covers this in its Energy Savings document, section HE3 (Energy Efficiency of Lighting Installations), setting out the need to install systems for exploiting natural light. It mentions using sensors to automate the shift between sunlight and artificial light as well as control and regulation systems to manage the light level. It also highlights the need for manual on/off systems and synchronised timers in each electrical panel. Lastly, it covers the use of automation for areas which are only used sporadically.
Natural light improves our sense of overall well-being and our visual comfort. There are even studies suggesting that working in this type of light is extremely beneficial. It can make us work 20% faster and reduce errors by 15%. Colour rendering is more accurate than with artificial light, and it supports our biological rhythms.
Natural light also improves sleep quality and has positive effects on behaviour.
How to exploit natural light
New technologies have improved and broadened the ways in which we can exploit sunlight. However, people have long found ways to boost or moderate the impact of natural light. The following architectural features and furnishings are testament to this:
- Curtains or blinds
- Light shelves
- Bay windows
- Galleries, atria, patios and porches
- Transparent roofs, walls and facades
These may be static features or manually operated. Many are automated nowadays. There are even smart systems to regulate and adapt them to natural light levels. In addition to these mechanisms, there are other strategies we can adopt:
The location of an installation, both geographically and relative to the surrounding environment, impacts the amount of light it receives. It is important to avoid any kind of obstacles, including trees and other buildings.
This is key to exploiting the daylight hours and also for the building temperature.
Capturing natural light
The practice known as daylighting involves, in simple terms, creating openings in the building shell to light the interior spaces, e.g. windows, skylights, mirrors, translucent facades or roofs, etc.
Natural light arrives from above and has three components:
- The direct beam of sunlight.
- Environmental light. That is, light in the atmosphere including the clouds and the light from the sky in general.
- Light reflected off the ground, buildings and other outdoor objects.
Hence, there are buildings that employ strategic design or reflective features to change the environment and optimise how much light they receive.
Lighting control systems
The technical guidebook titled Exploiting natural light in building lighting, endorsed by the Spanish Lighting Committee and the Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving, suggests that lighting design be factored into the initial phase of architectural projects.
Lighting control systems are effective resources for using natural light and regulating artificial light when sunlight is not available. For example, controlling shutters or building openings to adjust how much light gets in. These systems can be remote or manually operated.
With these approaches, energy consumption is reduced and daylight is used to the max. Coupled with this is the regulation of sun protection devices, and these should factor in both aesthetic and energy goals. What is needed, therefore, is a comprehensive approach.
SECOM has a variety of solutions for using artificial and natural light in combination. Our catalogue is packed with adaptable, customisable products that facilitate huge energy savings.
The use of natural light in buildings is absolutely crucial for well-being, reducing energy use and supporting visual comfort. Given its importance, it should be factored in right from the outset of any lighting or architectural project. SECOM can provide tailored guidance on all these matters.More in our blog