Home Lighting Renovation Alliance OH
N. Olmsted, OH
Homeowners don't always agree on the appeal of master-suite Jacuzzis, industrial-strength ranges and cutting-edge sound systems, but there's one thing almost everyone's dream home has in common: natural light, and lots of it.
"As an architect, I've done a lot of home renovations, and at the top of most people's lists are bright, cheery spaces," says Russ Leslie, Ph.D., associate director of the Daylight Dividends program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Lighting Research Center in Troy, N.Y.
Daylighting strategies - the tools and techniques homeowners use to invite natural light into a building - are in demand these days for a reason. Studies have shown that exposure to daylight helps you sleep better, work more productively and feel happier. Natural light makes your home look warmer and feel more inviting.
Plus, a daylit home requires less electricity, which is a boon for both the environment and your utility bill. In other words: Good day, sunshine.
If you're building a new home and have sun-drenched living spaces in mind, your daylighting plan of attack should start before construction does, with a whole-building approach that maximizes sunlight entry and reduces the need for electric lighting.
Because the sun travels a low-slung east-to-west arc through the North American sky, most homes in the United States get their best ambient light on their southern and northern faces. Eastern and western exposures, on the other hand, are blasted with bright direct sunlight at sunrise and sunset, respectively, but are more dimly lit for the bulk of the day.
"When the site allows it, I like to elongate a building on the east-west axis," Leslie says. "If possible, I'd have every room with both a northern and southern exposure."
Avoiding the traditional square or rectangular shape of most homes gives you a thin interior more easily penetrated by sunlight. According to Joel Loveland, director of the Daylighting Lab in Seattle, most American homes are between 32 and 38 feet deep, which makes it impossible for even an army of windows to shed light into the core of the building. So a long, narrow home, although less common in the United States, avoids deep interior spaces and provides more north- and south-facing walls that can be used to let in high-quality light.
Once you have a structural design in place, consider placing rooms within the home so that their function matches the quality and characteristics of the room's daylight. For instance, an east-side master bedroom allows early-risers to wake at the crack of dawn. Meanwhile, an office or library on a northern wall gets steady, diffuse light that makes it easy to work or read without the threat of glare.
Rooms with a View
Windows are the primary passageway of light into a home, so fenestration - the placement of windows - shouldn't be an afterthought in new construction or remodels.
"A basic rule of thumb is to bring in light from two sides of the space," Loveland says. That way, the light in the room is balanced, not a study in contrasts. Windows on perpendicular walls, or a window and a skylight, balance light effectively, but when that's not possible, borrowing light from an adjacent room can do the trick. A dining room can share light with a neighboring kitchen through an open door, a transom window, an open-columned space or a wall with a cutout that is either open or glazed with glass.
In most cases a window serves multiple functions, simultaneously providing light, a view and ventilation. For those reasons, eye-level windows are the norm in most houses - they excel at allowing both direct and ambient sunlight.
Less common in home construction - but just as effective - are clerestory windows, which are placed on the wall above eye level. "Windows near the ground do little good," Leslie says, "but windows up higher will give you light deeper in the room." Clerestories also offer greater privacy, making them a good choice for bathrooms and for walls that abut a neighbor's home.
The more windows your home has, the lighter it will be - but at a cost, because every window has a tendency to gain heat in summer and lose it in winter, putting an extra burden on your home's heating and cooling systems. The next layer of defense, Loveland says, is glass. "You don't have to make it dark in your home to keep out heat," he explains. "Select glass that lets in visible light but keeps your home cool." In many American homes, a double-glazed low-E window with a U-value of 0.35 (the rate of heat loss) and a VT (visible transmittance) of 0.50 or more (on a scale of zero to 1) will maximize both energy efficiency and daylight.
You also should consider the window's solar-heat-gain coefficient (SHGC), which should be high (between 0.30 and 0.60) if you live in a cold climate or low (below 0.40) if you live in a hot climate. You can compare the VT, U-value and SHGC of different kinds of window glazings and frames at http://www.efficientwindows.org .
Though most homeowners want brightly lit spaces, it's not always possible or effective to carve out additional windows. In a hallway or bathroom, you might not have exterior walls. If you have large, deep rooms, you may not be able to get daylight deep into the space even with multiple windows. In kitchens or living rooms, window access might be limited by wall-hung cupboards. When windows can't or won't do the trick, skylights, light tubes and reflecting tools can pinch-hit.
Skylights For overall aesthetic value, stick with a skylight, says Brad Thompson, sales manager for Arizona-based Solar Industries( http://www.solarindustriesinc.com ). You'll get large swaths of sunlight and a more decorative effect, plus the benefits of a sky view.
