“Shades of Education” – Light Treatment Can Surprise with Dark Results

Several years ago while completing an office headquarters for a large corporation, the window blinds submittals were received and subsequently rejected with an accompanying letter requesting a credit for the proposed blinds included in the original contract.  Not really thinking about it, the credit and work scope reduction were accepted.  Needless to say, several weeks after the building was turned over and occupied, we received a frantic call from the window shade vendor.  The vendor had delivered the power-operated exterior window recessed fabric shades which were all the same size, required power, and had no-recessed soffit condition required for installation.  Several hundred thousand dollars later, all required recessed soffit pockets and power conditions were provided and a new order of field-measured, power-operated shades matching each window condition were delivered and installed.  The final costs were double due to poor planning.

Many times the last finish item to be addressed for any project involves harnessing how much or how little light is permitted to enter a facility through a combination of window treatments and exterior wall transparency features like glass or skylights.  Inattentive management or great intentions initiated too late in the project process can affect many facility operating issues, which may cause more problems than the solution solves.  Sunlight has both pleasant and harsh characteristics encompassed within its aesthetic and fundamental properties – solar heat gain, low energy lighting, morale improvement, increased productivity, fewer sick days, and glare which can reduce both comfortability and productivity to name a few.  The whole puzzle or challenge begins when the project selects a potential location or space to be occupied.

To hit the ground running, knowledgeable professionals must start the process by completing detailed programming on how light will be incorporated into meeting the company’s requirements, as well as how it will be completely or partially filtered in instances where it conflicts or negatively impacts project or specific space requirements.

Below is a great list of questions or professional designer responsibilities that will be helpful in avoiding surprises by double checking critical details:

  1. Discuss any early objectives in project programming to incorporate natural light into interior light requirements, indirect space heat benefits, work or break area space morale improvement strategies, and solar panel energy generation opportunities;
  2. Complete project analysis to incorporate glass, skylights, solar panels, and facility orientation to capture maximum benefits from location and positioning;
  3. Review impacts of heat, cold and natural light  at all exposed spaces for both summer and winter sun patterns;
  4. Discuss levels of filtering in work spaces with the incorporation of exterior fixed and motorized sun shades, tinted or reflective glass, interior blinds, drapes, or mini-blinds, sun screens, trees and landscaping, or alternative building orientations;
  5. Have professionals coordinate window head details to accept appropriate light treatment products, provide power if required, and appropriate fastener coordination minimizing warranty implications from aluminum and glass systems;
  6. Building glass or other transparent materials should be evaluated for all seasonal and temperature implications with respect to minimizing undesirable conditions such as frost, condensation, dust accumulation, privacy considerations, and potential light seepage at the perimeter of the treatment component;
  7. Minimizing operational limits of blinds can produce positive and negative effects -  Good air flow can minimize moisture issues on glass, but not allow complete sunlight filtering for the space;
  8. Spaces used for light sensitive operations may need special treatments to completely filter  out natural light 100%;
  9. Have professionals confirm that shades or blinds are going to be directly anchored into aluminum and glass system, no warranties are impacted and no direct paths for exterior rain or snow are created;
  10. Discuss and thoroughly review all areas where the impact of natural light will change over the course of the day and the variety of filtering requirements that might also be required.  High entry area atriums can have interior natural light implications minimized by incorporating motorized shades, blinds, or drapes that can be adjusted from a central point of control;
  11. Confirm with professionals if window treatments are anchored to exterior walls adjacent to the aluminum and glass systems so that tolerances, filtering potential light and air movements are acceptable for the space requirements and do not result in unacceptable levels of moisture or temperature variations;
  12. Confirm with professionals the analysis of full natural day-light and limited night-light conditions so that undesirable building exterior elevation aesthetics are not created from the variety of window filtering treatments being fully used or unused and/or open.  Both tinted and reflective glass window conditions can significantly impact the building façade appearance when shades or blinds are in different positions across the wall of a building;
  13. Discuss with professionals the building’s operating policies regarding window finishes being left in a common position at the end of the work day;
  14. Confirm with professionals any issues resulting from the location of exterior artificial lighting on the building façade or in parking or drive areas during dark conditions which may requirie filtering;
  15. Review and have professionals determine any benefits or added value resulting from the ability to introduce artificial indirect light with soffits or simulated skylight features in lieu of real sky lights or transoms through exterior walls or roofs.  Many times interior work space and productivity benefits can result from carefully planned imitation natural lighting features that cost much less and provide less exposure to temperature, moisture, and natural lighting variations;
  16. Have professionals investigate skylights as the primary work space lighting for daylight conditions and use light fixtures only after natural conditions drop low enough requiring supplemental assistance.  Using natural light for day-time conditions can result in significant operating utility expense savings for production;
  17. Resist the temptation to add accent color or vibrant work environments with colorful window treatments until all exterior visible implications are understood and acceptable with respect to appearance;
  18. Require any selected vendor or subcontractor professional providing and/or installing window treatments to field measure all openings and provide a minimum of one mock-up condition for every different type of window treatment.  Ordering or procuring materials from building permit or construction plans can result in unpleasant surprises with minor dimension discrepancy issues, as well as conflicts with furniture, walls, ceiling soffits, and structural, mechanical, electrical, security, or control devices;
  19. Coordinate all window treatment device control features with final interior space furniture layouts to avoid inaccessible conditions;
  20. Coordinate all window treatment installation following the final construction window cleaning and following any construction site activities generating a great deal of dust to avoid unnecessary additional cleaning prior to facility occupancy;
  21. When a common-sized, typical window treatment is being provided throughout the space, purchase 5% extra attic stock to avoid undesirable color variations from manufacturing run to run; and
  22. Double-check with professionals to determine if undesirable fading, discoloration, or other unwanted characteristics will affect raw or finished products prior to implementing natural skylights in a production area.