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Glare, Comfort, and Awnings

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For the better part of two decades, studies have been looking at the effects of natural lighting on students and work places, and the findings have definitely been in favor of the sun.

The appreciation for natural lighting goes back even farther, with seminal architecture works like A Pattern Language devoting whole chapters to the balance of natural light and shadows to encourage activity.

The problem with natural lighting is glare. The sheer brightness of sunlight can make it uncomfortable. At noon, the sun's output is as high as 100,000 lumens, more light than 15,000 candles burning at once. A standard office with standard fluorescent lighting is at about 400 lumens, roughly the same as sunset.

Since peak light hours – 10am to 4pm – coincide with peak work hours, it can be difficult to use natural light effectively without making a room uncomfortably bright.

A 2009 study in Britain found that 84% of schoolrooms had rooms so bright that they were physically uncomfortable and actually decreased visibility. Poor interior design prevented even Venetian blinds from being effective at mitigating glare in sunlight, but artificial lighting in 90% of rooms was at a frequency that could cause headaches.

There are a couple of different ways to incorporate natural lighting techniques into a building by mitigating the glare while bringing in brightness:

  • Solar shades work by reflecting light off walls or ceilings. Reflected light is less bright than direct sunlight, and reflecting the light over the room makes the room seem brighter. These require additional construction both inside and outside to be effective.

  • Retractable awnings block the sunlight, while the lightweight woven fabric in slightly translucent, letting diffused and lightly colored light into the room.

Retractable awnings use solution-dyed acrylic fabrics that block the harshest of the UV rays and glare, anywhere from 70% to 95%, depending on the fabric color and manufacturer. (Solution-dyed acrylics from manufacturers like Sattler are even endorsed by the American Skin Cancer Society for preventing UV damage.) The gentle color that comes into the room from sunlight through fabric makes the close tasks like reading easier on the eyes.

Studies have consistently shown that using natural light in place of artificial light improves cognitive performance, decreases sick time, and improves mood. People just feel better in natural light. Putting the right awning in the right place can help you control the glare so that you can welcome in the light.

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