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.”
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:
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.
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.
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:
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!)