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Save  Energy  and  Feel  Better  with

Daylighting
Natural  light  is  free,  and  the  more  you  have,  the  better  you  feel  (and
the  less  electricity  you’ll  use).  Here’s  how  to  optimize  daylight  in  your
home.

Fight  the  winter  blues  and  energize  your  home  by  maximizing  daylight.  An  added  bonus:  You'll  lower  your  heating
bill  with  the  free  solar  heat.  Image:  Mandi  Johnson

TOPIC
Improve,  Remodel,  Painting  &  Lighting

Raising  the  shades  and  throwing  open  the  curtains  to  let  in  the  natural  light
is  a  great  way  to  start  the  day.

Seems  obvious,  doesn’t  it?  Natural  light  coming  in  through  our  windows  in
the  morning  triggers  our  internal  circadian  clocks,  gets  us  going,  and
makes  us  feel  good,  even  if  it’s  cloudy  outside.

But  there’s  more  to  daylight  than  meets  the  eye.  A  house  that’s  optimized
for  daylighting  helps  us  see  better,  think  with  more  clarity,  be  safer,  save
energy,  and  makes  our  home  a  more  enjoyable  place  to  be.

Plenty  of  natural  daylight  creates  a  positive  home  environment  and  may
even  have  health  benefits,  such  as  warding  off  seasonal  affective  disorder
and  other  types  of  depression.

What  is  Daylight?

The  light  that  comes  into  your  house  during  the  day  is  either  direct  sunlight
or  ambient  light.

Direct  sunlight  is  bright,  hot,  and  cheery,  but  it  creates  glare  and  it’s
everyday  usefulness  is  limited  until  it  turns  into  ambient  light.  Direct
sunlight  creates  dark  shadows.

Ambient  light  is  reflected  light.  Sunshine  that  enters  your  house  and  hits  a
wall  or  floor  turns  into  reflected,  ambient  light  that  fills  interior  spaces  with
a  soft,  pleasing  glow.  On  a  cloudy  day  with  no  direct  sunlight,  all  the  natural
light  inside  your  house  will  be  ambient  light.  Good  ambient  lighting  helps
eliminate  shadows.

Light  intensity  is  important  for  doing  tasks  and  setting  the  mood.  Lighting
psychology  says  that  bright  light  creates  a  more  positive  and  energizing
environment;  dark  light  calms  and  soothes.

Of  course,  too  much  bright  light  causes  uncomfortable  glare,  and  too  little
light  makes  it  hard  to  read,  clean,  and  find  socks  that  match.  

During  the  day,  the  goal  of  creating  a  well-­‐‑lighted  house  is  to  control  direct
sunlight  and  maximize  ambient  light,  supplementing  as  needed  with
artificial  light.

What  Makes  Good  Daylighting?


Good  daylighting  is  a  balancing  act.  In  winter  the  sunlight  that  streams
through  your  windows  adds  free  solar  heat  that  lowers  your  heating  bill.  In
summer,  you  want  to  prevent  direct  sunlight  from  overheating  interiors.  All
the  while,  you  want  to  reduce  harsh  glare  and  create  soft,  ambient  light
that  makes  it  easy  to  do  everyday  tasks  (and  relax  when  you  want  to).

Good  daylighting  is  the  interaction  between  lots  of  factors,  including:

House  orientation.

Proper  window  design  and  location.

Light  control  (blinds,  shades,  etc.).

Daylight  requirements  per  type  of  room  (living,  bath,  kitchen).

Overhead  lighting  from  skylights  and  solar  tubes.

Window  shading.

Interior  design,  such  as  the  arrangement  of  furniture  and  paint  colors.

Reflective  surfaces,  both  inside  and  outside  your  house.


Supplemental  (artificial)  lighting.

How  Much  Daylighting  Do  You  Need?

Modern  Home  Office  by  New  York  Architects  &  Designers  Incorporated

Light  is  measured  several  ways  —  one  way  is  with  footcandles  (fc)  —  the
amount  of  light  that  falls  on  one  square  foot.  On  a  sunny  day,  the  area
outside  your  house  gets  about  10,000  footcandles;  on  a  cloudy  day,  about
1,000.

Only  a  fraction  of  that  enters  your  house  as  ambient  daylight  —  from  1%  to
10%.  However,  that’s  generally  enough  for  most  needs:

Living  room:  10-­‐‑20  fc

Kitchen,  general:  30-­‐‑40  fc

Kitchen  stove:  70-­‐‑80  fc

Dining  room:  30-­‐‑40  fc

Hallway:  5-­‐‑10  fc

Bathroom:  70-­‐‑80  fc

But  pinning  down  indoor  daylight  requirements  gets  tricky,  as  light  shifts
during  the  day  and  each  set  of  eyes  is  different  —  children  and  older  adults
need  more  light  than  people  who  are  between  15  and  50  years  old.

Related:  Lighting  Isn’t  Cheap:  Here’s  How  to  Do  It  Right.

Good  daylighting  really  is  a  matter  of  personal  preference  —  if  you  think
your  hallway  is  too  dark,  then  it  is  —  and  you  should  find  ways  to  add  more
light  so  that  you’re  safe  and  comfortable.

