Daylighting: A Wiser Use of the Sun’s Light

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It’s certainly not a coincidence that the houses we most like to call home tend to have kitchens facing east and family rooms that capture the golden western sun. The designers of such houses are masters of daylighting, a science or maybe it’s an art that, when done right, provides splashes of welcome, warmth, and even wonder within a home.

At its most basic, daylighting is simply using sunshine to light or heat a room. In its more refined permutations, daylighting reaches the level of masterful design. The Egyptians organized their temples so that morning’s earliest rays hit the altar on the summer solstice. The Romans put a single, circular opening in the domed roof of the Pantheon. And the Gothic style, with its tall, delicate windows, allows the light to inspire stained glass.

When daylighting is taken to its highest form, windows stained glass or otherwise are one of the last things a designer considers, says Mary Guzowski, associate professor of architecture at the University of Minnesota and author of Daylighting for Sustainable Design (McGraw Hill, 1999). “Daylighting is not simply about getting more light into a house,” she says. “It’s about the wise use of light within a particular bioregion and set of design considerations to illuminate a distinct set of human activities.” Northern light, for example, is considered the best for activities such as painting, drawing, and even reading. But designers in cold regions must balance the benefits of this even light with the downside of heat loss that north-facing windows allow.

Check out the January/February 2000 issue of Natural Home for more on daylighting, including:

  • climatic and bioregional strategies for daylighting
  • special tricks to maximize the benefits of natural light
  • siting for light
  • creative windows that bring light into your home
  • Frank Lloyd Wright’s use of daylighting