Bringing light home

Chris Chaney of Sunsquare explains how rooflights can improve daylighting, boost wellbeing and minimise a building’s energy consumption.

Spiralling property prices plus a lack of appropriate accommodation to move into have led to many homeowners preferring to carry out significant improve- ments to their existing properties. Creating additional space and drawing more light into a home are key priorities during home upgrades – in fact, in terms of preferences, building a space-constrained conservatory is starting to take second place to the more practical and versatile flat roof extension.

One reason for that shift is the opportunity to bring more light into the premises – rooflights allow light to be directed and controlled in such a way that they can become a stunning design feature.

Design flexibilities

In recent years, rooflights have evolved to provide much more than just daylight. Opening rooflights, for example, offer high thermal efficiency combined with ease of use, as they can be operated at the touch of a button.

These solutions can be manufactured in bespoke sizes and shapes to satisfy less conventional designs while remaining true to purpose – boosting daylighting and ventilation and improving access to areas that would otherwise be difficult to light.

Two common issues with rooflights exist however – overheating and sun damage to the interior – but these can be addressed from the outset. To prevent systems from getting too hot, solar control glazing can be specified for large glazed areas, while laminated glass would help reduce the premature fading of interior furnishings.

Rooflights also open a variety of design possibilities – beyond the traditional application in residential dwellings, it is now possible to create giant skylights for commercial buildings or build entire landings from ‘walk-on’ glass.

Daylighting techniques

Glass has been instrumental to the evolution of building design over the years, shaping architects’ vision and ambition and providing much greater scope for aesthetic experimentation.

Balancing innovative design with the health benefits of daylighting is increasingly encouraged, with academic research indicating that light bolsters wellbeing. This has led to the creation of the WELL building standard, which promotes the implementation of wellbeing solutions
into building design, focusing on seven performance categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort,
and mind.

While the WELL standard has predominantly applied to commercial buildings rather than residential, it reinforces the idea that designs should be introducing as much natural light as is possible into all our buildings.

Performance in practice

Exposure to natural light positively influences a person’s circadian rhythm and improves wellbeing. However, daylighting has other positive aspects, such as helping to minimise energy consumption and bills. On average, it has been discovered that lighting accounts for 40 per cent of a building’s total energy consumption, so significant savings can be made by bringing more natural light into the premises while controlling both light and heat.

Potential issues, such as glare, overheating, variability and privacy, must be considered; however, rooflights can offer the option of controlled diffusion of natural light, thus overcoming some of these challenges and creating an aesthetically pleasing environment.

The National Association of Rooflight Manufacturers (NARM) has revealed that rooflights provide three times more light than the same area of vertical glazing. These solutions can also provide a much more even distribution of light, particularly in larger structures.

By comparison, in areas with vertical  glazing, the effective area which can be lit by natural lighting is only that within 6 metres of the wall with glazing in it.

Spotlight on the advantages

While drawing daylight into a building is a key design priority, the benefits of this natural resource extend  beyond aesthetics and reduced energy consumption to promoting health, wellbeing and productivity.

Rooflights can maximise light in dark spaces, allow for sensitive changes in a conservation area, help mitigate tricky planning permission rules, and provide a solution if you are unable to have a traditional window due to the wall forming the boundary of the property. Also, for deep plan buildings with vertical windows, additional natural light is required from above.

Rooflights can be a useful contemporary addition to a home, providing functionally and aesthetics all in one.

Chris Chaney is managing director of Sunsquare