If  you  have  a  favorite  nook  for  reading  but  it  gets  too  much  sunlight  in  the
afternoon,  then  you’ll  want  to  use  a  strategy  to  turn  harsh  light  into  softer
ambient  light.
In  general,  the  more  ambient  light,  the  easier  it  is  to  see.

Getting  the  Most  From  the  Windows  You  Have

The  best  way  to  control  daylighting  is  to  simply  have  your  house  oriented
to  the  sun  correctly.  Best  case:  The  largest  facade  of  your  house  would
face  south  and  have  the  most  windows.

Of  course,  you  can’t  do  much  about  which  way  your  existing  house  is
facing,  but  knowing  how  natural  light  changes  during  the  day  and
throughout  the  year  can  help  you  plan  to  control  daylight  effectively.

North-­‐‑facing  windows  don’t  get  much  direct  sunshine,  so  in  general  they
lose  more  heat  than  they  gain.  That  means  keeping  north-­‐‑facing  windows
to  a  minimum  to  reduce  heat  loss.

At  the  same  time,  north  light  is  usually  soft,  pleasing,  and  free  of  glare  —
it’s  the  ideal  ambient  light.

A  good  compromise  is  to  spend  for  well-­‐‑insulated  windows  on  the  north
side  of  your  home.  Energy-­‐‑efficient  windows  with  low-­‐‑E  coatings,  argon
gas  insulation,  and  thermally  resistant  frames  (such  as  wood  and
fiberglass)  cost  about  10%  more  than  regular  insulated  windows,  but  they
should  pay  for  the  difference  in  energy  savings  in  two  to  six  years.  Plus,
you’ll  enjoy  increased  comfort.

East-­‐‑  and  west-­‐‑facing  windows  get  lots  of  direct  sunlight  and  can  be
difficult  to  shade.  Morning  east  light  is  usually  acceptable,  even  in  summer,
as  it  chases  off  darkness  and  adds  cheery  sunshine  to  interiors  during  the
early  part  of  the  day.

But  west  light  is  more  difficult  to  manage  —  in  the  summer  it  can  be  harsh
and  hot.  To  reduce  the  amount  of  western  sunlight  in  the  warmer  months:

Opt  for  low-­‐‑E  coatings  on  windows.  To  keep  unwanted  heat  out,  make  sure  the
coating  is  applied  to  the  inner  surface  of  the  outer  pane.

Shade  windows  with  awnings.  They’ll  keep  all  but  the  very  last  sunshine  out  of
interiors.

Plant  deciduous  trees  that  shade  your  house  during  the  summer  but  lose  their
leaves  and  let  sunlight  through  in  the  winter.

Made  Possible  
You  want  to  stop  hot  summer  light  on  the  outside  of  your  house  before  it
by  REALTORS®
enters.  Shades  and  blinds  on  the  inside  can  block  harsh  sunlight,  but  they
won’t  prevent  heat  gain.  

South-­‐‑facing  windows  are  the  best,  providing  ample  ambient  light  during
the  day  and  inviting  in  warm  sunshine  during  the  winter.

That’s  because  the  sun  is  high  during  the  summer,  and  your  roof’s  eaves
keep  most  direct  sunlight  out  of  south-­‐‑facing  windows.  During  winter,  the
sun  moves  low  across  the  southern  horizon,  sending  warming  sunlight
under  eaves  and  into  south-­‐‑facing  windows.

Optimum  eave  overhangs  vary  according  to  your  location.  The  more  north
you  are,  the  lower  the  summer  sun  is  on  the  horizon  and  the  more  sunlight
can  hit  your  windows  —  so  you’ll  need  larger  overhangs  for  shade.  For
example,  to  completely  shade  a  5-­‐‑ft.-­‐‑tall  window  in  mid-­‐‑summer:

Miami:  1.5-­‐‑ft.  overhang

Dallas:  2-­‐‑ft.  overhang

Chicago:  3-­‐‑ft.  overhang

Fargo:  4-­‐‑ft.  overhang

If  your  eaves  are  too  short,  it’s  impractical  to  add  on  to  them.  But  if  you’re
SHARE    
going  to  be  replacing  your  roof,  you  might  consider  extending  eaves  at  the  
same  time.

The  alternative  is  to  add  awnings.  A  fixed,  4-­‐‑ft.-­‐‑wide  awning  is  $250-­‐‑$350.
A  retractable,  7-­‐‑ft.-­‐‑wide  awning  is  $1,200.

Passive  solar  experts  used  to  say  that  deciduous  trees  on  the  south  side  of
your  house  helped  control  heat  gain,  but  the  latest  solar  planning  says  that
the  leafless  branches  of  deciduous  trees  can  block  up  to  40%  of  precious
winter  sunlight,  so  don’t  plant  them  there.

Related:  11  Trees  You  Should  Never  Plant  in  Your  Yard

Adding  Daylight  with  Skylights  and  Solar  Tubes


Tropical  Spaces  by  Minneapolis  Design-­‐‑Build  Firms  Jones  Design  Build

You  can  add  daylight  by  increasing  the  number  and  size  of  windows,  but
that’s  not  always  practical  or  possible.

