GREEN BUILDING 101: Environmentally Friendly Lighting for Health and Well-Being

by , 06/10/14

Lighting is one of the most critical—and most visceral—qualities of an indoor space, and the difference between good and bad lighting can make or break comfort, mood and overall happiness in your home. Exposure to natural light affects your immune system as well as your circadian rhythms, sleep cycle and hormones, and studies have linked lack of sunlight to depression (S.A.D), immune problems, diabetes and cancer. According to researcher and director of SUNAC (Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Research Center) William B. Grant, “over 20,000 Americans die prematurely annually from insufficient UVB/vitamin D, and half of those with multiple sclerosis in the U.S. would not have MS if they had had more UVB exposure.”

Lighting, lights, lamps, sunlight, sunshine, skylight, skylights, illumination, LED, LED lighting, LED lamps, reflection, paint, VOC, circadian, circadian rhythms, Vitamin D, cancer, health, well-being, wellbeing

Energy Efficiency and Good Health

Considering all of this, its frustrating that the building industry for the past 50 years has been primarily concerned with the energy element of artificial lighting, rather than human health concerns. Reflecting this industry bias, the LEED certification system doesn’t spend a lot of time on lighting. What is covered by LEED-H in regards to lighting can be summed up in this one sentence:

If you utilize energy efficient fixtures OR employ an Energy Star advanced lighting package, you can earn LEED points for your home.

Here at Inhabitat, we consider lighting to be a hugely important element of sustainable building design. We consider “sustainable design” to include consideration of ergonomics, human health and comfort in addition to energy consumption. Because of this, we would like to expand on the LEED lighting criteria and explain how you can find the most sustainable, beautiful and healthy lighting options for your home.

We all care about our health, and we all want to lower our energy bills. Fortunately, most of the tactics you can employ to decrease energy consumption can make your life healthier, too. Here are some simple steps to leading a long and energy-efficient life:

Lighting, lights, lamps, sunlight, sunshine, skylight, skylights, illumination, LED, LED lighting, LED lamps, reflection, paint, VOC, circadian, circadian rhythms, Vitamin D, cancer, health, well-being, wellbeing


Change Your Bulbs

This is one change that is easy to implement and can draw cash returns immediately. Replacing a 100-watt incandescent with a 32-watt Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb (CFL) can save you at least $30 in energy costs over the life of the bulb, AND, if every household in the U.S. replaced one light bulb with a CFL, it would prevent enough pollution to equal removing one million cars from the road. How’s that for a win-win situation? CFLs provide high-quality light without the heat of incandescent bulbs, and they use much less energy and last up to 10 times longer. If you like this idea, consider taking Energy’s Star Change a Light Pledge >

Also, consider investing in an Energy Star lighting upgrade >
Your wallet with thank you for it in a year’s time.

Related: Panasonic’s Sliding Nature Home ‘Breathes’ as it Shimmers With LEDs

LED it Out

The simplest fix you can make right now to your existing incandescent lights is to switch them to CFLs. That said, there are plenty of other lighting technologies out there as well, the most promising of which for the future seems to be LEDs (Light-emitting Diodes). LEDs don’t heat up like incandescents, and they last longer and are more energy efficient than both traditional bulbs and CFLs.

Lighting, lights, lamps, sunlight, sunshine, skylight, skylights, illumination, LED, LED lighting, LED lamps, reflection, paint, VOC, circadian, circadian rhythms, Vitamin D, cancer, health, well-being, wellbeing

Make Use of Natural Light as Much as Possible

CFLs and energy-efficient lighting are all well and good, but why use artificial light at all when we all have access to a free, bright, renewable source of light in the sky? Of course, we need artificial light to function at night, but if our houses were well conceived and well designed in the first place, we would all have access to copious amounts of natural light through well-placed windows, skylights and translucent wall panels. Even without skylights and bay windows, architects can make light reflect deep into an interior space through strategic design and placement of windows. If we all had proper sources of natural light, we would spend a lot less on our energy bills and lead happier and healthier (and more circadianly-attuned) lives.

