Advantages of Natural Light in Manufacturing Facilities
Already popular in offices and retail, natural lighting is now gaining recognition for its benefits in manufacturing settings.
Dan Calabrese (Apr/May 09)
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way to get natural light to the entire building is to use a building
material that inherently lets light through. That was the strategy of
Hamilton, Montana-based Rocky Mountain Log Homes when it was forced to
build a new manufacturing facility following the loss of its old one to
fire six years ago. Company president Jim Schueler says the company
wanted the energy savings and the improved environment after its old
building - constructed from steel - basically functioned like an oven
once the fire started.
The solution was a building Schueler
describes as a tent, constructed from duraweave fabric by a company
known as Cover-All. "It's an aluminum frame that that goes up quite
fast, and it's pretty close in cost [to a traditional building]," he
says. "But if you don't need an insulated building, you can put in
floor heat. It just runs heat through the floor so an operator's feet
are warm, and he stays warm just about up to his head. It's basically
the same energy consumption as it was with a metal building."
Abney, a representative for Cover-All, says such buildings were
originally designed to house livestock, but he is seeing growing
interest for commercial and industrial uses. "They're not really
designed to be an efficient building, although from an air-loss
standpoint, they're pretty air-tight, which is a good thing," he says.
"The light is going to give you the best natural light if you want
light in the building, and the colors minimize the light a little."
natural light is clean, plentiful, and free, there are places where too
much of it will actually drive your energy bills up - like Florida.
Nestle Waters earned LEED points for the recent construction of its new
640,000-square-foot plant in Madison, Florida, but the LEED points
didn't come from natural light. "In Florida, where you have a balance
issue between the light and the heat, you have to figure out how much
light you can let in before you start using too much power to cool the
building down," says company spokesperson Jim McClellan. "Even though
we used some natural light, we didn't meet the LEED criteria. The
cost/benefit analysis didn't support the use of that much."
expense involved with installing natural light may be slowing the
manufacturing sector's embrace of it. "I have not seen an increase in
the use of natural light in manufacturing facilities," says Brenden
McEneaney, green building program advisor in the Office of
Sustainability and the Environment for the City of Santa Monica,
California. Although McEneaney said that owes partly to the rather
light volume of manufacturing in Santa Monica, it also has to do with
limits to what natural light - especially from skylighting - can
achieve when used in currently popular ways. "The indoor environmental
quality, while improved by daylighting, would be far more improved by
access to views, which skylights typically can't provide," he says. "If
the skylights did look out over landscape, and were clear, they would
increase the cooling loads dramatically for the structure."
course, skylights are not the only method by which to achieve natural
light. Rod Kivioja, director of sales for Wisconsin-based SuperSky - a
skylight installation company that worked on Toyota's Georgetown,
Kentucky, facility - says manufacturers wanting natural light these
days might go for clerestory windows, which are sometimes referred to
as "light scoops" and consist of rows of windows above eye level that
allow light into a space. "Those are a lot less expensive than
skylights, and a vertical clerestory does let in natural light," he
It's far from the perfect solution, but in an age when
everyone is looking for ways to cut costs, a source of light that is
clean, free, and widely available will receive growing attention; which
is why the combination of manufacturing facilities and natural light is
likely to become more common in the months and years ahead.