Natural Light: Why it is critical and 6 ways to enhance it

I don’t need to explain the importance of natural light to office workers.  If you search around, you will encounter a variety of articles, web posts, and studies explaining that office workers are generally happier, healthier, and more satisfied when they work in spaces with natural light.  I am sure that at some stage in our careers we have all been in, or occupied, ‘poorly illuminated’ space, and that we are very familiar with the feelings associated with such spaces.  I won’t bore you with stories of my past efforts to lease those dark spaces which, inevitably, attract “interesting” characters.  However, I will share some research that speaks to the value of natural light to our health, and possibly our performance, at work.  I will also provide six suggestions to maximize the natural light in your office space.

The study that caught my attention was completed in partnership by Northwestern University, Taipei Medical University,Hwa-Hsia Institute of Technology, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,  and published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. The study showed that office workers who had greater exposure to natural light experienced a greater quantity and improved quality of sleep, and “a trend toward more physical activity”.  Interestingly employees with windows in the workplace slept an average of 46 minutes more per night than employees who did not have the natural light exposure.  This is a significant amount of sleep considering the research available on the potential detrimental impacts of sleep deprivation.  Although there isn’t a causal relationship drawn between exposure to natural light and productivity, it is hard to deny that an extra 46 minutes of quality sleep would not have a positive impact on one’s performance.

To maximize the amount of natural light in your office space, consider the following:

1. Obstructed views

In higher density areas of the city, like in the Downtown Core, some buildings have windows with “Manhattan views”, i.e. other buildings in very close proximity.  Obstructed views also mean obstructed natural light.

2.  Solar exposure

Knowing that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you can predict the amount of natural expected in a space depending on the direction the windows are facing.  Natural light is important, but if it is so bright that you are forced to use window coverings for a large portion of the day, you may not get as much natural light as anticipated.

3. Size of the floor plate

If you are a smaller tenant (occupying less than 3,000 sq. ft.), you will have fewer windows on a larger floor plate (only on one wall of the suite) than if you occupied a smaller floor plate (less than 8,000 – 10,000 sq. ft.).

4. Location of partitions

Limit the use of perimeter offices and partitions, thereby reserving space closest to the windows for workstations.

5. Use of glass  

Glass walls, door frame sidelights (glass panel beside the door frame), and clerestories (glass in walls above your field of vision) are all effective ways of allowing natural light to penetrate the office space.

6. Distance from windows

In most buildings, once you exceed 20-25 feet of distance from the exterior windows, the benefits of natural light cease to exist.  This, of course, has implications for space planning, especially in buildings with larger floor plates that typically have increased distances from the windows to the core of the building.

At the end of the day, natural light is rarely sufficient to illuminate work space on its own.  Artificial office lighting is a must, and can greatly enhance a space (I will try to tackle that topic in another post).  That being said, the first step is maximizing the natural light.  It can greatly enhance the quality of an office space and should not be overlooked.

If you have any questions, comments, or would like to request topics for future posts please contact me directly.



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