Saturday, May 10, 2014
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From the Spring Home and Garden magazine: "OUT OF THE ORDINARY"

And let there be light:
Skylights, sky windows and sun tunnels

By Jim Youngquist

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[May 10, 2014]  At some point in our history, our ancestors came in out of the cold and took up residence indoors, and after living in the dark for a short time, discovered that indoor living required indoor lighting.

The first choice was to light with flames: a pit fire, later candles and gas lamps. These means of illumination lacked the intensity to adequately light an area for activities such as reading and studying, and were generally found to be a fire hazard.

Illumination by flame was still in practice until Edison devised the electric light bulb, which was put into distribution circa 1850, thus changing the world. Even with the wide variety of artificial lighting available today, including fluorescent, incandescent, halogen and LED bulbs, and even candles and oil lamps, people recognize that natural lighting from the sun is superior, and daylight positively affects physiological and psychological well-being.

Our bodies respond better to natural lighting. Studies have shown that natural lighting is a better quality of light, with quantifiable performance benefits, including:

  • Better student performance. A 1999 Heschong Mahone Group study of 44 schools in the Capistrano, Calif., school district found that student performance on standardized tests was 20-26 percent higher for students exposed to natural light through skylights than for students in classrooms with artificial light.

  • Faster recovery after illness or operations.

  • Prevention and recovery from "short-day depression syndrome."

  • Our bodies create vitamin D when our skin is exposed to moderate amounts of natural light.

  • Natural lighting can provide a better quality of light that can be localized to highlight an area, or it can be spread uniformly over a wide area.

  • The quality and amount of light is better for working.

  • Daylight provides better aesthetics, better color, better definition of space and architectural details.

  • Studies have shown that natural lighting can increase productivity in many contexts, such as sales in retail spaces and general productivity in office environs.

Over the centuries, architects and designers have come up with newer and newer ways to get the sun's light indoors. Ordinary wall windows bring some light into our living and working space, but that light is generally directed toward the floor and our feet rather than in the area where we need it most: in the region of our eyes, head, body and skin, and the zones we occupy. Since the sun's light comes from overhead most of the day, designers have long sought the means to bring light into rooms from that natural overhead source.

The first skylights were mere holes in the roof, such as the Pantheon in Rome. And while they were designed to let in natural light, they also let in natural rainfall, natural wildlife and other undesired weather features, and also made it impossible to regulate the indoor temperature.

Glazed, "closed" skylights have been in use since the Industrial Revolution made advances in glass production manufacturing. Glass skylights brought in the desired light but suffered from one fatal flaw and continue to fight their age-old reputation: Skylights are equated with roof leaks. Newer installation techniques and better manufacturing have allowed newer designs to bypass the tendency to leak, and now a whole new generation of natural lighting products has appeared on the scene.

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The key to installing skylights that don't leak seems to be to use solid flashing at the top of the skylight and step flashing along the sides, with appropriate shingling, tarpaper and a roof sheath to prevent rain from running down and entering your house around this newfound hole in your roof.

The advance in leak prevention has brought about innovation in design and function in the natural lighting industry. Now we have lighting tunnels: smaller units using reflective tubing and rooftop domes that collect natural light and distribute it to smaller areas such as hallways and bathrooms.

Designers have also introduced sky windows, which not only let in light but also open to let in fresh air and let out accumulated heat. Many of these newer sky-window units are solar-powered, can be opened and closed by remote control, and are programmed to close themselves when the unit senses rain.

Skylights, sky windows and sun tunnels can be found with a variety of tinting and filters to allow different amounts and qualities of lights into our rooms. In addition, there are shades, curtains and shutters specially designed for use with skylights and sky windows.

Most lumberyards and home centers now have a variety of skylights, sky windows and sun tunnels available, and most roofing and general contractors have the experience to install them correctly. Some available units are in kit form, allowing you, the homeowner, to install them yourself

Skylights, sky windows and sun tunnels can enhance your home with the beauty of natural light, can provide health-enhancing features and can help raise the value of your home. For a different, lighter, healthier feeling in your home, investigate them today!


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