Daylight harvesting saves more than just energy


Natural lighting has become a continual request for companies taking on a construction project, and energy savings isn’t far behind.

What was once a practice encouraged by energy programs is quickly becoming a requirement by energy codes and standards. Incorporating these elements into a building project can be challenging as lighting needs vary from site to site and throughout the year. It takes a creative team to deliver a successful design while also pursuing the most competitive pricing.

One approach for creating an energy-efficient space is to implement daylight harvesting. Daylight harvesting is defined as a technique that reduces the need for overhead lighting by using the current ambient light in a space or utilizing a dimming or timer system to decrease usage when sufficient ambient light is achieved. With proper utilization, this simple concept can make a huge impact on energy costs.

However easy this technique may seem, it does not rely on merely opening the window shades in the morning and turning off the overhead lights at closing. If you’re not careful, you may actually let in too much heat, which raises air conditioning costs, or create glares, which can cause headaches. The process takes a considerable amount of coordination and expertise from a qualified team. Your unique building project, whether new construction or renovation, will require different aspects of daylight harvesting to achieve the most efficient results.

One method used to implement an energy-saving light system includes installing north-facing windows to capture high amounts of daylight while avoiding the direct heat and glare throughout most of the day. Replacing current light switches with dimmers (on a timer is preferred) also can help control energy usage during peak sunlight hours. Adding skylights into the design of a new project or incorporating a roof lantern also can increase efficiency.

Many daylight harvesting techniques were incorporated into a recent school project that Triangle completed with the help of West Michigan Lighting. Each classroom was designed to increase energy savings by reducing the amount of electric light in the space. When someone enters the room and turns on the light, the daylight harvesting photocell near the window will be enabled to monitor the amount of sunlight and electric light coming through.

“The daylight harvesting sensor will continuously raise and lower the lights while the space is utilized during the day,” said Ryan Elve, a controls specialist. Along with manually operated lights with automatic shut off and the use of lighting zones in the classrooms, the client has been able to enjoy the many benefits that daylight harvesting has to offer.

A successful daylight harvesting program can save a significant amount on energy bills, between 10 and 45 percent, depending on the program’s complexity. When implemented properly, there are several benefits to daylight harvesting that go beyond energy conservation. Daylight harvesting reduces a workplace’s environmental impact, creating a significantly more green and earth-friendly building. Research also has shown that employee health and productivity can be positively impacted by the presence of increased natural light. A naturally lit space is often seen as more desirable, whether you are hoping to entice potential employees or attract more customers to your facility.

While daylight harvesting is only one of the many solutions available to create an energy efficient space, it is easy to see why its implementation should be top-of-mind for your next construction project.

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As president of Triangle Associates in Grand Rapids, Mitch Watt is involved in the day-to-day operations of the construction company, including oversight of the firm’s business development activities that focus on marketing, sales, strategic planning, pre-construction phases and design-build services. Mitch also serves as project executive on key projects, especially those with design-build contracts. He has particular expertise in facility assessment, master planning, concept design and development, construction documentation and construction services. Mitch has more than 28 years of experience in the industry and serves on a number of local boards and committees. Previously, he was VP and managing principal of URS’ Michigan operations.