Advanced Glazings Leads Public Spaces Renewal With Daylighting Science

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By: Christos Makridis

Dr. Doug Milburn, an innovator and executive chairman and founder of Advanced Glazings (AGL), thrives on solving problems. For over 35 years, he has brought his vision and passion to manufacturing, engineering, software development and process engineering. Across the leadership roles throughout his career, Dr. Milburn has helped create successful companies by promoting strong corporate values and physically architecting buildings that promote health and well-being.

Born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada, Dr. Milburn earned his undergraduate degree in physics at Mount Allison University, before finishing his studies with a Master’s degree in physics and a PhD in mechanical engineering, both at the University of Waterloo. In 1995, Dr. Milburn and his wife Michelle co-founded Advanced Glazings, which developed and manufactures SOLERA light diffusing glass, enabling architects to create beautifully daylighted buildings that are incredibly energy efficient, and moreover, meet the new expectations of building occupants.

Dr. Doug Milburn, executive chairman and founder of Advanced Glazings

Source: Advanced Glazings

Milburn and his team have capitalized on the convergence of several big trends his industry has never seen before quite to this magnitude. In the world of public spaces–offices and brick and mortar businesses, hospitals, schools, government buildings, airports–major tectonic plate shifts were already underway pre-COVID. Now, post-pandemic a crescendo of market forces has arrived to disrupt these environments and the industries that support them. What people now want out of them and expect them to be at even a baseline level has changed remarkably. Workers are looking for more positive wellness outcomes from public spaces than ever – not only safer spaces, but also spaces that help us grow healthier and work smarter.

This is compounded by two other forces: Around the world, there exists a significant oversupply of poor quality, aging, dark metal buildings ripe for daylighting conversion or they must be demolished; second, new legislation has altered building codes in favor of much higher sustainability requirements- a very specific, mandated supply chain is emerging. All of this has created more than double the tailwinds for firms like AGL, an early leader in the space that has pioneered this charge for decades, ahead of the recent groundswell of both worker demand coupled with new funds allocated for big changes in public spaces.

Daylighting, New ASHRAE Standards Drive Building Code Changes

Daylighting is the controlled admission of natural light into a building to reduce electric lighting and save energy, contributing other sustainable features (e.g., natural ventilation, passive heating and cooling, and indoor environmental quality). Daylighting systems manufacturers are the main drivers of growth in the specialized supply chain powering the public spaces boom: companies that make windows, skylights, tubular daylight devices, daylight redirection devices, solar shading devices, and daylight-responsive lighting control systems deserve your attention.

ASHRAE standards and guidelines for high-performance building design now dictate there must be 70% wall, 30% glass in a structure. However, if a building uses SOLERA, which reaches the industry rating of R25, the building’s exterior may be completely constructed of glass, due to the insulation properties. There is also an over supply of outdated metal buildings, which must now comply with updated building codes and new state and federal initiatives. Metal building construction increased 12.9% in 2021 and overall contracting revenue averaged $8,322,776 nationally on metal projects, but many of these structures have insufficient lighting and will not remain compliant with standards, or competitive with employee expectations for long, and a trend in either demolition or overhauling is underway.

Advanced Glazings installation for the Toronto Raptors training facility

Source: Advanced Glazings

Effects of Daylighting on Productivity and Workplace Wellness

There has also been a post-COVID push to raise the bar with public spaces for employee satisfaction. One of the most common explanations among employees for their preference of remote work is flexibility. However, private residences often have limitations and making a more dynamic workplace can help attract talent. The superficial perks of an air hockey table from previous eras will no longer cut it, as employees of all ages are demanding workspaces that actually improve their well-being, if mandated to return to them.

Offices are evolving from places of focused productivity to culture spaces where workers can benefit from socialization, collaboration, and group learning, according to research by myself and Professor Jason Schloetzer. Many public spaces must not only follow new safety protocols, but also help employees create, collaborate and be productive in areas. There are increasingly clear business incentives for improving the quality of time employees spend at work, according to my research. Staff salaries and expenditures make up the bulk of operational expenses associated with occupying an office building. Indeed, over 85% of total workplace costs are spent on salaries and benefits, compared to less than 10% on rent and less than 1% on energy.