Unless you're a skilled carpenter, hire a professional for the challenging installation, which involves removing a portion of your ceiling and roof, framing and dry-walling a shaft between the two, and coating the resulting box with white paint or another reflective surface.
Although heat gain is problematic for a skylight that takes a daylong direct hit from the sun, up-to-the-minute solutions from manufacturers like Solar Industries and Velux ( http://www.veluxusa.com ) include motorized operable skylights that vent by remote control, thus letting out heat that rises to the ceiling. Velux also offers interior cellular shades, Venetian blinds and roller shades for skylights, which homeowners can operate manually, by remote control or with a wall-mounted keypad.
To keep interior temperatures in check, make sure the size of the skylight isn't more than 5 percent of the floor area in a room with multiple windows, or 15 percent in a sparely illuminated room.
Light tubes Through a roof-mounted skylight dome, sun-catching elements or reflectors channel sunlight down a highly reflective tube and into a dimly lit space. According to Thompson, a 12-inch-diameter tube can light up to 300 square feet of living space below, making light tubes - also known as sun tubes, solar tubes, sun tunnels and tubular skylights - a good choice for small spaces that can't accommodate a traditional box skylight, like a hallway or bathroom.
They don't provide the views or the same level of daylighting of a traditional skylight, but they're less expensive and easier to install. You can even channel light through an attic - but note that adding an elbow joint diminishes light transmittance. "Anytime you bend light you're losing intensity, so you want to keep the tube as straight as possible," Thompson says.
Another advantage is that daylight tubes are extremely energy-efficient, says Greg Miller, inventor of the SunLight Pipe ( http://www.sunpipe.com ), in part because their installation requires the removal of less roof insulation than a typical skylight and therefore helps reduce heating and cooling costs.
Reflection and light shelves You don't have to go high tech to augment natural light in your home. "The best daylighting technique is a bucket of white paint," Leslie says. "Light-colored surfaces bounce light around, which helps diffuse it." Dark surfaces absorb light and create too much contrast with windows.
Another tool is an interior light shelf - a horizontal overhang made of a reflective material like metal or high-gloss paint, which uses a slightly curved or angled surface to reflect light from a window deeper into the room. Installed directly below a clerestory window, it redirects sunlight onto the ceiling, which diffuses it and distributes it more evenly.
A simpler option is an occupancy sensor like Mytech's Motion-Sensing Wall Switch (about $50, available at http://www.energyfederation.org ). The passive-infrared occupancy sensor turns lights on when you enter a room, then switches them off between 30 seconds and 30 minutes after you leave.
You also can install dimmer switches, which are an inexpensive, easy way to adjust the strength of your artificial light, to compensate for available daylight.
The best solution: "Just make it convenient for people to switch off the light," Leslie says. "You're going to capture more savings than you would with a more complicated system."
As dream-home accessories go, daylight is a fairly inexpensive one. And opening up your living spaces to natural light will pay off in warmth, well-being and a home that glows.
An Iowa-based freelance writer, Melody Warnick has covered health, home and education topics for Self, Natural Home Thu, 13 Sep 2007 00:00:00 Melody Warnick Building Better on the Coast http://www.smart-homeowner.com/node/8424 Thu, 13 Sep 2007 00:00:00 Tony Napolitano The Energy Investigators http://www.smart-homeowner.com/node/9111 http://www.horizon-res.com ) in Concord, N.H. We contacted the company's chief energy auditor and sole proprietor, Wes Riley, who agreed to perform an energy audit of the Falatkos home. He told us that he prices his audits by a home's square footage, and that the audit fee for the Falatkos home, which is less than 2,500 square feet, would be $200. Pricing for his audits ranges up to $400 for a 7,500-square-foot home.
When I arrived at the Falatko home on the morning of the audit, Dave gave me a quick tour. In the basement, the walls were strapped and foamed, though Dave was open to any ideas for improvement. In the attic, he had ripped up the floorboards and laboriously cut and fit fiberglass batts, vapor barrier down, but he was not happy with the solution. He and Julie viewed the large, open attic as a potential living space, which would require a different approach to the insulation.
The home's previous owners had installed insulation between the attic rafters but had completed only about a third of the attic before they realized they were installing it incorrectly they had packed the insulation between the rafters and didn't leave a vapor barrier and had stopped. The project remained unfinished because Dave and Julie hadn't decided on the proper approach to meet their needs.
As we finished our tour, Riley and his son arrived in a van containing a large toolbox, clipboard, digital camera, ladders of various lengths and a blower door.