That would be the ideal scenario, but we recognize that in the real world, most of us move into a place and never get a lot of say in its design. (I personally live in New York City and I’ve never seen a Manhattan apartment that gets enough natural daylight.) If you’re living in the dark, don’t fret: there are a lot of things you can do to bring more natural light into your space:

Lighting, lights, lamps, sunlight, sunshine, skylight, skylights, illumination, LED, LED lighting, LED lamps, reflection, paint, VOC, circadian, circadian rhythms, Vitamin D, cancer, health, well-being, wellbeing

Add a Window or Skylight

You may not have the option to renovate, but if you do, now is a perfect time to take it. There are a lot of great translucent insulating building products coming on to the market which will allow you to let light into your home without letting heat in (or out); a typical concern with skylights and large windows of the past.

Reflect on Reflection

You can maximize the light in a given room by choosing light colors and reflective materials for your walls, ceiling and floor. Light-colored and shiny flooring options like linoleum or polished wood can reflect a lot of ambient light, brightening up your space.Low-VOC paints typically come in only light colors, anyway, sparing the indoor air from noxious gases. Mirrors on walls will also reflect light around and brighten your space exponentially.

Finally, Don’t Be a Creature of the Night

This has nothing to do with building design, but we thought we’d throw it in for good measure. Maintaining erratic sleep schedules and staying up late every night not only require you to consume a lot more lighting (and energy) than is necessary, but it also messes with your circadian rhythms / hormones, and ultimately your health (see cancer research studies for evidence).

(This is a personal plea to all you crazy workaholic nocturnal types who think nothing of staying up all night, every night, as well as you profs who make your interns and poor students do the same!)

Related Posts


or your inhabitat account below


  1. June 6, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Lighter colored paint for walls, and lighter colored furniture can also contribute to a greener home. You won’t be lighting up all these dark rooms with dark objects in them. Of course, then you might have a room that resembles an asylum more than a bedroom…

  2. RelayerM31 January 14, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Natural sunlight yes! Florescent light no. Artificial lighting leads to premature macular degeneration over the years by over saturating the blue spectrum. The sun evenly distributes light across the spectrum. What we need is artificial light that does the same. Let’s save our eyes first before we save Earth’s dirt.

  3. jaideep September 9, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    am doing a project on lighting control through daylight harvesting startegy, i have read this blog & found interesting about SUNLIGHT TRANSPORT DEVICE . so can i get some more information about the SUNLIGHT TRANSPORT DEVICE technique & , methodology so that i can study and add to my project as an innovative method of producing light.
    hope you will support me with information about the sunlight transport.
    thank you

  4. jekin July 21, 2010 at 2:26 am

    We should start using LED bulbs instead of fluorescent bulbs. LED bulbs last longer than fluorescent bulbs. The Flo lighting concept is very energy efficient concept which has been designed by Michael Angelini to help users be more aware of the electricity they are using.
    Eco friendly Lights

  5. Akemi@1STOPlighting September 25, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    I’m two years too late! Too bad this was a short series.
    Yes, the lighting industry on a whole has been kinda slow to innovate but they’re gaining ground. 4 to 12 watt LED under-cabinet units are now offered by Kichler and Sea Gull’s been a part of the Energy Star program from the start. I’m excited about this rise of new technology to meet the great political and environmental challenge.

  6. Akemi@1STOPlighting September 25, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    I’m two years too late! It’s too bad this was such a short series on Green Building.
    I just started working in the lighting industry and am learning a lot about energy-efficient products. LED lighting has evolved to the point that people can now install 4 to 12 Watts LED under-cabinet units from mainstream manufacturers like Kichler. I’m excited for this rise of new technology to meet current political and environmental challenges.

  7. Tammy August 18, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    I replaced my incandescent lights for outside the house that are on a timer with CFL’s. We had 60 watt in there and replaced with 13 watt as per the recommendations on the package. The lights flicker ALL THE TIME not just when they come on.

    Any suggestions?

  8. Robert February 8, 2007 at 11:06 am

    The bulbs are nice for saving energy, but they say they will last for 7 years. Not true. I have had to replace a number of them after about 2 years. The only ones that are still burning ( about 5 years) and have not failed are the ones I bought first off because I got tired of climbing the ladder to change out incandescent bulbs. I think the manufactures have started cutting corners and producing poorer quality since I bought those first ones.

