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Daylighting 101: The Lightness of Well-Being

​​​​​​​Jon Null, LC, LEED, Product Marketing Manager
​​​​​​​December 17, 2020

The main objective of lighting design, according to the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), is “to serve human needs and enhance human experience.” But most of us don’t need this recognized technical and educational authority on illumination to help us understand the effect interior lighting can have on our wellbeing, behavior, and productivity. We have all experienced it for ourselves, often times without even knowing. Take for example this familiar scenario: You’re arriving at a hotel after a long day on the road, and you step into the lobby to find a space that allows you to breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe it’s the late afternoon sun shining through the atrium glass overhead that puts you in a relaxed state of mind. Maybe it’s that sunlight integrated with the soft, recessed light panel over the front desk. Either way, you’ve just walked into the kind of welcoming, comforting environment you’ve been looking forward to ever since being squeezed into that overcrowded flight back in Atlanta.

Everyone in the hospitality industry knows that a positive first impression is everything, which is why that hotel lobby is going to be perfectly lit to affect your mood in the cheeriest, most reassuring way possible. Successful hotel managers around the world know that making the most of natural and artificial lighting signals to their guests a pleasurable and productive experience, particularly for the business traveler who may expect to work in their room or meet in an onsite conference space. And that same positive signaling has just as much effect on the well-being and productivity of the hotel’s staff.
Previously in Light&Shade, I’ve talked about the energy and efficiency savings of daylighting in commercial real-estate. This month I want to focus on the personal health benefits to employees and occupants of that same commercial real-estate. As we continue to see improved integration between automated shading and controlled artificial light—in work spaces ranging from offices to hospitals and classrooms, and yes, hotels— we also find ever-increasing evidence that illustrates how the use of daylighting in the work place is only making our lives better. Take for instance a 2003 Public Interest Energy Research Study from the California Energy Commission. Findings determined that having access to views from windows, more daylight, and less glare were all consistently associated with better office worker performance. Call center workers were found to process calls six percent to 12 percent faster, while office workers were found to perform 10 percent to 25 percent better on tests of mental function and memory recall. On the flip side, greater glare potential was associated with worse office worker performance, with their scores on mental function and memory recall tests dropping by 15 percent to 21 percent.

Sunlight is the best medicine. Making the most of natural lighting in an interior space can go beyond work performance to actually improving human health and well-being. As part of promoting its WELL Building Standard for buildings and communities across the world, the International WELL Building Institute advocates just how important adequate levels of sunlight can be on the health and well-being of a building’s occupants. Positive effects range from visual comfort to potential psychological and neurological gains. And those effects are perhaps most dramatically demonstrated in hospital settings, where multiple studies have shown that patients located in rooms with greater exposure to daylight have been noted to recover more quickly and require less pain medication. The July/August issue of Psychosomatic Medicine featured a 2005 study of patients undergoing spinal surgery with the finding that patients in brighter rooms used 22 percent less pain medication. Another study from the Royal Society of Medicine found that women patients in in east-facing rooms recovered faster than women in west-facing rooms. The psychological impact of sunlight is also positive, as studies have demonstrated a shortened length of stay of psychiatric patients and improved moods overall where daylight is plentiful, accelerating recovery from depression in many cases. 

These days, to the benefit of us all, we’re seeing more and more buildings utilizing daylight as a primary source of lighting to the greatest extent possible. Proximity to windows, outdoor views and daylight in indoor spaces are some of the most sought-after elements of design. Which is why a proper window shading system, integrated with interior lighting controls is more important than ever. Window shades that reduce glare and heat gain while still providing outdoor views play a key role in maximizing the positive effects of a sunlit window. It’s true, an interior lighting design does enhance our human experience. But let’s not forget: a proper shading system can enhance that lighting design even more.

Find out how these daylighting tips have been put to use in Toronto's EY Tower, featuring innovative architectural design.