Let the Light In!
Designer Speciality Products, LLC introduces daylighting innovations into commercial environments
Pat O’Neal, Commercial Division Manager for Designer Speciality Products, LLC (DSP), is proud to offer premier interior daylighting solutions to his construction clients. In addition to traditional skylights, the company installs Solatube daylighting systems, which use a sunlight-capturing dome and reflective tube to deliver maximum natural light.
DSP was established in 2009 by Thomas Gilbertson, the previous owner of Solar Midwest, a residential Solatube distributor. He created DSP to serve as Solar Midwest’s commercial arm after Solatube designed an innovative commercial product line that offers high-output tubular daylighting devices to deliver massive amounts of daylight in large volume spaces with high, open ceilings.
Current DSP President Jeff May purchased the business in February 2019 with the goal of becoming the Midwest leader for commercial daylighting solutions. Today, DSP is the exclusive distributor for Solatube products in the Minnesota, North Dakota and Western Wisconsin territories. The company works with approximately 100 clients per year, providing design consultation and installation services for a wide range of commercial buildings, including schools, hotels, offices and retail spaces.
O’Neal says that DSP’s narrow focus has helped it become the best resource for commercial daylighting solutions. Unlike companies that boast a large product line, the company is focused solely on daylighting products. He says, “We prefer to stay centered on one thing and be really good at it. For full-service daylighting, we’re your go-to.”
More Than Just a Skylight
“Solatube applies optical technology to bring daylight into places previously unimaginable,” O’Neal says. He describes Solatube as the “gold standard” for tubular skylights, a hybrid daylighting system that allows light into a building like a traditional skylight but captures, or “harvests,” daylight by collecting it in a patented rooftop dome and redirecting it through a highly reflective rigid tube that reflects 99.7% of the light that enters it.
The result is that natural light is evenly dispersed to indoor spaces with a consistent amount of light throughout the day, unlike traditional skylights.
The benefits of using daylighting in commercial construction are many, O’Neal explains, resulting in energy savings and also health and wellness benefits for those who occupy the spaces for long periods of time. For instance, natural light has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health and well-being, increasing productivity, comfort and mental and visual stimulation, making it an important feature for schools, workplaces and health facilities. Daylighting also improves color rendition. While most artificial light delivers a color rendition index (CRI) of 80, Solatube achieves an index of 99. The near-perfect color purity is useful in retail spaces where garment shades can appear different than the way they do in the store.
Daylight’s Bright Impact
DSP’s team is particularly proud of their work with Hotel Emery in downtown Minneapolis, which was named the #2 Hotel in the Midwest in the Condé Nast Traveler 2020 Readers’ Choice Awards. “This was a great project for our business as the final product was a beautiful renovation of a downtown historic building,” O’Neal says. “We were able to overcome some significant challenges of bringing daylight into the lobby of a downtown building surrounded by taller buildings.”
For this project, DSP was tasked with working closely with a landscape designer to create a biophilic design, a concept used to increase human connectivity to the natural environment by bringing outdoor elements inside. To help achieve the design, the client wanted to fill the indoor lobby space with tropical plants. This presented challenges, O’Neal explains, as the hotel is surrounded by tall buildings and parking structures, with little direct sunlight during winter months.
DSP was able to create the proper level of sunlight for the plants by using a proprietary modeling software to calculate, over the course of a year, the daylight available in various cloud conditions and using that data to pinpoint the most desirable locations for Solatubes throughout the lobby. The end result was controlled daylight that allowed enough blue light to aid photosynthesis yet block harmful ultraviolet (UV) and infrared light.
The DSP team is also proud of its multiple projects for upscale Minneapolis grocer Lunds & Byerlys. O’Neal describes the stores as great examples of how natural daylight can bring out the true colors of produce and other products in retail spaces. He notes the Galleria, a high-end shopping center in Edina, Minnesota, as another example of how daylighting can benefit retailers. He says, “We like this project because it illustrates how daylight brightens the interior walkways, improving the retail experience.”
Lighting the Way for Students
The education market, including K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities, makes up approximately 60% of DSP’s business. “We are really proud of the work we do to brighten up classrooms and common spaces in so many local schools,” O’Neal says. “Data shows that daylight in the classroom can have a positive impact on learning outcomes, and we’re happy to have a part in that.”
O’Neal explains that daylight improves student performance by suppressing melatonin, the chemical that promotes sleep. Serotonin then increases, promoting students’ ability to learn and retain information. O’Neal adds that daylight has the same impact in workplaces: When exposure to daylight is increased, productivity goes up.
In partnership with Solatube, DSP has installed free daylighting products in many local facilities, including area schools, a children’s museum and a Native American mental health facility. O’Neal explains that in health facilities, light is essential for treating seasonal disorders, which can be common during Minnesota winters when it is dark throughout much of the day. He says, “We are always looking for interesting projects where we can also have a social impact.”
A Superior Level of Service
O’Neal joined DSP in 2015 with more than 20 years of experience in the construction industry, a benefit for customers in that he understands all facets of the construction process. He says, “I’ve always tried to emphasize that our service is more important than the product. You can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t have skill and service, the product is worthless.”
Service is where DSP strives to set itself apart from the competition. While Solatube pioneered the tubular daylighting industry, O’Neal explains, there are competing products in today’s market. Where DSP stands out is in its turnkey approach to service. “We handle design consultation through installation, which allows us to control quality throughout the process until completion,” O’Neal says. He himself works alongside a project manager in all phases of the delivery process.
DSP’s commitment to service begins with educating customers, helping them find the best solutions for their building and assisting with LEED or local environmental and building regulations. O’Neal says, “We don’t just sell products. We provide information up front to help clients determine what they need and to make informed decisions. Our goal is really just to share our knowledge, which is a free service, and oh, by the way, we have the best products, too.”