  9. Inhabitat » ASK I... February 7, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    […] With all the recent talk of CFL’s, LED’s, and other fancy-sounding efficient lighting options, we thought it fitting to resolve some of your lingering lighting and lightbulb questions for this installment of Ask Inhabitat. […]

  10. Michael Flancman January 29, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    I’d love your thoughts on my website We sell products made from elephant poo!

  11. hiren patel January 27, 2007 at 9:42 am

    want more of such information

  12. Inhabitat » ILLUM... January 16, 2007 at 1:26 am

    […] We’ve been singing the praises of daylighting and translucent architecture ever since we began preaching the green design gospel here at Inhabitat. Using translucent daylight panels, you can fill your house with diffused sunlight during the day — aiding your health and well-being, and cutting down your electricity bills at the same time. There are plenty of building companies that have been making polycarbonate, nanogel-filled “Daylighting Panels” for awhile now, but Duo-Gard is the first company to push the envelope to its logical discotheque conclusion by bringing colored LED lights into the mix. Now with Duo-Gard’s new IllumaWALL, not only can you flood your house with sunlight during the day, but you can light up your house like a big jack-o-lantern at night: in pink, yellow, green or blue light — or even a pulsating spectrum of colors if you want to be that annoying. […]

  13. Low Voltage Outdoor Lig... January 11, 2007 at 11:19 pm

    Great article. Wanted to add some more info I found on saving energy with your landscape lighting.

  14. Tim December 5, 2006 at 12:59 pm

    Great article with some really useful tips for conserving energy with smarter lighting. I had not heard of the sunlight transportation device before. Seems really interesting and with a lot of potential. Not only with energy savings, but for quality of light issues, which have been brought up in previous posts here. Has anyone ever seen/used one of these before? Does it perform as well as it sounds?

  15. Inhabitat » Blog ... September 6, 2006 at 7:01 am

    […] Don’t let the size of these tiny wonders mislead you; it is their size that provides such incredible versatility. With a typical lifespan of twenty years, LEDs provide illumination for twice as long as fluorescent bulbs and more than twenty times longer than incandescents. Their light is emitted instantaneously –- unlike the flickering start-up time of fluorescents — and they give off almost no heat compared to their incandescent cousins. Most importantly, LEDs are super efficient, use very little electricity, and can often be run on batteries, which enables portability and use in remote off-grid areas. Among the recent innovations in LED technology we’ve seen recently, our favorites include Philips’ Simplicity LED light-bulbs and the LED Glass Table, as well as the Portable Light, which was developed for use in developing regions with insufficient infrastructure. […]

  16. Bob August 31, 2006 at 10:32 am

    Wow – lots of pessimism. Time for some good news?

    We just built a new home two years ago, which is lit primarily by daylight at CFL’s. Where we wanted dimmable, we put in low voltage 50w halogens (replaceable today with LED bulbs).

    After working with a lighting consultant, we specified the cool white color of CFL bulbs. Warm sounds great, but cool white more closely replicates natural daylight. We have no flicker. We’re very familiar with SAD, since a) we live in Maine and b) one of our children was diagnosed with same. Successful strategies for dealing with SAD can include one or two “special” lights, and also more basic strategies such as diet and exercise.

    Our fixtures for the CFL’s are recessed cans from Progress Lighting; bulbs are Sylvania pin-type. Progress is not a high end supplier, but we have found their equipment reliable.

    Where we read (bedroom, den) we have reading lights – old ones that we brought with us to this home that are halogen. We read a lot, but the draw of those bulbs for a few hours per day is minimal.

    I know not everyone can build a new home to accomplish energy savings, but here’s a perspective: our old home was traditional light and appliances when we bought it; we switched to a good refrigerator (Amana) and dishwasher (Bosch) and we switched 50% of the bulbs to CFL; our average electricity consumption went from 22KWh per day to 14KWh. In our new house we’re down to an average of 8KWh per day.

    In terms of power consumed by device (light, pc, stereo, cellphone charger, etc) – you can buy a watt meter for under $20 that plugs “in between” the device and the wall socket; it will tell you easily and precisely how much energy is used by any particular “plug in the wall” device.

