What You Need to Know Before Installing a Skylight

The beauty of skylights can be a real benefit to the aesthetic value of a metal building project. Beyond looks, though, the proven benefits of daylighting are many: building occupant satisfaction from natural lighting, mold and mildew growth prevention and, of course, energy savings, to name a few. In fact, once the decision has been made to go with metal for the roofing material, a skylight is often a natural tie-in when it comes to sustainable design—for both form and function. In order to make the most of the design choice, there are a few key considerations to bear in mind during the specification and pre-installation phases of the process.

Types of Available Skylights

Two common types of skylights used with metal roofs are Light Transmitting Panels (LTPs) and Curb Mount Skylights. Both supply natural light into the building and provide similar benefits. LTPs, which are formed from a translucent material and come in many different panel profiles, in actuality, can be used not only in metal roofs but as an accessory for metal wall panels, too. One of the key benefits of LTPs is that the panel is formed so that it substantially matches the configuration and characteristics of the system into which it is installed, and therefore can work seamlessly with specific metal roof systems. Curbed (curb mount) skylights include a raised structure (“curb”) formed around the roof opening where the skylight will be attached. Curb skylights come in many shapes and styles.

In addition to the general “type” of skylight, another consideration is selecting the best orientation for the skylight—which we’ll look at next.

Skylight Placement, Orientation and the Climate Factor

Placement and orientation are some of the most important factors in getting the maximum benefit from skylights. During the planning phase, determine the best location to achieve optimal light and to avoid obstructions (such as HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and vent pipes) below the skylight.

Skylight
Skylights and Light Transmitting Panels supply natural light into the building as shown above.

In terms of getting the most out of the skylight from an energy-savings standpoint, climate and exposure are also key factors. For example, with a southern exposure, skylights provide an excellent level of passive solar heat during the colder winter months, while keeping cooling costs down during the summer heat. On the other hand, a skylight with a western exposure will increase cooling costs if the structure is in a relatively warm climate.

Installation Planning and Timing

Skylights can be installed during or after the roof has been installed, but it is in the best interest of the project to plan for a skylight from the early stages of the design phase in order to best accommodate and prepare for the addition of the skylight.

Safety Concerns

Skylights and LTPs should be guarded to protect from fall through the use of metal railing, nets or some other method of protection.

Responsibility and Compliance

Last but certainly not least, it must be stated that it is the user’s responsibility to ensure that the installation and use of all light transmitting panels comply with State, Federal and OSHA regulations and laws, including, but not limited to, guarding all light transmitting panels with screens, fixed standard railings, or other acceptable safety controls that prevent fall-through.

For additional information about skylights for metal roofs, please contact MBCI at (877) 713-6224.

Urban Heat Island, Part 2: How Cool Metal Roofs Benefit Building Owners

In our prior blog post, Urban Heat Islands, Part 1: How Cool Metal Roofs Benefit the Community, we identified the existence of urban heat islands and their contribution to higher air temperatures that are found in urban areas compared to surrounding locations. We also identified a high Solar Reflectance Index (SRI), on a scale of 0-100, as the means to specify materials that can help reduce urban heat islands and benefit entire communities. In this post, let’s focus on the specific benefits to the building owner when cool metal roofs are used.

Cool Metal Roof
The Boundy Residence features a cool metal roof

Energy Savings for Cool Metal Roofs

In many commercial and industrial buildings, energy use is one of the largest ongoing operating expenses, meaning that building owners and operators are usually quite interested in lowering or controlling that expense. Cool metal roofs with a high SRI rating can help with that quest. For instance, since air conditioning is commonly a larger cost that heating for many such buildings, it is a natural place to target. Lowering the temperatures at the roof means there is less heat surrounding the building, reducing air conditioning load and directly impacting energy costs.

Comfort in Outdoor Areas

Some building types, such as restaurants, retail, and entertainment facilities, rely on outdoor seating or gathering areas to support their business. If urban heat islands make these spaces uncomfortable to spend time in, the business usually suffers too. Providing these buildings with high-SRI metal roofing can improve the situation.

Long-Term Durability

Building materials can degrade prematurely if they routinely exposed to high heat. The heat can cause them to dry out, become brittle, or simply decompose faster than expected. Using high-SRI roofing is not only good for the longevity of the roofing, it can be good for the durability of the materials directly under the roof as well. Roof sheathing and other substrate materials directly in contact with the roofing receive the same intense solar radiation that the roofing surface does.

Attic spaces below the roofing plane also receive the heat, making attic temperatures in excess of 130 degrees common, causing degradation of materials in those spaces, including mechanical and electrical equipment. That could mean more expansion and contraction of connections and joints or it could mean that air conditioning duct work is being heated, contrary to the efficient operation of the system. In any of these cases, a cool metal roof will help alleviate the negative impacts of solar heat and allow materials to achieve full life expectancy.

