Post-1960s modern era cut back on windows with the intention of conserving heating and cooling costs.

Post-1960s modern-era architecture – influenced by the cement-strong brutalism movement – cut back on windows with the intention of conserving heating and cooling costs, long before daylight was considered one of a building’s most precious commodities.

Most structures built in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s are entirely reliant on electric lighting. It’s all thanks to some style choices and architecture trends of those eras that underestimated the value of natural sunlight and the surging energy prices that would usher these structures into the millennium.

With urbanization at its peak and energy sources depleting at a concerning pace, building owners are hard-pressed to find efficient alternatives to rising energy costs and the off-trend glow of fluorescent lights.

Harnessing the power of the sun, or daylighting, has the potential to yield significant advantages to operations seeking to cut energy consumption, boost personnel performance, and increase property value.

Daylighting is a primitive solution to a manufactured problem. It’s the utilization of light to offset electrical needs.

Groovy Designs Now Unsustainable

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Many pre-millennial buildings are occupied by government offices, schools, city buildings, and other municipal entities that can allocate a tax deduction to a contractor who contributes to an older building’s energy-efficient retrofits. Lighting designers are great candidates.

When windows fell out of vogue many decades ago, commercial interiors lost the light of day. Builders thought they were cutting costs by eliminating windows and foregoing quality roofs, opting rather to light and heat buildings solely with electricity. It was an affordable option and industry norm at the time.

The structures  that were built with solid materials, like concrete and stone, stuck out from the traditional skyline line-up, and to this day, many admirers of architecture can’t decide how they feel about the slab trends of pre-millennial design-build.

Brutalism and monumentalism,  architectural styles that remain aesthetically controversial to this day, are excellent examples of the sturdy construction and an enormous sense of scale that make pre-millennial buildings unfavorable tear-downs, despite their poor layouts for energy efficiency.

Many of these buildings are still standing, though it’s been decades since they were considered sustainable. Energy-efficient aftermarket solutions have been available since the 1990s, though the market is virtually untapped, with a 2% penetration in the U.S.

Unfortunately for some pre-millennial structures, relying less on electrical light is going to take some crafty retrofits. Luckily, there are innovative solutions and valuable incentives to make it all possible.

Obviously, daylighting is an easier task for buildings designed with large windows and skylights. It sounds simple, but inviting sufficient daylight into poorly optimized buildings with large floor plans and dense walls is a little more complicated than pulling up the shades. There’s actually a lot to it.

A true daylighting system is integrated with a design layout that factors in a building’s architecture, floorplan, and artificial lighting scheme. Things like glass selection and tinting, decorative colors, reflective surfaces, and interior partitions all play a role in the success of a daylit office.

Unfortunately for some pre-millennial structures, relying less on electrical light is going to take some crafty retrofits. Luckily, there are innovative solutions and valuable incentives to make it all possible.

(like an elongated skylight), and are intended specifically for window-challenged spaces

Tubular daylighting devices act like elongated skylights and are intended specifically to light up window-challenged spaces.

Retrofitting With Tubular Daylighting Devices

Structures that can’t accommodate new or larger window installations can install tubular daylighting devices (TDD), a cost-cutting alternative to burning overhead fluorescents.

TDDs (also called sun pipes or light tunnels), are usually cylinder-shaped ducts that distribute sunlight. They are usually installed through a building’s roof and delivered through a ceiling (like an elongated skylight), and are intended specifically for window-challenged spaces – including those funky, dated designs from previous generations – that rely too much on electric lighting.

TDDs are engineered with light-diffusing technology to moderate glare and regulate light patterns. Ultraviolet and infrared rays are also diffused to block heat transfer and prevent interior upholsteries from fading.

The light levels in a well-planned space lit by TDDs can be balanced with bi-level switches, dimmers and photosensors that adjust the interior lights to accommodate incoming and receding sunlight. Some simpler TDDs employ a manual shade to block bright light.

Tax Deduction for Daylighting Retrofits

Even the U.S. government recognizes the potential benefits of daylighting, but acknowledges the need for wide-spread adoption to make a substantial impact on strained energy grids.

To encourage daylighting retrofits and other energy-saving solutions, Congress created a tax incentive that relates to the design and installation of energy-efficient interior lighting in commercial and public buildings. Through the Energy-Efficient Commercial Building Deduction found in section 179D of the Internal Revenue Code, qualifying businesses can receive  30¢ – $1.80 per square foot in deductions for eligible lighting projects. Renovations that incorporate additional energy-cutting improvements to the building’s HVAC, hot water, and building envelope can also be eligible for as much as $1.80 per square foot in reduced tax liability.

Who Can Qualify?

Designers of government-owned buildings can receive the 179D benefit under a special rule for public property. Eligible designers include architects, engineers, contractors, environmental consultants or energy services providers who have done energy-efficient design work for new government buildings or renovations/retrofits of existing government buildings. This includes the contractors who design and implement new interior lighting plans for buildings that could benefit from a little extra daylight.

Buildings that qualify for 179D include schools, state universities, libraries, town halls, airports transportation facilities, post offices, court house, military bases, government offices.

Buildings that qualify for 179D include schools, state universities, libraries, town halls, airports transportation facilities, post offices, court houses, military bases, and other government-owned businesses.

For more information about qualifying for the 179D tax deduction, click here.