When we ask new clients about their priorities in the design of their new, or remodelled, home there is always a common theme; “I must have light!”
In the recent RIBA Homewise Initiative, 63% of all homeowners rated natural light as the most important aspect of a home. The reasons for this are not simply down to personal preference. A lack of natural light can result in a diminished immune system, diabetes and premature ageing. Over reliance upon artificial light can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, insomnia, depression and obesity.
Light, spacious and airy living environments always seem to have a therapeutic effect, lifting our spirits, transforming our mood and improving our well being.
So what do we do, as designers, to maximise natural light in new homes or improve matters in older houses?
- Orientation is vitally important. We usually seek a south facing primary elevation to provide steady, even daylight and to maximise sunlight, especially in winter. However, southern aspects often create unwanted glare and solar gain leading to overheating. Northlight, so often sought by artists and sculptors provides soft, indirect light with little glare or summer heat gain but this can be a cold elevation. East and west aspects funnel light in the morning and evening respectively but glare is sometime a problem, particularly in winter months when sun angles are low. Always take a compass when viewing a prospective new home or building plot.
- Conservatories often create unsatisfactory additions to new or existing homes with too much heat gain and poor longevity. More solidly built ‘orangeries’ with low, glazed doors and roof lanterns can provide a dramatic, light filled extension to a living space or kitchen, often becoming the focus of a home. Well designed top-lit rooms can be used year-round. New glazing technology and underfloor heating ensure that they remain comfortable in winter and summer.
- Small rooms with low ceilings often provide a dark environment. Opening-up rooms to create more open-plan living will also bring light as well as space. Walls to corridors and hallways can be replaced with glazed screens or doors to introduce light, or even sunlight to a north facing room.
- Window style and design are important factors. Older upvc windows often have thick frames and reduced glass area. Simply changing a window frame can increase daylight by 30%. Replacing windows with glazed doors or French windows can be relatively simple (no need to replace lintels over the structural opening) with dramatic effects. High windows help throw light into the room. Numerous glazing bars (e.g. cottage style windows) and leaded lights also reduce glass area.
- Dark landings and internal bathrooms can benefit from light tubes which direct light and sunlight from small roof domes via a reflective tube into a room. Rooflights (e.g. velux) can also provide dramatic improvements with up to three times more light available from a skyward facing window rather than a vertical window.
- Trees and large shrubs can also block light, particularly if they interrupt a direct line of sight to the sky. Usually, however, deciduous trees can provide an excellent sunscreen in the summer, reducing solar heat gain, with the benefit of allowing-in winter sun.
If all else fails and there is a poorly lit space with no prospect of improvement it can be a good idea to surrender to the dark and create a cosy dining room or study using dark, rich colours and intimate lighting. Such contrast can be important and help make the bright spaces in the house appear brighter.