BY WILLIAM JANHONEN, LEED-AP, NAHB-CGP
There is no mystery as to why natural sunlight brightens our mood, makes us more productive or drives away rainy-day thoughts. Studies have shown increases in productivity for workers and students, increased sales in retail stores, and improved healing rates in patients with exposure to natural sunlight. Sunlight allows us visibility without flicker and some scientists claim that the amount of sunlight energy that hits the earth every day could provide enough power to run all of the world’s machines – if only we could figure out how to harvest it.
Of the numerous nationwide green building certifications, including LEED, most assign point values for daylighting in a building. A very large part of improving indoor environmental quality revolves around lighting, and specifically providing sunlight.
SunPort™ Daylighting Systems by SunPort Industries of Norwalk, Connecticut, has created an ingenious way to provide natural sunlight to buildings and reduce energy costs while maintaining the normal R-value of the building. The SunPort system is a deep light well that provides an integrated light source that captures 80 to 85 percent of sunlight. This is accomplished by using an innovative non-mechanical lens system to capture sunlight, even in low-light conditions. The captured sunlight is reflected through a patented reflective body and dispersed evenly throughout the building by a diffusing lens. The R-value of the SunPort does not allow excessive heat transference, thereby enabling the light system to remain neutral as to HVAC loads.
Additionally, SunPort Industries integrated “look-up, look-down” photo sensors into the skylight to measure the desired lumen (foot-candle) level required of any given area within the building. When lumen levels are achieved through natural sunlight, a “smart box” connected to the building’s lighting system, with predetermined lumen levels, will eliminate the need to use artificial lights. By using the SunPort system, most buildings do not need artificial lights during normal working hours, averaging 7.6 hours per day without lights. Dr. Robert Zincone, chief engineer for SunPort, wanted to take it a step further by integrating a variable level internal lighting source within the deep-well skylights. By using high–efficiency fluorescent lights within the SunPort, users can achieve even greater reductions in energy use without turning on standard lights. Research is being conducted to add LED lighting and provide possible renewable energy sources slaved to the SunPort system, such as a photovoltaic energy source, to remove the lighting system entirely from the grid.
SunPort skylights can be custom-made to any facility ridge span, providing great flexibility in the types of buildings that can benefit from this deep-well skylight. I have seen installations in fitness centers, manufacturing plants, medical offices, schools, municipal buildings and retail stores, as well as replacement skylights in residential high-rise buildings. Since lighting typically represents 40 percent of the average commercial building’s electric bills, for building owners and companies who want to “go green” and save money, there is no better way than to initially install or retrofit a building with the SunPort system. State power authorities have embraced this energy savings system by allowing rebates, financing or direct tax incentives.
Since we spend 90 percent of our lives indoors, wouldn’t it make sense for us to create the most beneficial environment available? Harvesting sunlight while saving money on electricity costs seems like a no-brainer.
William Janhonen teaches green building at several colleges and universities in the Northeast.