Q: We live in California and would like to hire an architect to remodel or design a new home for us. What do we need to think about in the design decisions and material selections so that we have ample natural light?
A: While there are many things that can affect natural light in a building, the opportunities to create nice natural light will vary depending on many factors. Let's look at the big picture first Passive Solar Design 101 site conditions, building solar orientation and building features, as well as the floor plan, will affect the amount of natural light transmitted into a building.
Site conditions include everything from shrubs, trees and rocks to nearby mountains. These can block (or control) natural light.
Your building's solar orientation and season condition will also be important. Natural light will enter portions of the building at different times of the day and at different intensities. For example, rooms mostly used in the morning could be located on east side; other daytime spaces could be on the north side for more controlled, ambient natural light.
Consider these ideas to enhance the light in your home:
- Long walls at north and south elevations maximize natural light transmitted on both sides.
- Roof overhang depth impacts light. A shallow overhang on the north side will allow maximum reflected light into a space. Consider deeper overhangs on south and west sides of the house to protect from direct sun.
- Window size and orientation make a big difference. Large windows on the north will increase ambient light, whereas you may want shading on the south and west sides.
- If you install windows with high Visible Light Transmittance (VT), more light will be transmitted into your home.
- A higher window header height will allow more light to reflect from eaves.
- Window layout in a room is key -- adjacent windows reduce glare and increase perceived light.
- Ceiling configuration also impacts light. The more surface area, the more reflected light will bounce around the room.
- Transom windows (windows placed above window or door) allow more light to reflect from eaves
- Skylights allow more natural light to come into the room. Avoid skylights on west and south-facing roof slopes unless they are protected by landscaping or shading devices.
The floor plan layout can influence the amount of natural light in a building. Some considerations are:
- The time of day different rooms are used can guide design. (For example, bedrooms on the east side capture morning light, etc.)
- Openings between rooms allow "borrowed light" and long views to outdoor spaces during daytime.
- Light-colored exterior walls adjacent to windows increase reflected light.
Selection of materials will greatly impact the success of your lighting design, so consider these suggestions:
- Interior materials: Select light colors and finishes for floors, ceilings, walls, doors and cabinets. This will maximize reflected light.
- Window coverings: Similarly, choose light-colored coverings that have three operations: down and closed, down and open, and up, to maximum flexibility in the amount of light transmitted.
- Exterior materials: Light colors for walls, eaves and paving will increase reflective light.
With careful attention to the site conditions, solar orientation, building features and material selections, the challenge of creating great light can be an interesting and rewarding experience with positive benefits for many years to come.
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