By making even small improvements to factors such as productivity, health, and wellbeing, businesses can realize greater financial benefits than they would from more efficient resource use in building operations. Green building design can have a positive impact on humans and productivity, according to the World Green Building Council. “Buildings with higher energy efficiency are attracting greater market prices, however, they also require increased investments. Energy conservation stands out as the most effective strategy to minimize the carbon footprint of real estate assets, while also generating a financial return,” said Moses Rahnama, CEO and founder of Mina Analytics.

“Businesses are now shifting their thinking from ‘how much will green building cost my business’ to ‘how much will not investing in green building cost my business,’” said Milburn. American office workers are spending up to 90% of their lives indoors. Therefore the best way to give workers the health benefits they find outdoors, is to bring the outside in- something that sounds basic but is extremely complex and very easy to get wrong.

Daylighting has many benefits for human health and well-being, such as improving mood and reducing stress, while enhancing alertness and productivity. Exposure to natural light can boost serotonin levels, which regulate mood, appetite, sleep, and memory. Natural light can also lower cortisol levels, which are associated with stress and anxiety. A well-aligned circadian rhythm can improve sleep quality, energy levels, concentration, and cognitive performance.

Well-lit offices also support vision and eye health. Natural light can reduce eyestrain and headaches caused by artificial lighting or glare from screens. It also stimulates the production of vitamin D, which is essential for eye health and immunity.

However, many offices are not well designed to maximize natural light. Older office spaces especially can have small windows, deep floor plans, and drop ceilings that limit daylight penetration. On the other side of the spectrum, some modern glass “fishbowl” offices have the opposite problem: excessive or uncontrolled sunlight, causing glare, excessive heat, or visual discomfort.

The Science Behind Daylighting Technology

Meeting thermal goals does not have to mean using less glass. Solera is a type of translucent insulated glass that combines thermally high-performance glazing with engineered light diffusion to provide uniform daylight distribution without glare or heat gain. This means rather than the light directing downward toward the floor, just as much is directed inward and upward. This redistribution means that the useful daylight is distributed deeper into a space, maximizing daylight potential while eliminating glare and hotspots.

Transmittance of materials can vary from specular to fully diffused, or some varying degree or combination between the two. Vision glass, or conventional glazing, has purely specular transmission, i.e. light passes straight through and does not scatter. Other glazing materials such as acid etched glass, or white laminate PVB, scatter light sufficiently but at a relatively narrow angle, meaning the brightness of those materials will vary greatly depending on your direction of view and the direction of the incident light. Products like Solera are excellent light diffusers, meaning light that it transmits is widely scattered such that the brightness is equal in all directions.

Advanced Glazings installation at Crandall University Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Source: Advanced Glazings

Solera can also be used in the conventional application of glazing, for windows and skylights, to bring the right levels of natural light into any office space. However, these types of products are also being used to transform existing structures through the direct application of the glass to the structure, without a secondary structure. This is branded as SoleraWall.

To optimize daylighting in office spaces, architects and design teams need to consider several factors, including the direction of sunlight, window-to-wall ratio (the percentage of exterior wall area covered by windows) and glazing performance. Using a combination of landscaping, window size optimization, thermally high-performance glazing selection, daylight redirection techniques, and solar shading devices can help any office space achieve optimal daylight levels for visual and thermal comfort, regardless of climate.

Daylighting is not only a way to save energy and money, but also a way to improve well-being and performance in office spaces. Everyone responds well to walking into a building with perfect daylighting, reduced glare, optimal air quality, and pleasant views.

Finance departments and CEOs will appreciate the energy cost-savings and asset value of building or retrofitting greener offices. By designing office spaces that allow natural light to enter in a controlled and balanced way, employers and employees can enjoy the mutual benefits of taking this important step towards adopting green building practices.

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