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Home energy Q&A – Daylighting Your Home

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By Ken Sheinkopf

RISMEDIA, February 23, 2009-(MCT)-Q: Even though we’re nearing spring, the winter is still making me miserable. The days get dark so early and the overcast, stormy skies outdoors really make me unhappy. I know this is a psychological problem that many people get, but I have read many articles that say that daylight is a key to solving this. What can we do in our home to make things better?

A: Over the years, I’ve written many articles about the benefits of daylighting. These range from studies of schools with lots of window space that allows for greater use of natural light where students were healthier, had less absenteeism, and did better on standardized tests, to a chain store that had 40% higher sales in their locations that had skylights.

If you read technical articles on daylighting, you’ll see a lot has been written about the energy-saving benefits of buildings with large window space and skylights. What these articles often leave out is the simple fact that people tend to be more comfortable and relaxed in areas that are brightly lit, especially when that light comes from the sun and not from electrically lit bulbs.

Obviously, the best way to increase the use of natural daylight in your home is to move to a house that has more window space or skylights than you have now. Builders around the country have been increasing their ratio of windows to floor space over the years, especially as window manufacturers have come out with so many new types of windows that protect the home so well. It wasn’t too long ago that people considered windows just holes in the building’s basic protective envelope. Today’s windows are actually essential parts of the building’s protection from the elements and are far from a liability.

What you need to do in your home is control the sun that you let in. During the winter, open the drapes and blinds to let the sun provide warmth and light, then close them at night to keep that heat indoors. If you’ve got blinds or louvers on your skylights to help regulate the sun’s warmth in summer, make sure you keep these controls open during the day. I’m also a big fan of the tubular skylight that let a great deal of bright, diffuse light into the home, and if you’re considering adding a skylight or doing any remodeling, consider them in the mix as well.

I’m seeing a lot of home plans these days that have more and more skylights, often in places like a porch adjacent to a window where the light will get indoors but the heat will stay outdoors, letting you take advantage of the sun’s brightness but not its unwanted heat in hot weather. And no matter what type of skylights you have, some types of controls-shades, blinds or panels-are important in letting you regulate the light and heat that gets indoors.

A few years ago, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lighting Research Center found much fewer “negative moods” in people who worked during the day in an office with big windows as opposed to no reduction in negative moods in people who worked at night in the same office building.

Sunlight can make you feel more relaxed, happier, and more comfortable. Many people share your discomfort on those gray, sunshine-less winter days, and instantly perk up when the weather changes. Keep the drapes and blinds open during the day and take advantage of whatever light you can get from the outdoors.

Ken Sheinkopf is a communications specialist with the American Solar Energy Society (www.ases.org).

© 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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