Making the best use of Mother Nature’s biggest gift to us
The phrase “let there be light” is only too familiar to us and for good enough reason. Natural light is an inexhaustible energy source that we should make the most advantage of. Studies have shown that, subconsciously we humans are drawn to natural light. Natural lighting not only transforms spaces, enabling aesthetic beauty but has several psychological and physiological benefits. Architects are trending towards allowing a good amount of natural light in their designs to make the most use of its advantages as a free and renewable form of energy. Opting for natural energy also reduces power consumption.
Natural light is said to affect our moods, behaviour and hormone balance as daylight is the essential ingredient for many chemical reactions in our body, as a result of which natural light and its effects on our body have served as key topics for many studies. Studies show that those subjected to natural light perform complex visual tasks better than those kept in the vicinity of the artificial light. Studies done in offices have the same results i.e. an increase in productivity and, decrease in absenteeism and illness amongst employees as against those who were subjected to artificial light, supporting the need for the former over the later. Also patients exposed to natural light have been seen to make speedier recoveries as opposed to those who are not. Most importantly natural light is required for the synthesis of vitamin D, a critical vitamin that is responsible for the absorption of calcium and the formation of bones. Also, recent studies show that the lack of vitamin D can be linked to the formation of cancer cells. Damp, dark areas serve as breathing grounds for bacteria and fungus that are responsible for issues like respiratory problems. Having a steady inflow of sunlight will kill these germs.
The use of natural light as a superior alternative is the most energy efficient way to go. Since natural light will be doing most of the work in houses that have sufficiently large window instalments, very little artificial light will be needed throughout the day, thereby reducing power consumption drastically. In cold regions, where the onus falls on the home HVAC system, letting in a generous amount of natural light will help take a load off the system. It is said that making use of the energy efficiency of natural light can bring your energy bill down by 75%. This drastic reduction in energy consumption reduces the load on the environment as well, allowing you to do your part for Mother Nature. Natural light also alters spatial sensibility, giving a feel of spaciousness as the eye is able to perceive a wider area.
Ways to optimally use natural light
Orientation and size play a significant role in the quality and quantity of light that comes through. For example, South facing windows allow the maximum amount of light in, but at the same time one has to be wary of the possible heat gain. This way, windows can be strategically placed such that only diffused light comes through. Also, the window can be set such that the beams fall away from the general line of sight, making it easy on the eyes. In ancient Egypt, they used clerestories that are windows that line the walls along the ceiling. Since the windows are placed right at the top, they are way above eye level, allowing light in without causing visual disturbance.
There’s no doubt that natural light trumps artificial light any day, but it also has its shortcomings. For every window that allows a glorious amount of sunlight in, there is the nuisance of glare and many other cons that come with having natural light as the main source of light. Window treatments such as shades and blinds are designed to allow the pleasures of natural light, eliminating its displeasures all at the same time. Solar or light filtering shades are used extensively to reduce glare and harmful UV rays while allowing a comfortable amount of light in. Even windows as high as clerestories and skylights can be installed with shades. One has the options of using a sky pole or a motorized skylight shades can be operated with remote control making it convenient to use.
Another problem with direct sunlight is that it damages furniture, wooden flooring, carpets and paintings over time. Also for rooms with TVs and computers, the glare reduction capacities of solar shades might not be enough; room darkening shades are designed to take care of this. To improve the energy efficiency of using natural light, cellular shades can be used to increase insulation. Its hollow honeycomb design has air pockets that create a vacuum within the shades to aid further insulation. This way the shades reduce heat loss during winter and heat gain in summer, cutting down the electricity bill considerably. A light filtering fabric can be used for cellular shades ensuring that the maximum of natural light is let in maintaining the energy efficient benefits of cellular shades.