Rooflights play a vital role in the modern building but are often overlooked. They are the common link to many aspects of building design and can help the designer, the building owner and the occupier to achieve a truly more sustainable, energy efficient and enjoyable place to work and to live in. Well considered rooflight design at the outset of the building concept can have dramatic efforts on all aspects of the building from the owner’s potential asset value to the well-being and productivity of the occupants.
Buildings that provide high levels of natural light have more positive working environments than those which are dependent upon artificial light. It is known that people respond better to working in natural light conditions, as the eye and brain functions work better, resulting in improved concentration and overall performance. Plus, of course, less dependency on artificial light significantly reduces energy consumption and running costs as well as impacting positively on the buildings overall carbon footprint.
In new buildings where high levels of insulation are now being installed, the most significant savings in energy can be realised through the utilisation of the free resource that is natural daylight. The energy consumed by artificial lighting, far exceeds the relatively small amounts of heat energy that are lost through increasing the rooflight area which is a small part of the whole building fabric. The amount of energy required to light a well-insulated building is far greater than the amount of energy required to heat it and can be the greatest single energy use in the operating the building.
Of course, artificial lighting will always be essential in occupied buildings subject to occupational requirements, particularly in the winter months or in areas where localised specific or constant lighting levels are required, but even low energy lighting systems can create relatively high energy demands. More so when the lighting is turned on and left on throughout the daylight hours irrespective of need where automated lighting controls have not been incorporated into the design.
Thermally efficient insulated rooflights can further reduce heat loss and energy consumption. The effectiveness of rooflights as a contributor to energy efficiency are acknowledged in the Building Regulations Approved Document Part L. It recommends that industrial and commercial building structures should have a rooflight area of 10% to 20%, subject to limiting solar gains. Research by De Montfort University and published by the National Association of Rooflight Manufacturers (NARM) demonstrates the savings that can be made by increasing rooflight areas.
This graph demonstrates the reduction in CO2 emissions of a typical notional building as the rooflight area is increased to the optimum 16% to 18% and used in conjunction with a fully automated lighting control system.
Rooflights are a simple and cost-effective choice to introduce a more even and usable distribution of natural light, particularly in large structures where light is required deep into the building or in enclosed areas that cannot be lit through an external wall. Increased areas of light diffusing rooflights, often with lower light transmission or improved thermal performance, can optimise the energy performance of the building, and there are many permutations of performance to choose from. Reduced areas of rooflights with high light transmission levels and poor diffusion that create glare and hotspots, while still leaving areas of shadow and gloom that must be overcome with localised artificial lighting, only demonstrate poor consideration to the daylight design.
Another element to consider is a BREEAM assessment. Many local authorities now insist on this before they will give planning permission, therefore it is vital to optimise the rooflight design, distribution and product type. Using rooflights with low or reduced embodied carbon is a further example of good product selection that can have a significant effect on the BREEAM assessment.
When considering the design of a building it is now vital that rooflights, rather than being an afterthought, are treated as an essential design element right from the start.