Supports LEED Certification

In the Sustainable Sites category of the LEED rating system, Heat Island Reduction can be selected as a credit to receive either one or two points toward certification. This credit relies on both roof and non-roof strategies and looks for calculations of solar reflectance (SR) and demonstrated Solar Reflectance Index (SRI) levels on specified products.

Cool Metal Roofs

Favorable Payback

All of these benefits above can translate to financial benefits to the building owner or operator. Any cost premium incurred for selecting a high-SRI cool metal roof can likely be realized very quickly in energy cost savings, increased business, or maintenance and durability savings. In addition, the benefits of human comfort and achievement of LEED or other sustainability goals can be realized for the life of the building.

Urban Heat Islands, Part 1: How Cool Metal Roofs Benefit the Community

Summer in the city usually means it’s hot – hotter than surrounding areas. Those who have investigated this phenomenon have identified the presence of “urban heat islands” – places that heat up disproportionately to those nearby.

Urban Heat Islands Form from an Abundance of Dark Surfaces in Cities

One reason for this is the predominance of dark asphalt pavement and dark-colored roofing. The significance is that dark surfaces are known to absorb sunlight and re-radiate it back as heat. That’s how thermal solar panels work, but it is also dramatically apparent when walking across a black asphalt parking lot in the summer sun. The heat is coming not only from the sun above, but from the pavement below.

If nearby buildings have dark-colored roofs, the same is happening there. Studies have shown that this re-radiated heat can build up in urban areas and raise the surrounding air temperature by up to 5 degrees Fahrenheit on average. So while it might be a tolerable 85 degrees and pleasant a few miles away, the urban core could be sweltering in a self-induced 90 degrees – even higher on those dark roofs and parking lots.

Measuring Solar Heat

How do we know what materials help or hinder these urban heat islands? First, all materials will absorb and reflect varying amounts of solar radiation based primarily on the color and reflectance of a material. The way to measure that variation is based on ASTM test standards E903 and C1549. These tests are used to determine the solar reflectance (SR) of materials, which is expressed as the fraction of solar energy that is reflected on a scale of 0 to 1. Black paint, for example, has an SR of 0 and bright white titanium paint has an SR of 1 (highest reflectance).

Reducing Heat Islands with Cool Metal Roofs

Taking things one step further, the Solar Reflectance Index (SRI) has been developed as a measure of the ability of a constructed surface, particularly roofs, to stay cool in the sun. It relies on both an initial SR value as well as a thermal emittance value being determined for a material or product. Using ASTM E1980 and values from the Cool Roof Rating Council Standard (CRRC-1), an SRI of between 0 (common black surface) and 100 (common white reflective surface) can be determined. The higher the SRI, the higher the amount of solar radiation that is reflected and thermal radiation minimized, thus creating a comparatively cool surface.

Metal roofing is particularly well suited to achieve high SRI values, minimize heat build-up, and reduce urban heat islands. Recognizing this, many manufacturers test metal roofing products and publish the SRI results, allowing professionals and consumers to make informed decisions. Of course, other roofing materials are tested for SRI values too, but few test as effectively and economically as metal roofing.

(For specific information about the radiative properties of MBCI’s colors, consult our listings in the respective databases on the CRRC and ENERGY STAR websites.)

Benefits to the Community

Specifying and building with high-SRI metal roofs has benefits beyond just the immediate building—reducing urban heat islands keeps excess heat from building up in the surrounding community too. Higher summer temperatures can be detrimental to plants, trees, and people who are outside in urban areas. By using cool metal roofs that reduce the surrounding air temperature, plants don’t lose water as quickly, people are more comfortable, and trees are less stressed. Cooler air temperatures around a building also means air conditioning does not need to work as hard or as often. That translates into less energy use and fewer greenhouse gas emissions from electricity to run the air conditioning—both of which could significantly contribute to cleaner air in the community.

Results

By recognizing the existence of urban heat islands and their impact on people and the environment, those of us in the design and construction field can choose to do something about them. By specifying and installing high-SRI cool metal roofs, the environment benefits, people benefit and our buildings benefit.

Learn more in our blog post, “Code Requirements for Cool Roofs with Climate Zone Specifics.”

Daylighting 101

In the age of increased energy efficiency requirements in buildings, designers often find themselves spending time and resources squeezing performance out of systems with relatively little gain in efficiency. More and more, building insulation systems seem to fall into this category. The authors of the building codes recognize this as well and have reacted by turning their focus on other metrics like air infiltration where more substantial gains are to be had. A similar situation exists with lighting efficiency. However, when it comes to daylighting, designers are often pushed out of their comfort zone because lighting concepts and terminology is quite esoteric and difficult to comprehend.

