Utilize Daylight to Promote Health and Well-being in the Workplace

As we slowly return to the office, a primary thought on building owners’ minds is how to keep us physically safe… but is that all they should think about?

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted more than our sense of cleanliness, but also employee mood and drive. Now is the time to creatively meet high performance sustainable goals while enhancing the comfort, well-being and productivity of occupants in our work spaces.

  1. Natural light is the best medicine

We feel the benefits of daylight and we crave daylight and a view. According to “The Employee Experience,” a survey by Future Workplace, employees crave natural lighting and a view far more than benefits like on-site cafeterias, fitness centers or premium perks like on-site child care.

Daylight triggers our brains to produce serotonin, a chemical that makes us feel energized, happy and well-rested while reducing stress, anxiety, depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Scientists at the Lighting Research Center (LRC), in Troy, N.Y report that daylit environments increase occupant productivity and comfort by providing the mental and visual stimulation necessary to regulate human circadian rhythms, our body’s natural clock. When our brain detects daylight, it tells us to wake up. And when darkness hits, it triggers our body to fall asleep. Exposing our bodies to daylight allows for a healthy circadian rhythm, regulating our sleep-wake cycle and has a positive influence on eating habits and digestion, body temperature, hormone release and other important bodily functions.

In a recent study, Dr. Alan Hedge of Cornell University found that workers in daylit office environments reported a 51% drop in eyestrain, a 63% drop in headaches and a 56% reduction in drowsiness. Hedge concluded that “As companies increasingly look to empower their employees to work better and be healthier, it is clear that placing them in office spaces with optimal natural light should be one of their first considerations.”

 

  1. Daylight keeps us alert

When employees are fulfilled in their workplace environment, they are more engaged, produce higher quality individual work and are much happier in general, which creates a more enjoyable work space.

In a research poll of 1,614 North American employees, over a third felt they don’t get enough natural daylight in their workspaces. About 47% admitted they felt tired or very tired from the absence of daylight or a window at their office, and 43% reported feeling gloomy because of the lack of light.  Additionally, 78% of employees said access to natural daylight and views improved their wellbeing and 70% reported improved work performance.”

  1. Daylight is a disinfectant

UV light has been used for decades as a natural disinfectant to clean drinking water and to naturally eradicate potentially harmful organisms in health care facilities.

A new study in the journal Microbiome showed that rooms exposed to daylight had fewer germs, similar to the effect of UV light. Daylit rooms had about half the viable bacteria (those that are able to grow), compared to darker rooms.

Daylit rooms were also shown to have fewer of the types of bacteria that result from the shedding of human skin (including some that are known to cause respiratory disease), and more closely resembled outdoor bacterial communities. While daylighting may have focused on visual comfort or broad health interests in the past, we can now say that daylighting influences air quality and works as a disinfectant.

  1. Daylight creates comfortable, welcoming spaces

If you had the choice between working in a room lit by natural daylight or by fluorescent bulbs, which would you choose? Most of us would prefer the former because natural daylighting make us feel better and can inspire by enhancing architectural features, transforming a space.

Studies found that medical patients feel better, safer and have less anxiety when they have access to daylight because it creates a sense of physical and mental comfort.

  1. Natural Light reduces energy costs

Lighting traditionally accounts for 35 – 50% of the total electrical energy consumption in commercial buildings. Lighting can generate heat, which adds to the load on a building’s mechanical cooling system. Energy savings realized from reduced electric lighting and use of proper daylighting strategies can top 10 – 20% reductions in energy use, up to ⅓ the total building energy costs. Spaces outfitted with daylight-sensing controls can reduce the energy used for electric lighting by 20 – 60%.

So, when working on your next commercial project, whether a facility modernization or a start-from-scratch new design, consider daylighting as the primary source of interior illumination for daytime hours. The benefits go beyond simple energy efficiency, impacting virtually every aspect of an interior space in a positive way. When properly implemented, the effective use of daylight maximizes the well-being and productivity of a work place’s occupants, and is one of the best win-win strategies for “high performance” and sustainable buildings.

About the Author

Neall DigertNeall Digert, Ph.D., MIES, Vice President of Solatube International, Inc., the daylighting industry innovator, has more than 30 years of consulting and education experience working in the energy/lighting/daylighting design and research fields, specializing in the design and application of advanced lighting and daylighting systems for commercial building applications.

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