Natural daylighting can boost your mood, improve your health, support circadian rhythm, and enhance the appearance and value of your home… if properly designed.
In this 6th post of the Happy by Design series, I discuss the MANY benefits of natural daylight and suggest design techniques to maximize your home’s use of the healthiest and happiest light source of all.
The Many Health Benefits of Sunlight
For millions of years, humans evolved in nature, awoke with the sun, and were exposed to natural light all day long. As humans have moved indoors, now spending a whopping 90% of their life inside, the lack of sunlight has taken a toll on our physical, mental, and emotional health.
The following are health benefits of natural daylight:
1. Stress & Anxiety Reduction
Exposure to morning daylight for just 30 minutes per day “improves communication between the regions of the brain that are central to our handling of emotions such as stress and anxiety,” according to Brenda Mc Mahon, MD, of the Neurobiology Research Unit at the Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark.
2. Mood Enhancing
Sunlight stimulates the part of the retina that cues your brain to release the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin plays a key role in such body functions as mood, sleep, digestion, nausea, wound healing, bone health, blood clotting and sexual desire.
3. Combats Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as seasonal depression, is a type of depression related to changes in seasons due to reduced levels of day light. Light therapy (phototherapy) is a medical treatment that uses artificial light to supplement natural light in treating SAD as well as other disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, sleep disorders, and even some kinds of cancers and precancers.
4. Immune System Boosting
Georgetown University Medical Center researchers have found that sunlight energizes T cells that play a central role in human immunity. Sunlight activation of T cells is associated with positive health outcomes including reduced incidences of autoimmune diseases and cancers
5. Reduces Blood Pressure
Research shows that sunlight alters levels of Nitric Oxide (NO) in the skin and blood, reducing blood pressure and thereby reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
6. Benefits Vision
Natural light is essential to eye health by stimulating the production of dopamine which is responsible for healthy eye growth. This is especially important for young children because their eyes are still in the development stage. Don’t stare directly at the sun. Simply limit artificial light and increase exposure to natural light for 3 hours a day to help prevent nearsightedness.
7. Source of Vitamin D
Vitamin D, aptly named the “sunshine vitamin” because your skin synthesizes vitamin D from the sun, influences over 200 genes and plays a major role in human health. Vitamin D deficiency can cause a wide range of diseases.
8. Stimulates Focus & Productivity
The desire for workplaces infused with daylight and views of the outdoors skyrocketed even before the pandemic led to the rise of stay-at-home employees. In addition to an overall sense of wellbeing, a room flooded with natural light enhances alertness, focus, creativity, and productivity.
9. Regulates Circadian Rhythm
The light/dark cycle of the sun has a profound impact on your circadian rhythm which affects your health by influencing important functions of the body such as hormone release, eating habits and digestion, body temperature, and natural sleep cycles. The functions of the autonomic nervous system also follows a circadian pattern. When out of sync, you can develop sleep disorders or other chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, depression, and seasonal affective disorders.
Natural Light and the Value of Your Home
Natural light is one of THE MOST requested features from home buyers. Research shows that homebuyers are more likely to buy, and pay more, for a home that maximizes natural light.
It’s estimated that real estate with bad lighting will lease for 20% less than homes with sufficient natural lighting.
According to Zillow one of the best Returns on Investment for home improvements is window replacement yielding around 68% recoup on value.
Adding a skylight or sun tunnel on an interior space where a window to the outside isn’t possible is a great way to include more daylight and boost your home’s value.
As a general rule, when designing a custom home or remodel, every room in the home should have at least one window or skylight.
An interior window can filter natural light through a home when an exterior window isn’t an option.
People are naturally drawn to rooms with glass on more than one exterior wall.
Whenever able, we design rooms with glass on three walls, like a sunroom or a covered patio with retractable glass walls. We find that this tends to be the room that everyone living in the home wants to spend their time in.
Also taken into consideration are additional design techniques that allow enough natural light in without too much heat gain of the interior spaces.
Directions for Designing with Natural Light
Natural light varies greatly depending on the seasons, time of day, weather, and the position of the sun in the sky. Natural light in your home will also vary depending on placement and type of windows used, recesses and overhangs that produce shade, the direction each space of your home faces, and the location of your home on your property.
Here we focus on the orientation of your rooms, the time of day that light enters your home, and how these variations alter what you see and how you feel.
Northern light is indirect which means it is always in shadow. Light entering through the north side of your home will produce bluer tones that can feel dark and cold.
However, northern light is the most consistent and colors will appear to remain the same throughout most of the day. For this reason, artists love to have north-facing studios, to maintain consistent color perception for their masterpieces.
If north-facing light is too dark for you, design rooms not often used like laundry rooms or drop zones on the more shaded side of the home.
Enhancing natural light in a north-facing room can be achieved by painting the walls a light color which will make the room feel bigger and brighter.
Mirrors can be used to reflect light around the room, simulating the appearance and feel of additional windows.
Eastern light is most direct in the early hours of the day. The color of light is warm in the mornings and cool in the evenings, causing color perception to vary as the day progresses.
Morning sunlight can have a positive effect on mood and can be used to amplify your morning routine with an east-facing kitchen and breakfast nook.
East-facing bedrooms can help support the natural circadian rhythms of early risers.
Southern light is warm, casting yellow to orange to redder hues as the sun moves across the sky.
Afternoon southern light can be too intense or glaring if not mitigated for with appropriate design.
Deep covered porches, recesses, and proximity to mature trees can be used to shade the intense afternoon southern sun while maintaining natural daylight and pristine views.
In warmer climates, thermal windows can help block heat from entering the home from south-facing windows. This allows natural light to still enter while maintaining views to the outdoors without too much heat gain.
In cooler climates, southern light is used for solar tempering a space by increasing the window surface area along the south side of the home.
Passive solar homes utilize the sun’s energy by storing the warm southern light in a thermal mass to be used as heat gain in the winter.
Western light is direct in the evenings and can cause heat gain issues if not mitigated properly with shading, overhangs, deep porches, or thermal windows.
The color of light entering from the west is cool in the mornings and warm in the evenings, making objects appear bluer early in the day and redder as the day progresses.
Western facing bedrooms can support sleep cycles for people who don’t want the bright morning sunlight to wake them up.
Rooms for relaxing later in the day are best on the west side of the home where your exposure to redder rays of light can begin to trigger melatonin release and entice sleepiness.
Shining Light on Home, Health, & Happiness
The life-giving power of the sun can enhance your health, your happiness, and the value of your home.
Proper orientation of your home on your property can maximize exposure and use of these magical rays of sunshine.
Intelligent floor plan design can position the rooms in your home to work with the movement of the sun so your home naturally supports your circadian rhythm.
When an ideal orientation and floor plan is not possible, having a deeper understanding of how artificial light affects you and your home is required.
Join us in our next blog about artificial light, how it affects the way your home looks and feels, and how it might affect you physically and mentally.
I intend the happy rays of sunlight find their way into your home and life.
Inspired by you,
Jenny Pippin, CPBD, FAIBD, CGP
Pippin Home Designs
I am Jenny Pippin, founder of Pippin Home Designs and creator of my own inspired living. I grew up as an ordinary southern girl, working in the fields of my family’s tobacco farm. It didn’t take me long to realize I had greater gifts and so I chose to step into my power and create my own path in life, inspired by my heart’s true passion. (More on my personal story HERE!)