Daylighting at work: it's time we let the light in, strategically

Image of Cristian Suvagau
"Nothing beats daylight in terms of quality of light," says Cristian Suvagau, an engineer with BC Hydro's energy efficiency group.

The trick is to manage sunlight; and don't rule out skylights in the mix

What's your relationship to your office window? This may seem like a funny question to ask, but windows can be some of the most complex aspects of the office environment.

During the day, windows provide us with light, views, and ventilation. They are double-paned (or single-paned, or triple-paned) portals to the outside world and help keep British Columbia's winter weather out. When the sun’s high in the sky, sunlight can beam through office windows, create glare and produce unwanted heat. With winter upon us, though, that’s no longer an issue – it's now much easier to use natural light to its full advantage.

"Nothing beats daylight in terms of quality of light," confirms BC Hydro engineer Cristian Suvagau. "Good daylighting means you need to manage sunlight. This can be done with shades, while other lighting controls, like dimmers, allow artificial light to complement daylight."

Myth busting: it rains too much in B.C. to harness daylight

"Daylighting practices are not just limited to sunny spots, like B.C.'s Okanagan or California," says Suvagau. "Contrary to popular belief, lighting your office or small business with daylight is possible in grey-skied British Columbia. You just need to make the most of side light and top light."

Side light is easy enough to understand; it's the light that comes in through windows. But top light?

"One of the most overlooked cost-saving opportunities when it comes to daylighting is the use of top light, or light provided by a skylight," says Suvagau.

And while proper installation and consideration for B.C.'s wet and snowy winter weather is a must, Suvagau says skylights are an excellent way to illuminate infrequently-used corridors in restaurants, hotels, retail shops, and small offices, and common areas in residential buildings.

Liability, safety and landlords

It's no secret that many small business customers feel stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to daylighting.

Lighting infrequently-used spaces, like an office hallway or parkade at 2 a.m., feels like a waste of money. Yet concerns about personal safety and roadblocks raised by landlords – such as cost, construction, timing, and the impact on other tenants – can keep things at a standstill.

If this sounds familiar, says Suvagau, consider installing motion sensors or talking to your landlord about the benefits of lighting controls. On/off switches (the kind in our homes), motion sensors and timers (think holiday lights) can be a happy medium. Plus, installing sensors and timers can help raise staff awareness of energy conservation, and make them aware of their own behaviours.

"BC Hydro's product incentives are a great resource," says Suvagau. "The incentives provide all BC Hydro business customers with savings that can cover up to 75% of the cost of an energy-efficiency upgrade."

Lighting the path to the future

"In 10 years, none of us will recognize lighting as we know it today [in 2015]," Suvagau proclaims. "Lighting will no longer be about turning bulbs on and off. Lighting will be an experience."

Mood-setting controls, lights that automatically dim or adjust to complement daylight, and LEDs that capture and emulate colour, will become the new norm.

And with that, we'll ask again, what's your relationship to your office window?