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How Advanced Skylights Harness the Sun For Superior Daylighting

LightFlex™ CCT skylights change the color of daylight and funnel it deep into a building.

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Wouldn’t it be nice if you could use daylight in every room?

Daylight is free, boosts productivity and is infinitely renewable. The only problem is that it can be hard to bring sunlight into rooms buried deep inside a building. Even when rooms are on the top floor, it can be hard to punch skylights through to them if you’re dealing with a thick or complex ceiling structure. Fortunately, skylights have come a long way. They are no longer just windows in the roof, but are sophisticated light channels that can shoot daylight deep into a building’s recesses.

The LightFlex CCT made by Sunoptics® is a state-of-the-art tubular skylight device that does much more than just let light into a building. The system gathers daylight with a clear, prismatic dome and reflects that light through a highly-reflective tube so that it can twist around mechanical or HVAC units and illuminate a room. The patented prismatic dome ensures that light enters the skylight even when the sun is at low angles, and controllable louvers within the tube moderate light levels throughout the day. The innovative MIRO-SILVER® coating on the inside of the tube ensures that almost all the light collected is released on the other side.

Products like LightFlex CCT are known as tubular daylight devices (TDDs). They differ from traditional skylights in that the tube allows for slight bends around pipe or sprinkler systems in the plenum space. They are well-suited to spaces in buildings that do not have direct access to the roof, such as a dropped- or suspended-ceiling. They also work well in retrofits because they can fit around existing systems.

sunoptics lightflex

Cutaway diagram showing how sunlight is channeled by Lightflex CCT from the roof through the ceiling to spaces below

The LightFlex CCT not only wiggles light to a new location, it also changes the color of sunlight. Daylight is a cool white light that has a higher color temperature (typically between 5000-6000k) than typical electric lighting which tends to be in the 3000-4000k range. LightFlex CCT transforms the daylight into a warm 3700K to match other interior lights. “We designed LightFlex CCT to better align daylighting with lighting design best practices,” said Pete Shannin, Acuity Brands Vice President, Daylighting Product Solutions. “Most specifiers don’t design general illumination around cool-white 5000K; why should they compromise when they use daylight?”

The color shift is achieved by a phosphor panel lens. The phosphor works by absorbing waves of incoming light and emitting them with a longer wavelength, a property called luminescence. It is the warmer, emitted light that comes down into the room.

Goodwill Industries — a nonprofit that repurposes used clothing into assets and provides skills training and employment opportunities — incorporated LightFlex CCT into their new building in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The building was converted by architects at Perretz & Young, who transformed an old Target store into a Goodwill store and offices with a focus on sustainability. The lights were instrumental in adapting dark rooms into bright and inviting workspaces.

LightFlex™ CCT and electric lighting in a conference room in the Goodwill Industries building

“We had a 15-foot drop ceiling. It’s a big space, and too many systems were in the way — a lot of hanging wires, ductwork, lighting fixtures and sprinkler systems,” architect Bruce Perretz explained. “There was just no way to channel daylight that distance with a skylight, so we put in tubes.” Perretz concluded, “We’ve reduced the number of lights and the number of hours the lights are being used. So, it’s worth it. And to me, I’d rather have natural light in the space. I would lean my clients towards doing it and making the effort.”

One of the caveats of skylights is that they are dependent upon sunlight, which can be bright one day and gloomy the next. To avoid being completely at the mercy of the weather, Goodwill installed Lithonia Lighting® BLT LED luminaires alongside the LightFlex CCT systems. The color of these LEDs can be adjusted from warmer to cooler light using nLight® nPODm controller. This system can modify light between 3000K and 5000K.

Builders may also be hesitant to punch holes through their roof in areas that get a lot of rain. However, Goodwill’s Ed Mack said that even with the 21” diameter holes required for LightFlex CCT, the system has held up well. “When a hurricane comes up here along the East Coast, we can get a ton of rain,” said Mack. “I haven’t had any issues with the skylights.”

A typical drop ceiling space that can benefit from the installation of Lightflex CCT tubular skylights

“In a retrofit project, tubular devices just make sense. They work, and they get you natural light,” said Bruce Perretz, architect and President of Perretz & Young. “That was why I chose them for Goodwill. There was so much space above their drop ceiling, tubular was the best decision.”

Danielle Cronin agreed that the lighting was a success. “I think the lighting is probably making that space what it is. I mean that truthfully.”

Sunoptics has continued to introduce new products to help address architects needs with the introduction of its new LightFlex tunable-white LED offering. LightFlex LED is the industry’s first commercial daylighting system to integrate tunable-white LEDs and photocontrols into a single system. This allows an architect to utilize LightFlex LED to provide both daylighting and electric lighting from one opening in the ceiling.

The benefits of such are optimized daylight harvesting to reduce energy consumption and access to natural light; reduced clutter in the ceiling removing the need for the use of redundant lighting systems; better color uniformity as the luminaire and skylight are one and the same; and lastly the ability to provide tunable-white LED lighting when daylight isn’t available. LightFlex LED is perfect for use in areas where daylight isn’t readily available such as interior classrooms, offices and conference rooms.