Natural Light Design Features for Health and Well Being

We all know that light affects our moods. If you wake up and it’s a sunny day you can feel full of joy and the whole day rolls out well. Wake up and it’s cold and grey and the opposite happens. Sunshine! It’s one of the reasons we Northern Europeans are living in Spain: #healthyhousedesign

Natural light regulates our sleep cycles that are important for our well-being. Our eyes detect the particular qualities in natural light and adjust the body’s circadian rhythm that is essential to a good night’s sleep.

Studies show that natural light reduces blood pressure and boosts our immune system. Studies have also shown that in factory and office settings natural light boosts productivity and health amongst workers.

Sunlight makes us produce serotonin a hormone that makes us feel energetic happy and contented. It also produces the feel good hormone: endorphins. Simply put natural light increases health and happiness.

The health benefits of natural light over artificial light are numerous and various. We should also note that natural light doesn’t consume fossil fuels so it’s very “eco”. Eco here stands for ecological and it also stands for economical.

So, in simple terms, to improve our well-being, we want to allow as much natural light into our home as we can commensurate with not over heating in the summer (see below). Window sizing and placement is a very important part of your house design. Your architect should pay attention to the views, solar orientation, lifestyle of the occupants, cost and aesthetics.

Apart from big windows here are some other ideas for how to get natural light into the home:

Light shelves: these are highly reflective surfaces that are placed like a shelf high up on the window on the inside. They reflect sunlight into the room upwards where it dissipates into the room reflecting off the ceiling. The light is natural and bright but dissipated and gentle.

Louvres: are a kind of multiple light shelf. Their benefit is that they can be adjusted throughout the day at the sun’s position changes. One of the problems with louvres is that they can obstruct the view.

English Patios: This is a patio at basement level in some ways a bit like a light well. It can transform a basement area and fill it with natural light. I have seen English patios with fountain features and chairs for sitting out or with simple low maintenance glass walls.

Something similar but not full depth can allow light into a high window in a basement area.

Skylights and roof lights can go on the list. There are some disadvantages associated with them. Heat losses in winter and heat gains in the summer are high. Light gains are very localised.

Atriums: perhaps more likely to be found in a shopping centre of office block but should be on the list.

Light Wells and Light Chimneys: These are vertical ducts that run through the building from the roof where there is a sky light of some kind that gathers the light and that direct the light to where it is needed. There are some high tech solutions that use fibre optic cables to take light from skylights on the roof, that track the sun, and channel it down the “chimney” fibre optic cable, into basement areas or even into every room of the house…..could be expensive though.

Caution: Natural Light Yes: Andalusian mid-summer sun No Thanks!

In Southern Spain we have to manage against over-heating in the summer months.

An unshaded west facing window will render the room inside unusable in July and August unless it is blocked (in which case you might as well not have the window). As the sun falls to the West in the afternoon it may already have been on that façade or that window for many hours. The radiation will penetrate the room and overwhelm any air conditioning you may have.

Good design in Andalucia involves some method of controlling direct sunlight on South and West facing windows.

Here are the main “tools” at our disposal for controlling the heat gains through the windows:

Shaded Terraces and Pergolas: I love the sense of outside living that these can bring. High tech pergolas are available that automatically adjust to the weather conditions becoming completely weather tight in the rain and opening up in the sun. These spaces can be furnished with rugs and soft furnishings and electrical appliances without danger. These high tech pergolas are expensive.

Wooden pergolas can be aesthetically pleasing.

I also love the approach that your home starts at the front gate and includes all the outside spaces, the driveway, the garden and the terraces because in Andalusia you are able to spend a lot of time “living” outside. Even in the winter, if it is sunny, you can eat outside.

There are a couple of things to take into account. One is that permanent shading like pergolas against the house can make the inside of the house dark in the winter. The other is that, depending on the planning regulations that relate to the particular plot, if enclosed, or partially enclose, this area may account for some of the maximum buildable area allowed on the plot and reduce the overall size of the house.

Pergolas that are just a frame with deciduous climbing plants: the plant growth provides shade in the summer and disappears to allow sunlight inside the house in the winter.

Retractable awnings: often canvas they can be operated manually or motorised. They will affect the aesthetics of the building.

Roller shutters on the outside. This is a simple cost effective solution favoured by much of the native population. They are often not to the taste of foreigners building a good looking villa.

Triple glazed argon filled e-coated glass: The e-coating reflects the sunlight back outside. The triple glazing and the argon represent super insulation.This will work up to a point but I am afraid almost certainly won’t be sufficient to keep out the Andalusian sun. Also its expensive especially in you are buying large pieces.