There’s certainly something to be said about light and its amazing ability to change the visual and ambient environment of your home. Broken down to its most basic form, there are 2 types: natural and artificial. By wisely and artistically exploiting both these lighting-types you can achieve your ideal lighting environment. Granted, what is “ideal” can differ greatly from person to person. But let’s explore some of the more common lighting layouts and their effects.
The pros to natural light are probably fairly obvious — it’s environmentally friendly, healthy, and free! Situating your windows to receive optimal sunlight is done in the design phase of your house, and it’s pretty important you get this right before building commences. Different cultures have different outlooks on what stages of sunlight are important.
For example, here in Japan, high importance is placed on the morning sun (east). Perhaps this is by and large universal. The morning sun is bright but cooler than the afternoon sun. Of course, ideally, in the winter, you’d probably want sunlight all day, but because in most cases you have to choose one or the other for a given room, we opt for morning sun.
One big reason for this is that you can’t just relocate your windows when summer comes around. So by having your large windows on the eastern and southern facing sides of your house, you can have the best of both worlds, if you will. Also, remember that the sun will be higher in the sky during the summer, so if your soffits are built right, they should eliminate the bulk of the sun’s direct rays.
Other than large windows for the purpose of letting in light in volume, you might also consider strategically placed and shaped windows for natural accent lighting, as well as a cross-breeze in the hotter summer months. Tall, narrow windows on the north and west-facing sides of the house are common for this purpose. Lining several of these identical windows spaced evenly and closely can be artsy and provides light while maintaining a certain level of privacy.
One thing to remember when designing your home is that large clusters of windows may or may not be structurally viable as they in themselves have very little structurally-practical strength. I’m not talking about your average 2 meter by 2 meter sliding window system, but the kind that might stretch across an entire wall from floor to ceiling (see image below).
Although glass, as a material, has a theoretically high compressive strength, this compressive strength is rarely appreciated due to the fact that glass is generally flat and “wide” — rather lopsided in its dimensional characteristics — and therefore liable to buckling and torsional failure long before it reaches its compressive strength limit. Glass curtain walls, by definition, only carry their own dead weight, and transfer wind and seismic loads to adjacent structural members.
If your house is designed with structural steel framing, you have significantly more freedom with your window size and placement. But wooden homes are much more restrictive in what is allowed in terms of large windows, as such large unsupported spans simply aren’t safe. Various factors do affect this however, such as local building code, whether the house is a single story or not, etc.
This is where you can really get fancy — if that’s your thing. One thing to watch out for when planning your home’s lighting, is overkill. Remember that every visible light fixture you put up will add to the permanent clutter dotting your home. A balance is key here. Whether it’s downlights or accent lights, sconces or your normal ceiling light fixtures, moderation is your friend.
Large ceiling lights are ideal for general light distribution throughout the room, while downlights are good for ambiance. Public rooms such as the dining and living room might have both, while bedrooms might have one or the other, depending on your preference. Studies and work stations might have a general light plus a small but bright auxiliary light that can target the desk.
Accent lights are tricky in that it takes more planning and visualization to get right. In many cases the geometry of the walls and ceilings must be customized to accommodate the design and therefore affects the daytime look when natural light is sufficient. If not designed right, such irregular geometry can be an eyesore when just on its own.
Additional reading: 10 Smart Tips For Waking Up your Home with Lighting