The 5C's of Daylighting: How to Plan and Build an Effective Daylight Design for your Next Project
Updated: Feb 19
Imagine deciding to take a road trip. You pack your bags, assemble your friends or family into the car, and pull out of the driveway, ready to embark on an adventure! Except, there's one little problem. You haven't decided on a destination! Initially, you thought taking everyone to relax somewhere sunny might be nice. Unfortunately, it turns out that your fellow travelers are not into the idea, as they all have fair skin and sunburn quickly. Ok, no sun… maybe camping in the forest would work? Everyone is into the idea! Excited, you begin the drive towards the mountains before realizing... You had expected to stay at a hotel on the beach, so you actually didn't pack any camping gear. You’ve either got to turn all the way around and re-pack or spend money on all new gear. Either way, this road trip has become a real pain.
Best. Road trip. EVER.
Much like planning a road trip for you and your friends, daylight design requires thorough consideration and knowledge of the participants, their expectations, and their ideal destination. Sinking costs and time into inaccurate or assumed stakeholder expectations can be disastrous for a road trip but even more consequential for design projects where millions of dollars are on the line. There are many considerations to be finely tuned into when planning your project, and the number of variables can be overwhelming. That's why we've developed a framework to help guide our daylight design strategy and lead our projects to the perfect final destination that everyone loves. These are the 5Cs of daylighting.
How to Use Codes and Building Standards to determine Daylighting Design.
The first C of daylighting is Code. Code is foundational in defining your building's expectations and helping you begin developing your daylighting strategy. It is critical to know and understand the specifics of each code thoroughly. Building codes like IECC, ANSI, LEED, Well-Building, Green Globe, and ASHRAE outline the energy and sustainability requirements expected from your building. A successful daylighting system employs the correct products for top and side lighting, user-oriented control systems, and strategies to help a building achieve the building codes and standards.
Questions to answer:
What codes and standards are required for my project?
What are the expectations around energy savings and efficiency?
What products can I use to help facilitate the goals outlined by each code?
How to Strategize your Daylighting Design Budget for Efficiency, Sustainability, and Longevity.
The next C of daylighting is Cost. Typically, the focus of a project's cost centers on a product or material's price and the associated installation costs during the design and construction phases. As daylight designers, we must think beyond the initial construction phases and consider the cost of total ownership for a building's lifetime- factoring in cost variables such as energy savings, occupants’ experience and turn-over, on-going use, maintenance, and eventual repair or replacement.
Allowing the up-front cost of a daylighting system dictate the design is short-sighted and can lead to a more expensive building in the long run. A quality daylight design will deploy the correct combination of products and controls to not only maximize free and plentiful natural daylight efficiently but do so in perpetuity with minimal intervention or additional incurred costs.
Questions to ask:
What is the total cost of ownership for my design to the building?
How can my design create energy savings and minimize future operating costs?
How can my installation mitigate future complications with repairs, exchanges, and replacements?
How to Design the Right Daylighting System for your Environment.
The next C of Daylighting is Climate. Among our 5C's, Climate is one of the most essential to consider in your daylighting design. In the US, there are seven distinct climate zones. Each zone offers a unique set of challenges and considerations to weigh into your design. However, while these factors may present challenges, they also give opportunities. Every climate zone can be used to a projects' advantage. For instance, in areas with less sunlight, such as the darker zones in the country's northern sections, solar heat gain is less of a concern due to limited daylight and colder temperatures, however the daylighting design must consider the heat loss that could happen at each opening. In these climate zones, daylighting design can be depended upon more for driving natural light deeper into the interior space without compromising occupants' comfortability.
Questions to ask:
What Climate Zone is my project located in?
What will I need to be careful of in this Climate Zone?
What are the daylighting factors of my specific climate zone?
How to Integrate Your Ceiling and Plenum Space to Maximize Natural Daylight in your Lighting Design.
Often overlooked, the ceiling is an impactful element to your daylighting strategy. Every variable from the material, layout, height, and even color can impact the dispersion and illumination of daylight- ultimately shaping an occupant's experience in an interior space. However, it's not just about how daylight interacts with the ceiling, but how the ceiling can bring daylight in through it. The ceilings of interior spaces present ample opportunity to maximize daylight, even if the interior space is not at the building's top level. Considering the impact of the ceiling can help shape your daylighting design.
For example, a space with a standard drop ceiling in the center of a typical multi-story office building may seem like a daylighting dead end. With most of the interior space existing away from windows and side lighting opportunities, there are still plenty of possibilities to incorporate natural daylight into the design throughout the space without cluttering the ceiling with multiple lighting apparatuses. Products like Parans’s hybrid 2x2 lighting fixtures, delivering daylight through its fiber-optic technology and combining daylight and LED light into one fixture. Flexible fiber-optic cables can lead daylight to up to 30 stories deep in a building's interiors, allowing designers to direct the natural and electrical light where it's needed most to maximize employees' productivity and efficiency.
Questions to ask:
What are the dimensions and material of the project's ceiling and plenum spaces?
How will light interact with and be dispersed from the ceiling?
How can I use daylighting products to minimize or combine lighting fixtures in my ceiling?
CULTURE: How to Design your Daylighting System to Exceed Occupants' Needs and Expectations.
Your project's culture relates to the future occupants' expectations and use of the space, encompassing the occupants' identities, needs, and their intended utilization of the space. Knowing and understanding the culture can direct initial design objectives concerning style, utility, control, and aesthetic needs for your space, allowing you to tailor your lighting solution to future occupants closely.
For example, the culture of a cafe or coffee shop is warm, inviting, and human-centric. Its intended purpose is to build customer relationships and sales while providing a safe, comfortable atmosphere for individuals to connect with others or enjoy a personal activity like reading or working. For this culture to flourish, maintaining an ambient light level while balancing side lighting and top lighting to reduce contrast is a must. However, controlling heat gains and losses from windows while not limiting visibility from the inside out or outside in is equally important to occupants' experience, as this space is meant to be inviting and welcoming, not private and exclusive. The Culture of a space should always center around the end user experience to create designed spaces where they can thrive in.
Questions to ask:
Who are the occupants?
How and when will they use the space?
What is critical to them getting the most out of the space?