Architectural Record BE - Building Enclosure

Daylighting in Schools, Grades K-12

Assisting daylight delivery while controlling electric light
This course is no longer active
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Advertorial course provided by Lutron
Susan K. Oldroyd, AIA
Continuing Education

Learning Objectives - After this course, you should be able to:

  1. Identify benefits of incorporating daylighting principles into schools grades K-12.
  2. Describe architectural features used to increase effectiveness of daylighting in interior spaces.
  3. Determine appropriate building controls for different types of school spaces.



Benefits for incorporating daylighting principles into schools grades K-12 are twofold: reduction of energy consumption and costs by greater reliance on natural light, and improved human performance.

Schools typically relied on daylighting as the primary source of illumination before fluorescent lighting became common. The California Department of Education required daylighting standards in school construction, so that all California classrooms built to handle the postwar baby boom in the 1950s and early 1960s were examples of daylit schools. The "Finger Plan" schools with rows of single classrooms with exterior corridors on both sides became a standard for grades K-12. However, in the late 1960s, air conditioning became common and school design changed. Classrooms were designed with less glass and lower ceilings, and rooms were grouped together in tighter configurations, without solar orientation in mind. The finger plan school design was largely abandoned, and many of the classrooms built since then do not have daylighting, and some rooms have no windows at all.

School districts across the country are experiencing K-12 construction starts in the first half of 2005 averaging four percent higher than the same period in 2004. $15.6 billion in constructions starts have begun to address overcrowding and inadequate facilities by constructing or renovating school buildings. The need for new facilities will continue to increase, according to Engineering News-Record and McGraw-Hill Construction Research & Analysis, especially in southern regions of the United States experiencing increases in school age populations due to relocation and immigration.

Southwest Community Center Gymnasium, Seattle, WA
This gymnasium uses fabric skylight baffles to diffuse glare and make electric lighting unnecessary during daylight hours. Architect: Weinstein A|U .
Photographer: Jamie Myers Forsythe

Initial costs are traditionally the most important in school construction budgets, but districts are increasingly focusing on sustainability, as case studies prove incorporating sustainable features into new K-12 schools can be realized within construction budgets, thus providing a more effective learning environment and saving resources. A sustainability measure increasingly integrated into building design is the use of daylight as a primary lighting element in classrooms, common areas, and even gymnasiums. Design features such as light shelves filter and reflect light to control glare and maximize diffuse natural light during K-12 operating hours, which coincide with daylight hours. Lighting controls, such as dimming ballasts, improve the light distribution when daylight is insufficient, and manage energy by turning off lighting by means of occupancy sensors. Clients from K-12 schools are learning the advantages of lighting controls such as energy savings and energy code compliance, while seeking simple, low-cost solutions.


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Originally published in Architectural Record.