  17. Inhabitat » Blog ... August 30, 2006 at 5:27 am

    […] Ah, plug loads! Very exciting, you say…but what are they?! Let’s simplify. We’re talking about everything and anything that you plug in—major appliances, task lights, consumer electronics, home office products and a variety of miscellaneous tools and devices. Minus the lights, which Jill featured two weeks ago, we’re left with nearly 50 percent of an average home’s electricity bill. Lighting commonly adds another 15-20 percent. Space heating and cooling, cooking, and water heating make up the rest, and also comprise your natural gas bill. So let’s investigate the primary energy suckers. […]

  18. Jeri August 22, 2006 at 4:38 pm

    I travel my home state as a government working (not a salesperson) taking knowledge to schools, churches, manufacturers, commercial business, etc about the benefits of the energy efficient lighting. In addition to energy efficiency, quality of lighting is very important. I am a strong beleiver in 5,000 Kelvin (some CFL’s are rated at 51K) color temp. lighting. One particular school worked with a test run on 5,000 Kelvin T8 lighting and found the students were calmer, and teachers and students alike had less headaches. In my home, I also prefer 5,000K. I have found this lamp at “big box” stores like Menards and Home Depot. I even saw a couple of lamps with this color temp at Walgreens. Yes, it is a whiter light. Yes, it is much easier to read by and yes, I can see to put on my make up and determine if my slacks are blue or black and match my socks. If you are looking for “mood” lighting then you will want the 2700 – 3500K which are much warmer. I am very spoiled with my 5,000K lamps at home. When I spend the night in a hotel room, the lamps over the vanity are so warm it is very difficult to see to put on make up. When purchasing a CFL, rule of thumb is that you need 1/4 – 1/3 the watts used in an incandescent lamp. However the best recommendation is to purchase a CFL which has at least as many lumens as your current incandescent ie. a 60 Watt, soft-white incandescent lamp has 840 lumens, As as for the flicker affect, many of the new lamps are instant on with no flicker. Hope this is helpful.

  19. Inhabitat » Blog ... August 19, 2006 at 3:27 pm

    […] You might remember that we’ve railed against light pollution before, and since we’ve been talking a lot about lighting this week, we figured now would be a good time to bring up the subject matter again. Today we’ve brought in guest writer / night sky activist Anthony Arrigo to talk about the overly-bright light continuing to plague our night skys.. Light pollution affects the vast majority of the inhabitants of this planet. Right here in the US, 19 out of 20 people live under skies that are clouded by light pollution. In fact, more than 2/3 of Americans live in places where they can no longer see the Milky Way at night. This sad state of affairs that speaks volumes about the wasteful nature of our society. […]

  20. Grazyna Pilatowicz, IID... August 18, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    I started to read Inhabitat recently. Congratulations! Great work!
    I am not a lighting expert and I truly appreciated information in this article, especially some small comment about double benefit of using low-VOC paints, and an advise about life style: sleep at night!
    Few comment of my own:
    1. Just to set the record straight: in addition to energy efficiency, LEED rewards access to daylight and views.
    Credit 8.1 in Environmental Quality section “Provide for the building occupants a connection between indoor spaces and the outdoors through the introduction of daylight and views into the regularly occupied areas of the building.”
    2. Incandescent lamps have the limited color range: 2700K – +/-3000K. Fluorescent lamps offer more choices: 2700K (“warm”, “soft”, close to incandescent effect) – 6500K (“cool”, bluish, close to daylight color.) Flickering is usually an effect of inappropriate ballast, not inherent feature of lamp. Don’t forget also about the heat generated by incandescent lamps which has to be offset during the summer by additional A/C unless you live in Alaska… To Nils: “Natural Daylight” is “cool” and “bluish” – buy “warm”.
    3. There is one more “tool” in our toolbox: use light where it is needed. Use task lights, wall-washers, spot lights, and limit intensity of general, ambient lighting.
    Looking forward to the next edition!

  21. Brian August 18, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    Hi all, thanks for this great series I am learning a lot every week.

    As for lighting we will see more LED lights here in the near future especialy in the commercial market. The one thing hodling them up at this point is the ability to produce “white light”. Once an economical and dependable process is developed they will leave other lighting solutions in dust, I hope =)

  22. Pierre August 18, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    I just want to make a comment about the change your bulbs. The CFL contains mercury creating a problem after its use about destination of the bulb … It is really better to use it in term of energy costs, but we create another problem throwing to the nature more mercury or health problems to the people who recycle it. Nothing is perfect but I think it is important for you to know about that.

