Let in the light

Paul Trace casts a light on the benefits of natural daylight in the classroom

By Paul Trace from Lumen Rooflight 

It’s no great surprise that people are attracted to natural light and that most of us feel better when the sun comes out. However, beyond the “feel good” factor there are many tangible benefits to increasing the amount of natural daylighting entering a building. This is particularly true of schools or places of learning as the use of natural light has significant advantages for both students and teachers. 

Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of daylight on the learning environment. Enhanced student performance and motivation, increased teacher and student attendance, reduced energy costs, as well as a positive effect on the environment are some of the improvements seen in school buildings that use well-planned day lighting concepts.

Studies have shown that natural daylight can improve exam results by up to 26%, as well as having a positive effect on rates of attendance and the health of children. 

Aside from the physical and psychological benefits, natural light also offers an environmentally friendly means of saving money on energy costs. It stands to reason that the more natural light entering a building, the less energy for lights and heating is required.

You might be surprised that optimising day lighting in schools is often regarded as a design preference instead of a basic responsibility

Looking at this compelling list of benefits, one might be surprised that optimising day lighting in schools is often regarded as a design preference instead of a basic responsibility.

Legislation issued in 2002 recognised this by making it a legal requirement for buildings to have adequate natural daylight as part of the design. The legislation states that a minimum 20% of the wall area or 10% of the roof area must comprise of light transmitting elements.

For schools, specific guidance on natural lighting is available in Building Bulletin 90 (BB90) ‘Lighting Design for Schools’. It stresses that natural lighting during daylight hours should always be the major source, supplemented by electric light when needed. 

The BB90 document contains a comprehensive section covering lighting design and the importance of rooflights. As it points out, rooflights let in light from the brightest part of the sky and are not generally affected by external obstructions, such as trees or other buildings. They also provide a more even pattern of light than vertical windows.

According to leading consultants, horizontal rooflights provide two and a half times more light than vertical windows (the equivalent of 10,000 candles on a sunny day), which is more than 200 times the light needed for most educational tasks. 

Rooflights can also provide views of the sky and promote a sense of well-being and connection with the outside without the distractions encountered with views through vertical glass windows. 

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