Bringing light to these dark times
The importance of well-lit spaces while the nation works from home.
Chances are that over the last few months you’ve found yourself trying to adapt to a new working environment as the nation gets to grips with home working and/or schooling. As few people are fortunate enough to have a dedicated home office space, many will no doubt have found themselves sprawled out on the sofa, taking over a kitchen worktop or even working from their beds (we’ve all done it!).
Wherever you have managed to find space, you have most likely been drawn to the brightest spot in the house. It’s no great surprise that people are attracted to natural light and that most of us feel better when the sun comes out. However, beyond the “feel good” factor there are many tangible benefits to increasing the amount of natural daylight entering a building, none more so than improved productivity levels.
Daylight is a vital natural resource that will significantly improve the environment within any building. Evidence from the numerous physical and psychological studies undertaken on the subject, suggests that buildings enjoying high levels of natural light are literally more successful than those more reliant on artificial light. In all environments our brains respond better to natural light, which means people perform better.
If your home has all of a sudden also become your workplace, the presence of natural daylight has never been so important. Daylight is proven to increase concentration levels in working environments, with numerous studies showing that well-lit spaces often achieve improved productivity, over those that are not.
Many scientific studies conducted in the healthcare sector also support the conclusion that natural daylight has proven health benefits. Daylight helps to shorten patient recovery times, improves their mood and generally promotes well-being. So it’s no surprise that architects involved with hospitals, housing for the elderly and other healthcare buildings are constantly adjusting and updating their designs to reflect the importance of introducing daylight and, more specifically, natural sunlight.
But it’s not just the elderly or unwell that can reap the health benefits of natural light. It is estimated that up to 20 per cent of the UK population suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of winter depression. These individuals are known to respond to the hormone serotonin, whose production is triggered by natural daylight.
The environmental and financial benefits
Natural light also offers an environmentally friendly means of saving money on energy costs. It stands to reason that the more natural light entering a building, the less energy for lights and heating is required. If home working is to become the new norm for you or those in your household, then the longer-term cost savings of natural daylight are not to be dismissed, especially as the increase in lighting and power consumption is likely to be required at peak-demand prices. Effective use of day lighting may save up to about 50 percent of your energy cost requirements, depending upon how natural light is used.
Even in our rather dull climate, passive solar gain provides significant potential to reduce energy usage. Buildings that enjoy high levels of natural light evenly spread throughout will be heated naturally for a considerable percentage of the year.
Natural daylight is not only beneficial to those working from home. If you are among the millions of households that have been home schooling your children over the lockdown period you may be interested to know that natural daylight also has a significant impact on education.
Much of the research on the benefits of natural daylight has focused on the learning environment. Enhanced student performance and motivation, increased teacher and student attendance, reduced energy costs, as well as a positive effect on the environment are some of the improvements seen in school buildings that use well-planned day lighting concepts.
One study by Sacramento California, ‘Light Helps Pupils Learn’, is one of the largest ever undertaken on natural light in schools. It suggests that children learn faster and perform better in exams in classrooms with more daylight. It identified that exam results were up to 26 percent higher for schoolchildren in classrooms with plentiful natural light than for those in classrooms with little or no daylight. These findings are reinforced by Alberta Education’s, ‘A Study into the Effects of Light on Children of Elementary School Age’, which showed that natural light also has a positive effect on the health of children, as well as on rates of attendance and achievement.
These are all benefits that can be transferred from school buildings to the home learning environment.
The role of the rooflight
Rooflights let in light from the brightest part of the sky and are not generally affected by external obstructions, such as trees or other buildings. They also provide a more even pattern of light than vertical windows.
Rooflights can form part of an effective technical lighting scheme, particularly in conjunction with efficiently controlled artificial lighting, to produce specified illumination levels for particular tasks. According to leading consultants, horizontal rooflights provide three times more light than vertical windows (the equivalent of 10,000 candles on a sunny day), which is more than 200 times the light needed for most educational or work related tasks.
In addition, rooflights can also add to the more subjective qualities of spaces as an integral part of the building’s architecture. They can provide views of the sky and promote a sense of well-being and connection with the outside without the distractions encountered with views through vertical glass windows.
These facts are well understood by most people involved in building design. However the huge potential of rooflights to provide exactly the amount, type and distribution of natural light required to meet any given specification is not always appreciated by the homeowner. So, whether home working and home schooling is a short-term solution, or something that we all must get used to, the role of natural daylight in the home and the physical and psychological benefits that it brings, cannot be underestimated.