  23. Lorenzo II August 17, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    My country uses 220V. CFLs dont flicker in these volt range.

  24. Sarah August 16, 2006 at 6:50 pm

    I agree that for the most part CFLs emit a quality of light that is way less appealing than a standard incandescent. However, I’m of the opinion that customer demand can drive product improvement, so if we demonstrate that we want them, that we’re willing to buy them, but that they need to compete not just on efficiency but on QUALITY OF LIGHT, maybe the companies will start making some changes. I’ve heard of a few brands out there that don’t flicker as badly as the original CFL. I’ve put out a call for answers and I’ll post the brand names when I have them.

  25. Jill August 16, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    Hey CFL haters-

    I want to make it clear that I am not blindly pushing CFLs. In fact, I’m not really much of a fan at all myself … I swapped all the tungsten bulbs in my house with Sylvania CFLs, and so far I am not impressed with the results. Yes my energy bill has gone down, but the quality of the light is really poor, and the flickering gives me headaches.

    Can anyone out there recommend a good brand of CFL that actually produces pleasant light?

    I’m hoping CFL technology continues to improve as more and more people adopt them. However, I still believe that sunlight is the best cure for all of our lighting woes – and this is why in my column I spent a lot more time talking about LEDs, sunlight transport and natural daylighting than CFLs. CFLs are simply the easiest and quickest change you can make.

  26. anonymous August 16, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    I don’t mean to attack, but i have to. While i completely respect and take part in the initiative your are taking with issues such as light, I have a significant problem with your first point.

    In talking about a healthy way of being and the influence that light has on us, you still recommend the CFL’s. Yes, there are problems (energy wise) with incandescents, yet as far as quality of light and consistency, they are by far the best option we have up until now, and for the near future. The strobing of CFL’s, however much they have advanced the technology, is an inconsistent light that has strong adverse affects on people and the capacity that their brain has in order to compensate for this.

    Further, the lack of colour range that these lights produce affect the way in which we see what we are looking at, again affecting our state of being. Like the comment posted from Nils, there is no way around the unearthly aspect that CFL’s produce. We have to look at minimizing the quantity of lights we use, and the durations – primarily arrange our days and lifestyles to suit the grieveances that our lifestyels have created (as you have mentioned).

    Cudos to the initiative. But Please people, stop pushing CFL’s on anybody. They are an unhealthy form of light that affects us significantly, even if not perceptively.

  27. Anthony August 16, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    Many people take lighting for granted. Sure, it allows us to see, but it can impact us in ways far beyond sight. Too much or too little light can throw our entire system into disarray. Many people are familiar with SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. Too little daylight during the winter is known to trigger bouts of depression. The remedy is simply to add more light to your “diet”. Special indoor lights can add a few hours of day light to your life. Far fewer are aware of the links between light at night and human health. Recent studies have linked light pollution to a number of serious ailments, including, but not limited to, cancer. (
    Use your lights when you need them, but use them wisely. Like my father always used to say “turn out the lights when you’re not in the room”. This is advice our society could benefit from

  28. Richard Deeran August 16, 2006 at 4:08 pm

    EcoLogic Solutions supplies building maintaince crews with the greenest cleaning chemicals. Since it is important for a building to be green on the inside and out, I was wondering if we could link our blogs together. Our blog is and our website is We are in the process of linking the blog within our website.

    If you are interested in a blog swap, just let me know.


  29. Nils August 16, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    I purchased a 13W CFL a couple of days ago, and although it is extremely efficient I can’t get over the unearthly quality of light it emits. I even bought one with a title that boasted “Natural Daylight”. Does anyone suggest a certain kind or brand that they have had success with and wouldn’t mind reading a book next to?

  30. Andreas Paulsen August 16, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    Interesting, when will we see the light?
    I’m thinking about a glass block house with a changing, moveable “screen” to direct and/or block light/sight.
    Open floor plan with a shifting/moveable living space around a utility core. I’m pondering the roof structure, any ideas out there? Let me know.


  • Read Inhabitat

  • Search Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

  • Browse by Keyword

get the free Inhabitat newsletter

Submit this form
popular today
all time
most commented
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
Federated Media Publishing - Home