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
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
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
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!
[By JIM YOUNGQUIST]