Queens business helps Sandy-struck shops capture natural light

Mike Shea installs Solatubes at Burn Fitness in Rockaway.
Mike Shea installs Solatubes at Burn Fitness in Rockaway. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Superstorm Sandy cut a destructive path through Rockaway and laid bare the fragility of the grid that powers the peninsula.

One Rockaway-based business is using unique technology to make local residents and merchants less reliant on that grid while directing more daylight into their buildings.

“Not only does it save electricity, but it’s much healthier,” said Michael Shea, the owner of NYC Daylighting. “Natural light is better for your mood, and it helps people sleep better.”

Shea and his wife, Susan, co-own the business that was one of 11 finalists in the RISE:NYC contest run by the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

The EDC received close to 200 applications from firms around the world with ideas to make Sandy-impacted businesses more resilient against future storms.

EDC is using $30 million in grants from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development disaster recovery program to contract NYC Daylighting and the other winners to shore up local businesses.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods,” said James Patchett, president and CEO of the city EDC. “We’re deploying the most innovative technologies to keep our businesses running and our commercial corridors strong in an ever-changing climate. Resiliency for small businesses means resiliency for local jobs and our city’s economy.”

NYC Daylighting was chosen to install Solatubes at 30 businesses in the Rockaway area. The technology directs sunlight into businesses, but does not harness it like solar power.

Last week, workers from the company were installing a series of Solatubes at Burn Fitness in Rockaway. The gym sustained severe damage during the storm.

After the Solatubes were installed, the inside of the gym received considerably more natural light.

“It’s a tubular skylight,” Michael Shea said of the Solatubes. “A dome sits on the roof and captures the sunlight. It is transferred down through the tube, which is highly reflective, and then the diffuser spreads the light out.”

Shea, who grew up in Belle Harbor, said he heard about the technology while working as a contractor in California. He moved back to Rockaway about seven years ago, not long before Sandy hit in 2012.

“We were doing really well when the storm hit,” he said. “It just kind of shut us down. We lost all our tools and our stock. Our house was a wreck like everyone else in town.”

He came across the RISE competition while searching for programs that could help him restart his business.

“I thought this is a perfect fit because it’s exactly what we are doing, making businesses more resilient,” Shea said, who expects to complete his two-year contract with EDC by October.

Daylighting also allows businesses to use backup generators for other needs, such as refrigeration.

The other RISE winners focused on resilient solutions to boost telecommunications systems, flood protection and energy technologies.