The benefits of natural light on health and productivity

Will Goodenough, Marketing Manager at Whitesales, talks to Future Constructor & Architect about the benefits of natural light on health and productivity.



he use of daylight in interiors is a hot topic: it’s being hailed by experts across the fields of both science and architecture as a building feature that offers many health benefits. Because of its potential in financial and energy savings, as well as the boosts it offers to both productivity and general health, ‘daylighting’ is being positioned as a central figure in the future of architecture. So much so that there are many professionals whose jobs entirely focus on the most beneficial ways to implement daylighting.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimate that we spend as much as 90% of our lives indoors. This can be an inescapable fact of modern life, with the majority of occupations taking place indoors, as well as most study, rest and housework. And once we’re done with our daily responsibilities, we like to relax a bit, and this can often involve shuttling from one indoor environment to another. Work to cinema, lecture hall to pub – as much as scientists opine that it is our human nature to be more of an indoor species, the many benefits to our health that the outdoors has to offer are indisputable.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (or, ironically, SAD) is a commonly known natural phenomenon. This time of year is prime for symptoms. That relatable feeling of wanting to curl up in a burrow rather than get up in the winter when dark mornings are setting in is a case in point. Scientists have made direct links between our exposure to daylight and our hormonal levels, explaining the high suicide rates of suicide and depression in particularly cold and dark regions, such as the Arctic circle. Finland is reported to have a 9.5% national rate of Seasonal Affective Disorder, with a similar rate of 9.9% across the state of Alaska. On the other hand, Florida has only a 1.4% prevalence of SAD. The correlation between our daylight intake and moods have initiated a reworking of popular architectural styles.

Not only have these discoveries prompted scientists to re-examine the causes of some mental illnesses, but also the effects noticeable in individuals’ performance. Researchers have carried out many studies on the behaviours resultant from varying degrees of daylight exposure. Exposure to natural light ranked as the third most important factor to employee satisfaction in a retail setting across two studies by Herschog Mahone Group (HMG) in 1999 and 2002. Research later found that indoor environments with poor daylight or particular glare were responsible for decreases of at least 10% in employee productivity.

Conducting separate studies in educational settings, HMG also noticed a relationship between increased daylight exposure in classrooms and test scores improving, again, at a rate of around 10%. With the natural benefits of daylight having been discussed for some time, the Education Funding Agency elected in 2014 to issue specifications for daylighting in classrooms, in hope that students’ performances would improve. Amazingly, it’s not just our physical performance or mental wellbeing that benefits from regular exposure to daylight. Hospitals and other healthcare settings have identified significantly faster recovery rates in patients with tree-facing windows, when compared to patients with no view of the outdoor surroundings. Patients benefiting from the daylight exposure recovered at an average of 8.5% faster than those without. So how does all this transfer over to architecture? The focus of architecture on daylight goes back further than one might expect. In fact, research papers show that the ancient civilisations, including the Greeks and Egyptians, designed their buildings around the natural patterns of the sun, to make the best use of their daylight hours. This, presumably, would have been long before any natural health benefits of daylight exposure had been formally discovered, but with few options for lighting after sunset, daylight was filtered and directed with architecture. Daylight has become a significant focus of architecture in recent times. Walking hand-in-hand with the ever-increasing attempts to reduce fuel and energy consumption, finding the perfect quantities and directions of daylight for an indoor setting presents not only health benefits, but ecological and economical ones too.

In a society that’s ever focusing more on environmentally-friendly solutions, daylighting provides a multitude of benefits. From a purely aesthetic angle, it’s not unusual to find that the most luxurious and expensive getaways that Grand Designs has to offer are pretty much windows held together with bricks. Large windows and plenty of natural light and landscape is a widely-held ideal for a good-looking building. However, a generous amount of natural daylight for indoor settings offers several potential environmental benefits.

Up to 50% of every person’s average electricity usage goes on electric lighting, a significant amount of which can be spared with the installation of daylighting. Experts estimate that well-designed, energy-efficient daylighting can deliver a 75% saving on energy used for lighting, with natural daylight taking over most of electricity’s job. The heat generated by electric lighting in the evenings often warms buildings efficiently, potentially saving a further 20% on heating. This means a medium business, with an annual energy expenditure of approximately £4280 could save over £2000 with the installation of well-functioning daylighting.

Well-designed daylighting needn’t be installed and forgotten about. Light shelves and blinds offer you freedom of choice across all weathers. So when deciding to install, clearly lay out your expectations and what savings and results you hope to achieve, and find an installation expert whose work can be backed up by previous clients.

The modern developments in daylighting installations have given architects, landlords and homeowners a whole generation of new options for saving energy and money, with solutions suitable for any environments. The benefits of daylighting can be fully realised when designed and installed with projected uses and requirements in mind.

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