A  good  solution  is  to  add  skylights  and  solar  tubes.  

A  skylight  provides  lots  of  light,  about  30%  more  than  a  similar-­‐‑size
window.  They’re  best  for  general  living  areas,  such  as  family  rooms,  and
where  you  might  want  to  combine  extra  light  and  privacy,  such  as  a
bedroom  or  bath.  You’ll  want  to  be  cautious  about  adding  skylights  where
intense  sunlight  and  the  resulting  glare  may  be  a  problem,  such  as  a
kitchen  or  media  room.

Some  skylights  come  with  low-­‐‑E  coatings,  thermal  glass,  and  mini-­‐‑blinds
that  help  control  light  intensity,  heat  gain,  and  heat  loss.

A  solar  tube  gathers  light  in  a  small  rooftop  dome,  then  channels  it
through  a  reflective  tube  down  to  a  ceiling  and  a  diffusing  light  fixture  that
creates  ambient  light.  On  a  bright  day,  a  solar  tube  with  a  10-­‐‑inch-­‐‑diameter
adds  as  much  light  as  three  bright  LED  bulbs,  or  enough  to  light  a  200-­‐‑sq.-­‐‑
ft.  room.  

They’re  especially  good  for  adding  light  to  specific  spots,  such  as
stairways,  hallways,  closets,  and  laundry  rooms.

Simple  Ways  to  Maximize  Daylight

To  maximize  ambient  light,  you’ll  want  to  bounce  it  around.  Interiors  with
bright  colors  help  reflect  light.  

Paint  colors  are  a  primary  source  of  reflected  indoor  light.  In  fact,  some
paint  manufacturers  rate  their  paints  with  an  LRV  —  light  reflectance  value.
You’ll  find  ratings  on  paint  can  labels.

An  LRV  of  0  is  perfectly  black;  an  LRV  of  100  is  total  reflectivity.  In  reality,
all  paint  colors  are  somewhere  between.  The  brightest  white  paints
approach  an  LRV  of  85,  with  specially  formulated  paints  reaching  as  high
as  90.  Yellow  is  the  next  most-­‐‑reflective  color.
Recommendations  for  LRV  are:

Ceilings:  60-­‐‑90  LRV

Walls:  35-­‐‑60  LRV

Flooring:  20-­‐‑30  LRV

Avoid  paints  with  a  gloss  sheen  except  for  trim  and  in  areas  where
splashes  might  occur  —  glossy  paints  create  annoying  glare.
 
Mirrors  reflect  almost  all  light  that  hits  them.  Put  them  in  areas  that  have
low  natural  light  conditions,  such  as:

Entryways.

Hallways.

Basement  rooms.

Furniture  arrangements  may  block  light  and  create  shadows.  Keep  large
pieces  of  furniture  away  from  windows  and  other  natural  light  sources,  and
make  sure  your  furniture  arrangements  have  corridors  that  allow  light  to
reach  across  rooms.

Venetian  blinds  are  great  at  controlling  light.  By  tilting  them  upward,  you
can  direct  incoming  sunlight  toward  the  ceiling,  turning  it  into  ambient
light.

Curtains  and  shades  are  the  ultimate  low-­‐‑tech  lighting  control.


Translucent  shades  and  sheer  curtains  block  direct  sunlight,  turning  it  into
softer  ambient  light.  Some  window  coverings  help  save  energy.

Beach  Style  Bedroom  by  Savannah  Interior  Designers  &  Decorators  Joel  Snayd

Daylight  Harvesting

Daylight  harvesting  —  also  known  as  dynamic  lighting  —  combines  natural


and  artificial  lighting  to  create  ideal  lighting  conditions  throughout  the  day.  

It’s  an  automated  system  that  uses  light  sensors  to  detect  light  intensity,
and  adjusts  artificial  lighting  to  keep  lighting  at  a  level  that’s  blended  for
optimum  productivity  and  enjoyment.

Some  systems  include  LED  light  bulbs  that  not  only  keep  light  levels
constant  —  even  when  clouds  move  in  —  but  will  change  their  color
temperature  range  throughout  the  day.  That  means  the  light  the  bulbs
emit  will  shift  from  the  cool  light  of  morning  to  the  warmer  light  of
afternoon  —  mimicking  the  color  shift  of  natural  daylight.

Unfortunately  for  homeowners,  the  system  isn’t  in  the  residential  market
—  yet.  The  technology  is  currently  being  developed  for  use  in  office
buildings,  so  residential  use  probably  isn’t  too  far  away.

Related:  The  Latest  in  Lighting  —  and  How  It  Will  Enhance  Your  Home
and  Life

TOPIC Improve,  Remodel,  Painting  &  Lighting

JOHN  RIHA
has  written  seven  books  on  home  improvement  and  hundreds  of  articles  on  home-­‐‑
related  topics.  He’s  been  a  residential  builder,  the  editorial  director  of  the  Black  &
Decker  Home  Improvement  Library,  and  the  executive  editor  of  Better  Homes  and
Gardens  magazine.  Follow  John  on  Google+.

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