Natural light design and installation has become a highly sought-after feature in both residential and commercial buildings. There is a growing awareness of the negative effects of artificial light on health and the environment, and natural light is being prioritized in building design and construction. Of course, the flipside of that coin comes in the very urgent need to improve energy efficiency in buildings, and to avoid the spiraling costs of electricity.
Here is the basic information on the use of natural lighting, the trend towards using natural light in homes and office buildings and how it is achieved.
Benefits of natural light
The benefits of natural light are numerous. Exposure to natural light can improve mood, increase productivity, and even regulate sleep patterns. An architectural science has evolved around the balancing of the human circadian rhythms using lighting that aligns more closely with the natural world.
Natural light also has a positive impact on the environment as it reduces the need for artificial light, which in turn saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, natural light can enhance the aesthetic appeal of a building, making it more inviting and attractive.
Designing for natural light
Designing for natural light involves understanding the path of the sun throughout the day and the orientation of the building. Buildings should be oriented to maximize the amount of natural light that enters the space. This involves positioning windows, skylights and other openings in the building to allow light to enter at the right angle.
Here’s how it can be done, quite simply:
- The size and placement of windows plays a crucial role in natural lighting design. Larger windows allow more light to enter the space, while strategically placed smaller windows can help to control the amount of light and glare.
- Windows should be positioned to avoid direct sunlight and excessive heat gain, which can lead to uncomfortable indoor temperatures and increased energy usage for cooling. In fact, the design and placement of windows forms a critical component of South Africa’s National Building Regulations, where a complex number of parameters are specified relating to fenestration placement, and orientation, required shading and glass type.
- Other design elements that can enhance natural light include the use of reflective surfaces, light-coloured walls, and open floor plans. Reflective surfaces, such as mirrors or light-colored flooring, can help to bounce natural light around the space. Light-coloured walls can also reflect light, making the space feel brighter and more open. Open floor plans, with fewer walls and partitions, allow natural light to flow throughout the space.
Daylight techniques in practice
Daylighting is the use of natural light to illuminate indoor spaces. This technique involves using windows, skylights, and other openings in the building to maximize natural light. Daylighting can be achieved through a variety of techniques, including:
- Skylights: Skylights are windows in the roof or ceiling that allow natural light to enter the space from above. They can be used to bring natural light into interior spaces that might not have access to windows, such as bathrooms or hallways.
- Clerestory windows: Clerestory or casement windows as they are more commonly referred to in SA, are narrow windows positioned high on the wall. They allow natural light to enter the space while maintaining privacy and reducing glare. These windows give interior spaces an “ethereal” glow by allowing natural light to enter from above eye level.
- Transom windows: These sit above doorways, allowing light and sometimes fresh air into a room when the door is closed, while clerestory windows are often narrow windows installed at or above the roofline in an interior living space.
- Light shelves: Light shelves are horizontal surfaces that reflect natural light onto the ceiling, distributing light throughout the space. They can be used to reduce glare and increase the amount of natural light in the space.
- Solar tubes: Solar tubes are tubular skylights that can be used to bring natural light into spaces where traditional skylights are contra-indicated. They are ideal for small rooms, such as closets or bathrooms. But there is more to their use. Increasingly, they are being deployed to direct large amounts of reflected light into big work areas, such as the atria of office buildings. In recent times, a major Green Star-winning building in the Portwood District was fitted with architect-designed mega solar tubes. The use of natural light in this building, the Ridge, was instrumental in it scoring higher than the normal Green Star rating.
- Light tunnels: Light tunnels are similar to solar tubes but use a reflective tube to transport natural light into the room. They are ideal for spaces where traditional skylights or windows are not possible.
Using these techniques can help to increase the amount of natural light in a space, reduce energy consumption, and create a more comfortable and inviting environment.
Natural light has become a highly desirable feature in modern building design, for good reason. Its usage is on the increase, both in homes where new builds are required, during refits, in commercial buildings and even in warehousing.