Sunlight is commonly associated with all that is joyous, vital and good, while darkness with all that is sad, stunted and deadening. We know, without being able to explain quite why, that we thrive in the sunlight and wither in the darkness. So, why our homes tend to block out natural light and rely so heavily on artificial lighting?
Human performance is improved by natural light. Recent studies have proven that people perform better when they are exposed to natural light. We think clearer, have more energy and stamina and just plain feel better about ourselves when exposed to the natural light of the sun.
Natural light is Mother Nature’s anti-depressant. We’ve all experiences “the winter blues” at some time or another. When the days are shorter and the skies are grey, we don’t have the same energy. It has been discovered that when the human body is deprived of sunlight, it produces a chemical called serotonin, which makes us sleepy, lethargic and depressed. This is why we naturally sleep when it is dark. Natural light suppresses the body’s production of serotonin, making us feel happier and more energetic.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of winter depression that effects an estimated half a million people every winter. For many people, SAD is a mild debilitating condition causing discomfort and depression. However for some, it is a seriously disabling illness preventing them from functioning normal. Natural light curves the symptoms of SAD, improving the lives of 3 out of 4 people with SAD.
Medical science has shown strong evidence that patients placed in rooms with lots of natural light feel less pain, heal faster and feel better than those patients placed in darker rooms.
There have been many studies that suggests homes with an abundance of natural light, effective air exchange systems and live plants tend to be healthier homes, enhancing the health of the people that live in them.
So, if natural sunlight is so beneficial to our daily performance, health and happiness, why is it that most of us spend our days in poorly light houses, relying more on artificial light rather than natural sunlight? Maybe it is because building sciences is focused on the performance of the house and not on the performance of the people in that house.
It is important to note that there is a difference between sunlight and daylight. Sunlight is direct rays of light from the sun. While sunlight streaming into a space can be dramatic, it is something you want to temper and control in order to prevent excessive heat gain, glare, and deterioration of products from ultraviolet exposure. Daylight is natural light that is not coming directly from the sun. It is daylight that tends to elevate our spirits and thus the type of natural light we want most in our homes.
Increasing the natural light in your home is not only good for the health and happiness of you and your family, it is also a great investment. Homes with an abundance of natural light are very desirable to home buyers, so they tend to sell faster and at higher prices than homes with less natural light.
10 ways to increase the natural light in your home:
Some of these are DIY improvement, while some may require a professional.
1. Add a skylight:
Skylights are basically a window on the roof. They offer a perfect solution to delivering natural light and view to parts of the house not accessible by windows and doors. They are designed in a variety of shapes and made from many different materials, hence a specific skylight can greatly influence the interior style of your building.
Skylights are available in a wide variety of designs and shapes to suite the various building applications: including flat roof or sloped roofs; cathedral ceilings or flat ceiling with an attic. There are skylights designed for attics and lofts which provide emergency egress during a fire and Velux has developed a very neat attic skylight that becomes a balcony with railing when open. Do some research so you know all the options available.
Better quality skylights come with a variety of operating options, including: fixed, manual, motorized and even automatic. There are also a wide variety of interior and exterior shading options. While these options can add significantly to the price of the skylight, they could save you significantly more in heating and cooling over the years.
The best time to add a skylight is when the house is being built. However, if it is too late for that, consider doing it when your are replacing your shingles. For more info on selecting shingles, read our article, Is It Time for A New Roof? A Roof Inspection and Selection Guide.
2. Add a solar tube:
Solar tubes are a great option for areas where a skylight is not feasible. Obstacles like hips and valleys on our roofs can make installing a skylight in certain locations difficult.
A solar tube or sun tunnel is a type of skylight that bring natural light into even the darkest and most isolated spaces through a specially designed tunnel that passes from roof to ceiling. The attractive ceiling diffuser blends unnoticed into the ceiling, spreading a soft and restful light throughout the room.
