Natural Lighting in Home Design: So“lar” So Good

What’s more invigorating than a naturally sun lit space?  A space that allows you to complete all tasks or carry out any activity without turning a light on? How often do you have to turn on a light to see into a dark corner or read a page in a book or magazine? Natural lighting is the key, but more often than not, the architectural design may not have taken it into account. If you’re thinking about installing bubble wrap insulation, you may also want to reduce your dependence on in-home lighting there are a number of options for building a new structure or updating an existing one.

Natural Lighting in New Construction

First and foremost, you need to consider placement of a new home before it is built. Placement is tricky as there are a number of factors that should be kept in mind. You may want to place the structure under a stand of trees to maximize cooling during summer’s brutal heat. However, the placement of trees in relation to your house can also minimize natural solar lighting. Depending on the thickness of the stand, you may consider thinning to allow more light to pass through.  How will your home be affected by shade from nearby buildings, or structures?  If you’re building into a hillside for thermal properties, are you limiting your access to natural lighting?

Keep in mind that in the sun’s light is strongest from different directions at various times of the year. A home placed at 40 degrees latitude receives the most sun from the South in the winter and the least in the summer. The summer sees the greatest solar energy from East and West vertical and horizontal orientations.  To maximize natural light year round, you would want your most-used rooms to have both a Southern exposure window and either a Western or Eastern exposure window. If you want to use deciduous trees on your property to help cool your home, you would want to plant them on the South to ensure you have natural light in winter when the tree is bare but shade the house in summer.1

Alternatives to Maximize Natural Lighting Year Round

  1. Skylights: They help to naturally heat and light your home, reducing energy costs and the need for artificial lighting. Skylights improve ventilation and promote fresher, healthier air indoors.2
  2. Solar Lighting Tubes: What are they? Solar tubes are tubes that run from the ceiling of a room to the roof, where they collect light. The light is reflected down the tube and then diffused into the attached room.3 Though it is not natural light, it is 100% green, it helps increase lighting throughout the year, even on cloudy days and you can adjust the settings with a dimmer switch.
  3. Sunrooms: They are energy efficient requiring no energy at all, providing both heat and lighting.  The design of the glass is created specifically to keep the room warm during the winter and cool during the summer.4 This could also be an area utilized as a year-round green-house of sorts, continuously producing oxygen and veggies.

In addition to proper placement and design construction plans that maximize natural lighting, you can reduce lighting costs by:

  • Turning off lights when not in use
  • Substituting low wattage compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL’s) or LED bulbs for standard incandescent bulbs
  • Installing dimmers to reduce energy use
  • Use timers to ‘leave the light on’ by turning it on just before it’s needed and turning it off when it’s unlikely to be needed again.  i.e. – porch lights, night lights, foyer lamp.

There are so many different options that can be used in structural construction when looking at the maximization of natural lighting. The possibilities are endless as new techniques and technologies are being designed and tested everyday. What does the future hold?

Resources for Natural Lighting:
(1)   Building Placement and Orientation on a Site – Energy.gov (pdf)
(2)   The Green Benefits of Skylights – GreenWerks
(3)   Solar Tubes – EcoBroker
(4)   Sunrooms and Patio enclosures – PorchConversion

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