Nov 17, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Let there be light

Published in Product Innovation
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When it comes to educational buildings, specifying glazing products can be a challenge. Not only do these spaces need access to plenty of natural light to create a comfortable learning environment – but with stringent environmental policies weighing heavily on the public sector, efficiency must always be front of mind too.

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The specification of glazing can become particularly problematic with large panes of glass: walking the tightrope between impressive aesthetic design and a building that offers the thermal performance it needs to keep running costs down.

One educational building that provides a case in point is Brunel University, in Uxbridge, West London – which has undergone a £13.8m redevelopment project on its 4710m² Wilfred Brown Building (a central hub for the College of Engineering, Design and Physical Sciences). With student welfare of paramount concern, an important part of the external renovation was designing a roof that would allow plenty of natural light into the building – creating a lighter, brighter learning environment for pupils.

Student safety was also a top priority. Architects needed to guarantee glazing durability for generations to come, standing the test of time against the extremes of seasonal weather. Finally, with impending rising energy costs, any glass used on the roof needed to be fully thermally efficient – preventing heat loss in winter months to help keep costs low, yet ensuring that temperatures don’t become uncomfortably warm during the summer.

Rooflights: the perfect solution

Specifiers at Brunel had worked with leading British flat-roof skylight manufacturer Sunsquare before, and knew that its rooflights were the ideal choice for the university’s unique requirements. Mark Lambert, Sales Director at Sunsquare, explains: “As a university renowned for delivering exceptional standards of education, it was imperative that Brunel’s upgraded facilities reflected the same high standards. One of the main challenges faced by the remodelling team was to create a more welcoming space for visitors, increasing light in poorly lit areas of the building.

“Studies have shown that the benefits of natural light in learning facilities can be significant, providing access to vitamin D that can improve students’ mood, focus, productivity and attendance. Rooflights are the perfect solution – as they emit twice as much natural light as an equivalent-sized vertical window.

“However, for Brunel, it didn’t stop there. The university needed to ensure proper heat-loss protection too. With such a large atrium to heat, a rooflight with a thermally-efficient profile was the only way to keep heat loss to a minimum and energy bills as low as possible.“

Finding the perfect fit

By incorporating six made-to-measure Skyview flat-roof skylights – complete with Sunsquare’s unique thermal technology – into the tender drawings from the outset, the architects were able to strike the balance between much-needed natural light and exceptional thermal efficiency. Designed to fit flush with the project’s pre-constructed ventilated upstands, and featuring a fully thermally-broken frame, the Skyview rooflights matched thermal performance with the aesthetic appeal Brunel needed.

The renovation saw the Wilfred Brown Building fitted with four (1514 x 3514mm) glass pane Skyview rooflights, spanning the full length of the atrium. Two smaller (1000 x 2000mm) Skyview rooflights were installed above darker corners over a neighbouring staircase. All six feature a laminated inner pane to deliver optimum durability and glass safety.

Protecting against heat loss

A key driver behind selecting Skyview rooflights was their unrivalled U-values. Sunsquare products are the only flat-roof skylights to feature a fully ‘thermally-broken’ frame, delivering the most efficient profile on the market. This is due, in part, to two separate runs of polyamide included in the frame. These insulating sections act as breaks to thermal conductivity through the aluminium frame, keeping internal and external temperatures completely separate.

As well as preventing heat loss, these insulating sections also prevent ‘cold bridging’ – where condensation forms on the aluminium frame.

Over time, if this water is allowed to accumulate, the structure of the frame can become damaged, compromising a rooflight’s safety and efficiency. For a university filled with hundreds of students each day, knowing this will never be an issue provides complete peace of mind for both specifiers and university staff alike.

Mark Lambert adds: “Brunel University is a perfect example of how functionality and sustainability can work together within an education facility. Opting for fully thermally-broken rooflights meant Brunel’s specifying team could guarantee unbeatable U-value performance, creating a greener, more energy-efficient building – and still deliver a rooflight that can cope with the battering of wind and rain for decades to come.”

Added-value features

As well as preventing wasted heat in colder seasons, the architectural team was concerned about the potential impact of such large areas of glazing in the summer months. This is why each rooflight was specified with SN70 Solar controlled glass to avoid excessive heat during sunny periods. Featuring a microscopic metallic coating, this glass reflects up to 60% of the sun’s heat rays, providing UV protection without any visible drop in light penetration. This has the added bonus of improving heating and ventilation costs, by helping maintain a comfortable temperature.

With a busy campus to manage, Brunel was also in need of a quick installation process to create as little disruption to the day-to-day running of the university as possible. As each Sunsquare rooflight is custom-made at a state-of-the-art factory in Bury St. Edmunds, the process from ordering to installation took just six weeks, with a two-day install at the university campus.

Top-grade specs, top-grade safety

“Since the installation, both visitors and students have commented on how striking the entrance to the building now looks,” Mark adds. “But what they don’t see is the peace of mind behind the design. As the only rooflight company to hold a British Standards Institution (BSI) Kitemark for safety, we were able to offer unparalleled levels of safety that other rooflight companies simply can’t match. We also regularly test each of our components to absolute destruction, so we can guarantee consistently high-standards, time after time.

“In fact, we’re so confident in the quality of our product, that we’re now offering 10-year insurance-backed warranties on our entire range, which marks another industry first for the world of flat-roof skylights. This is great news for architects and building managers who have CDM regulations to abide by and who are concerned with the longevity of their rooflight. With the safest and most thermally-efficient rooflights in place, Brunel students will be able to enjoy an abundance of natural light for generations to come.”

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