We began in the basement. With appreciation for Dave's effort with the foam panels, Riley pointed out the importance of the still-uninsulated voids between the joist ends, where the rim joist provided the only insulation value about R-2. The voids could be filled with sprayed foam or carefully fitted blocks of foam, he told the Falatkos.
On the first floor, Riley noted a replacement window sash. We've replaced six windows so far, Julie said. We'll be replacing more when we can afford to.
Let's wait and see about that one, Riley said as he grabbed the sash of an older window and attempted to rattle it. Replacement windows are overrated. These old wood windows and storm windows still have a lot of life in them. Self-adhesive V-weather-strips, which cost about $5 and take about 10 minutes to apply, will make them nearly as tight as new windows. I'll prove it with the blower door.
On to the kitchen. How old is the refrigerator? Riley asked.
We don't know, Julie said. It was here when we bought the house two years ago, but I'd like to replace it with something better.
Riley peered at a sticker inside the refrigerator. According to the serial number, this fridge is only two years old. The former owners must have put it in to make the house sell better.
Julie was thrilled with this news. I really wasn't looking forward to buying another major appliance, she told us. Riley had just saved her three times the cost of the audit.
Upstairs, he went from room to room, opening doors. He was looking for the door to the attic. Aha! he exclaimed when he found it. The door to the great outdoors.
Well, I realize it's not fully insulated, Dave said, but it's not that bad, is it
It's a major source of heat loss, Riley explained. I'll show you what I mean with the blower-door test.
Downstairs again, we discovered why Riley had brought along his son, who was busy wrestling the heavy blower door into place. An instrument used to determine the air-tightness of a home, a blower door is equipped with a variable-speed fan as well as various gauges to measure airflow, pressure and other data.
The door is placed into an exterior door jamb and, once the fan is started, slightly pressurizes or depressurizes the home, so air flows more rapidly out of or into the home. This makes it easy for an inspector to detect places where air is leaking out of the home through unsealed openings, and determine how much energy loss the air leakage is causing.
As the blower door was being set up, Riley went through the house, locking window sashes and doors, and making sure the fireplace damper was fully closed. Once the house was sealed, he flipped a switch and the blower door roared to life. Despite being in a tightly closed house, I could feel a breeze.
Riley whipped out a calculator. After punching in the dimensions of the house and several readings from the blower door display, he announced the house's leakiness. 1.35 air exchanges per hour. That's four times the standard of 0.35 for a new home.
Another round of keystrokes. At $2 per gallon for oil, that extra air change per hour is costing you nearly $300 per year.
Where is all the air going? Dave asked.
Come on, Riley said. I'll show you.
Riley took up the smoke emitter, and with an air of excitement, we watched as he fired little puffs of white smoke at electrical receptacles, ceiling light fixtures, closet doors, and the old and new window sashes.
The receptacles were disappointing; it was hard to see any airflow into the tiny holes. Similarly, we were amazed at how little air was leaking around the window sashes even the older units, as Riley had predicted. However, smoke was disappearing at a rapid rate into the holes in the older windows where the sash cords emerged.
But those weren't the worst culprits. One of the closet doors was a veritable vacuum cleaner. Opening the door, we saw the smoke streaming into a hole in the plastered ceiling, apparently on its way to the attic.
Finally, Riley tested the attic door. It was quickly apparent that the loose-fitting door was not weather-stripped. The airflow was so extreme, I wondered whether closing the door would have had any effect at all on the home's air-tightness.
We followed Riley into the attic. You see how the insulation on the floor is being bypassed by the airflow? he noted. You could add 6 feet of insulation to this floor, but your heating bill wouldn't drop a buck until you stopped the air leaks. Unfortunately, attic floors are tough to seal. On the other hand, roofs have few holes. Here is what I would do. Run 2x4 strapping horizontally across the rafters, spaced 24 inches on-center. Finish the space off with drywall. Before taping and painting, drill a hole in each rafter space and have high-density cellulose blown in. Patch the holes and apply two coats of latex vapor-barrier paint. That will give you an R-30 roof, zero air leakage and more room for the family.
Dave raised an eyebrow. Why cellulose insulation? I've got fiberglass on the attic floor. I was thinking I would use fiberglass between the rafters too.
Fiberglass insulation has air pockets that encourage airflow, Riley explained. Because cellulose is more densely packed, it prevents airflow, so you don't need a vapor barrier or vents. Believe me, cellulose insulation is a better way to go.
After the inspection, Riley provided the Falatkos with a 15-page transcript of his findings which proves the point of our exercise: An on-site inspection can yield more specific recommendations than a DIY energy audit. Is it worth $200 to $400? We'll let you decide, but we think the answer is apparent.
Smart HomeOwner's Technical Editor Charlie Wing is the author of numerous books on smart building practices.