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Daylighting System Retrofits and Energy Efficiency

Daylighting systems enhance building aesthetics and improve its performance

Mcn Kyp Major Industries Dec17 1

From students and teachers to office workers and factory assemblers to salespeople in retail settings, many benefit from access to natural light. Numerous studies have shown that the power of sunlight makes for happier workers, more productive students and increases in retail sales. And, don’t forget the costs of day-to-day operations, as 2012 U.S. Department of Energy data shows that lighting takes up almost 12 percent of the total electricity use in a typical commercial office building, and cooling close to 10 percent.

Though specific building design and usage may alter these numbers, it clearly shows the benefit of incorporating natural light. When spaces are illuminated with properly designed daylighting systems, the need for artificial light sources is reduced dramatically, and some spaces can be lit solely by daylight (if it’s appropriate for the space, of course).

But while skylights and wall systems can have many benefits, things aren’t always positive when it comes to daylighting. Rooftop environments are harsh on all materials, including skylights, and after time seals and gaskets can break down, and glazing materials can become compromised, opening up the possibility for leaks and water damage. Like all exterior building materials, skylights and other daylighting systems eventually come to the end of their service life and need to be replaced. But, before replacing a system with a bargain-basement, white van option, consider new technologies and materials that may be a better fit for the space; and save money in the long run.

Daylighting Options

When we think of skylights, glass is generally the first glazing material that comes to mind. And while glass has its benefits in terms of a long life span and view to the sky, it can also come with a hefty price tag, and can cause glare and solar heat gain issues. If you’re replacing a glass skylight with a similar configuration, take into consideration some of the newer insulated glass options, or glass that incorporates a film that blocks infrared and ultraviolet radiation. They can assist in easing the load on HVAC equipment and keep your building’s occupants more comfortable. Also make sure your skylight’s framing provides a thermal break to keep out the cold and eliminate excessive condensation by reducing the transfer of cold temperatures through the aluminum.

Another good daylighting option, particularly for skylights in retrofit applications or where budgets are tight, is a translucent panel system. Their translucent make-up allows them to filter and diffuse natural light throughout a space, and eliminate annoying glare and hot-spots for occupants directly under the daylighting system (perfect for atriums, lobbies and other areas where people gather and stay for long periods of time). Translucent panel systems can also be insulated, providing center of glazing U-factors as low as 0.08 for 2.75-inch panels and 0.06 for 4-inch panels (many standard insulated glass systems offer values around 0.450.5 and un-insulated corrugated translucent panels offer values around 0.75-0.8).


Retrofitting with translucent panel systems is simple. Some manufacturers offer adapter panels that allow for installation into standard commercial windows or curtainwall framing. This allows for the unique look and thermal properties of translucent panels to be integrated with little modification to the existing system. And, smaller skylights and wall systems can often be pre-assembled for quick and simple installation and less time on-site.

If a full replacement is in order, translucent panel systems only weigh around one-third of a comparable glass system, allowing for greater design versatility and a reduced need for costly additional support members. Specialty systems that provide blast and hurricane protection, removable systems that allow for easy maintenance access to large equipment, and completely custom configurations are available depending on your project’s specific needs.

Consider the numerous possibilities and benefits that glass and translucent panel daylighting systems provide, such as thermal performance and light control, and see if one is the right solution for your next project. It has never been easier to incorporate an energy-efficient daylighting solution that should pay for itself over a relatively short amount of time, all while benefiting occupants with natural light.

Mark Mitchell is the marketing director for Major Industries Inc., Wausau, Wis., a manufacturer of a full line of custom and pre-engineered skylights, canopies and translucent wall systems. He can be reached at