3. Add a sunroom:
Adding an all glass sunroom is a great way to enhance your home and lifestyle, while ensuring your family is getting all the sunshine they need to stay energized and healthy. A quality sunroom allows you to enjoy the best of the outdoors from the comfort of your home.
Many people are already considering traditional additions to their house as a way to expand their living space. A quality four seasons sunroom is just like any other home addition, just a lot nicer. A properly designed, quality sunroom will usually provide a higher return on your investment than a traditional addition.
A quality sunroom can be used for almost any purpose: kitchen extensions, great room, entertainment area, dining rooms, or exercise rooms. The benefit of an all glass sunroom or conservatory, is that it will enhance the natural light in your home, where most traditional additions reduce the home natural light.
There are many concerns associated with all glass sunrooms: too hot in summer, too cold in winter, cleaning all that glass, heating and cooling costs...etc. These are all very legitimate concerns if you get the wrong glass. When adding an all glass sunroom...do it right or not at all.
For more information about adding a sunroom to your house, read our article Sunroom Additions: Designed to Bring Nature's Best Inside!
4. Add windows:
Adding a window to a room can dramatically change that room, instantly making it feel bigger and brighter. Enlarging a small window to allow for a large picture window or bay window can greatly enhance the view and appeal of that room.
However, because exterior walls are almost always load bearing, it is very important that adding or modifying windows is done properly. You may want to consult a professional. In some situations, building codes may limit your options.
For more info on selecting windows, Read our Article, Replacement Windows Buying Guide.
5. Increase the amount of glass in your exterior doors:
If you have a solid front door or side door, installing a glass insert into that door can create the same effect as adding a window, but with a lot less work.
Many exterior doors come with glass insert options. So if you have a solid door, it is possible to install a decorative glass insert without buying a new door. These inserts come in a variety of sizes and designs, and are relatively easy to install.
For more info on improving your front door, read our article, Front Door "Come and Find Me" or "Welcome to My Home".
6. Increase the amount of glass in your interior doors:
One way to allow natural light to penetrate further into your home, is by changing some of your solid interior doors to french glass doors. While you may not want glass doors on your bedrooms or bathrooms, glass doors on an office, laundry room, pantry, or basement door can significantly brighten up your home while adding elegance and style. Frosted glass can be used to maintain some privacy.
For more info about selecting interior doors, read our article, Selecting Interior Doors for Your Home.
7. Remove interior walls:
The designs of many older homes, and some newer ones, consists of rooms separated by walls and connected with hallways. These homes tend to trap the light in each room, creating dark areas of the house. Newer homes tend to focus on a more open concept design which allows natural light to penetrate throughout the house.
Many of these older homes are being enhanced by removing some of the walls totally, or creating openings in them.
8. Incorporate mirrors in your décor:
Mirrors, strategically placed, can function like a window by reflecting natural light into areas of the home without windows. Typically darker areas, like hallways, stairways and closets can be enhanced with natural light simply by hanging a mirror in the right spot.
9. Choose your blinds wisely:
There are blinds and shades available for every purpose and situation. Often people select blinds that allows control of sunlight and provides privacy at night, however these blinds also reduce the natural light coming into your home during the day.
There are blinds that allow you he best of both worlds. Shutters for example, when closed provide excellent privacy and protection from sunlight, however can be opened during the day to allow the natural light in. Talk to a blind expert and remember to tell them that maximix=zing natural light in your house is important to you.
For more information on selecting blinds and shades, read our article, Windows Treatments.
10. Extend your Outdoor Living areas:
Comfortable outdoor furniture is part of the rapidly growing "outdoor living" phenomenon. But, what is outdoor living? It no longer refers to a picnic table and a hibachi. Now it means bring all the comforts of indoor living to the outdoors. Outdoor patios allow you to soak in the sunshine, while you relax and entertain. For more information about creating the ultimate outdoor living area, read our article Patio Furniture: All the Comforts of Indoor Living...Outdoors.