Daylighting
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The truth is that most people take light for granted and aren’t aware of the complexity of lighting for human activity and comfort. Probably the biggest reason for this complexity is the fact that the human eye is the only way we can judge light and although the eye is an evolutionary masterpiece, it has its own idiosyncrasies and no two eyes work identically. For instance, the typical human eye can discern shades of green at much greater accuracy than other colors and because of this sensitivity, green light is often perceived as brighter than other colors at the same energy level. Therefore, quantifying light level for human comfort and function must take this sensitivity into account, leading to some complexity. Here are some basic principles that you need to understand:

A steradian is a unit of solid angle measure. You can think of a 1 steradian solid angle as a cone cut out of a sphere with the apex of the cone at the center of the sphere and cross-section angle of approximately 66 degrees. A unique property of a 1 steradian solid angle is that the area of the semispherical “cap” captured by the cone is equal to the radius of the sphere squared. This makes it a convenient shape to use in measuring the amount of light projecting from a source at the apex of the cone through its interior and onto the cap because the amount of energy passing through any cross-section along the way is always the same. There are 4π, or approximately 12, steradian in a sphere.

Surface area of the "cap" is equal to radius of the sphere squared.

Light is generated at the molecular level by the outer bands of electrons surrounding a given atom. When these electrons become excited at a high enough level, they emit a burst of energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation of a wavelength interval unique to the emitting atom in order to return to a lower energy state. If the energy level is just right, this wavelength will be in the visible light spectrum and viewed as a specific color. White light is formed when many atoms respond at various energy levels distributed across the entire visible spectrum in a pattern such that the energy transmitted is roughly constant with wavelength. The human eye is not responsive enough to discern the different colors hitting it, so an overall stimulation results in a static or “white” response. (There is a similar concept for sound as well, called “white noise”, when the ear cannot detect the individual vibration frequencies.)

The absolute brightness of light is given by the total energy it transfers through electromagnetic modulation. It is determined by summing up the energies transferred by each incorporated wavelength. As light travels from a point source, this energy spreads, causing the amount of energy arriving at a single point in space to decrease as that point is placed farther away from the light source. Brightness decreases with the square of the distance from which it is viewed. In other words, a light will appear ¼ as bright when viewed from a distance twice as far.

Because the human eye is more sensitive to green light than other colors, the brightness it perceives from different lights can only be effectively compared at the same color or wavelength. For light used for human function and comfort, it has been standardized to quantify the brightness at the 555 nanometer wavelength, which is near the center of green in the visible light spectrum, and then adjust for the effect of other colors consistent with how the human eye perceives them. Color is accounted for by weighting the energies transmitted at other wavelengths using the luminosity function. The resulting quantity is called perceived brightness. The luminosity function is similar to a bell curve and it represents how relative brightness of various colors is perceived by the typical human eye. As you might expect, the luminosity curve peaks at a wavelength near 555 nanometers.

Absolute brightness is measured in watts and should only be used when comparing lights of the same color. This should not be confused with power consumption, which is also measured in watts. Perceived brightness is instead expressed in candela and is the only way light of mixed color (on non-monochromatic) can be compared. A one candela light source with a wavelength of 555 nanometers transmits 1/683 of a watt of energy.

It is also important to be able to quantify total light output of a light source. Real-world light sources are not usually of equal brightness in all directions, so candela is not the best measurement to use. To account for spatial variation, total light output is defined as the sum total of light passing through every point in a cross-section of a one steradian solid angle, considering a light source at the apex, divided by the area of the section. This results in the same quantity regardless of the location of the cross-section. So, if a light were to transmit one candela through each point in the cross-section of a unit steradian, then it would be said to produce one lumen of light. Likewise, a 555 nanometer light source radiating one watt per steradian of energy produces 683 lumens.

Finally, the effect of light projected onto a surface must be defined, commonly called illumination level. If a light projects through a solid angle of one steradian at a uniform perceived brightness of one candela, the illumination level achieved one foot away is called a footcandle. This definition confuses many people because it is contrary to what the name might imply. But because a unit steradian is used as the basis, a footcandle equates to one lumen per square foot and it is generally much easier to think of illumination level in this way. Lux is the metric equivalent to a footcandle and there is about 10.8 lux in a footcandle. Since illumination level differences of one tenth of a footcandle are not detectable by the human eye, this is often simplified to 10 lux per footcandle.

To put this all into context, a dome skylight 24” in diameter, elevated a foot above a 30’ high roof on a 20’ x 20’ grid on an open building in El Paso, Texas, achieves about 25 footcandles at a level 4’ above the floor at noon on March 21st (typical spring equinox). Compare this versus the following recommended illumination levels for various tasks as recommended by The Whole Building Design Guide:

Whole Building Design Guide Illuminatin Levels

Understanding these concepts will help you get more out of MBCI’s latest whitepaper, Shining Light on Daylighting with Metal Roofs, where MBCI explores the subject in detail, wholly within the context of metal roofs and metal wall systems. We hope you find it…err, enlightening.

Download the White Paper, Daylighting with Metal Roofs

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