Let There Be (Natural) Light
By Martin Smith
There is a huge movement afoot that, unless you are in the building industry, might pass right under your nose without you even noticing it. If you walk into a newly built home, office building, or by some off-chance a Macy’s warehouse, and happen to notice the great lighting that has been installed—the probability that the sun is beaming through those light fixtures is steadily increasing. Designed to look like normal commercial ceiling lights (unbeknownst to the average person), Solatube’s “Tubular Daylighting Devices” (TDD’s) are gradually becoming the norm for high-performance green buildings. From research alone that continually shows how beneficial natural daylight is for humans, it wouldn’t be crazy to think all new construction in 10 years will come equipped with some form of TDD’s. As Michael Sather recently told Verdical Group at a Lunch & Learn held in our office, “For us, energy savings is just the ice on the cake. The cake is really human performance.”
The Benefits of Sunshine
Macy’s has obviously picked up on the benefits of letting natural light into the workplace, as Solatube’s products have been installed in 15 of their Fulfillment Centers. According to Michael, they installed these Solatubes to utilize daylight’s awesome power to boost employee wellbeing and productivity. For Macy’s, the lower energy costs resulting from huge reductions in electricity needed (for artificial light) is just an added bonus. Besides improving workers’ moods and productivity, natural light has also been found to lower blood pressure in nurses. In a recent study published by Cornell researchers, it was discovered that nurses who had access to natural light showed lower blood pressure, communicated more with other staff, and showed a better mood when interacting with patients compared to nurses who received large doses of artificial light.
Unsurprisingly, another building sector that is seeing enormous benefits are schools. Richard Cosgrove, Director of Planning & Construction for the Douglas County School District in Colorado, has said, “Solatube products are more effective, brighter and resilient, but also give the sense of being connected to the outside. In fact, they not only improve the learning environment and morale of the students and staff, they also have significant funds as far as our utility budget, and that money goes back into the classroom.”
What is this magic?
If an office building in Southern California (or any other consistently sunny region) is equipped with enough Solatube TDD’s, it can go 90% of the year without artificial lighting. So, how do these miraculous devices work? They must not be able to reach more than one floor, right?
Solatube’s daylighting systems use advanced optics to capture, transfer and deliver concentrated daylight into buildings. Their “advanced optical domes” sit on the roof of a building, and beam daylight down through reflective tubing. The “Raybender 3000” daylight-capturing dome seems to be the most popular for high-performance green buildings, as this model also blocks overpowering midday sunlight and heat. The tubing might be even more impressive than the optical domes. These tubes can wind through buildings, making multiple 90 degree turns, and still deliver sunlight into rooms 8 floors down from the roof. Michael told us that for one project, they had a tube extend past 80 feet, with 8 separate 90 degree turns. When that crisp sunshine finally reaches the end of the tube, it passes through one of their diffusers, which evenly distribute light into a room. They even have a dimmer switch add-on that can be installed in their tubes, which allows occupants to dim the sunlight or get rid of it completely at the hit of a button.
The daylight dimmer sits in the middle of the tube and folds out when activated to block light.
Solatube and any TDD’s that provide similar functions are a hot commodity for LEED projects. From Solatube’s LEED v4 & 2009 Contribution Matrix sheet, it appears a LEED v4 Building Design and Construction (BD+C) project team can achieve up to 18 points in the Energy and Atmosphere: Energy Performance credit category just by incorporating these into the building’s design. LEED v4 Interior Design and Construction (ID+C) teams can acquire even more—it’s possible for them to receive up to 25 points simply by designing in Solatubes. And this is just from the Energy and Atmosphere category alone. Teams can also receive points in the Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovation and Design Process categories as well.
It’s obvious that many design teams pursuing LEED certification would try their best to use TDD’s when they can—who can pass up on all those points? Verdical Group hopes to see and take on many more projects in the future that incorporate these crucial energy-saving, blood pressure-lowering devices. We are proud to have office space at the La Kretz Innovation Campus (also known as the L.A. Cleantech Incubator) in Downtown Los Angeles, which not only has Solatubes built-in, but is also pursuing LEED Platinum certification. Verdical Group is also completing LEED Construction Phase documentation for the current South Whittier Library project, which is also pursuing LEED Platinum—the Solatubes installed will certainly help it achieve this goal.
Our Downtown LA office, the La Kretz Innovation Campus (LACI), has Solatube products installed.
VG’s current project, the South Whittier Library, has just received its own set of Solatubes.
This houseplant seems to prefer the concentrated light pouring out of a Solatube.