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ways to make better use of natural light

 
gardener & author
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What are some ways that we can make better use of the free light coming from the sun to light our homes?

Having walls and floors with a lighter color comes to mind as a good starting point.
 
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1. Having surfaces outside that bounce and reflect the light through windows to inside.
2. Using shiny paint on indoor walls rather than eggshell or mat. We're so cloudy all winter that I did that when I repainted the boys rooms and have no regrets. I used Kitchen and Bath high gloss scrubbable  paint.
3. OUR Eco-village has a skylight and they decorated the tunnel with glass tiles and sections of mirrors to help bounce light. A solid mirror might blind people, but they used a bunch of strips and it seemed fine.
4. I wish solar tubes weren't so ridiculously expensive. I have a friend who installed a couple and was very pleased with them.
 
pollinator
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glass fibres can transmit light around corners.
triple glazed windows and doors
light wells
clerestory windows
solar panels with no battery but direct connection to globes
 
Jay Angler
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John Daley wrote:

glass fibres can transmit light around corners

That makes sense since they're using fiber-optic cables for data now. Do you know of actual examples or info on how it's being done for use of lighting that starts with the sun? Don't worry if you don't - I can do some googling when I have time or get my "trying to get his engineering degree" son to look into it, since I speak chicken way better than I speak geek.
 
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Jay Angler: I'm making solar tubes that are basically a light wood box, lined with old DVD disks. I get the local video store to toss their trash ones in a box for me. I think, after experimenting once so far, that I'm going to like the color of light output, and the weird scattering effect of it, I don't know if there's a word for turbulence when it's applied to light, diffusion is not quite the right one here. But it will be a LOT cheaper than the light wells, and the main price on those is that they are a skylight, with a tube, if you don't have to have all the roof leakage/sealing etc of a skylight, they are just overpriced. The tubes can be bought separately, OR good shiny aluminum metal rolls are for sale at hardware stores. Tinfoil reflects a lot, and so does mylar (or DVDs!) and all of these are lighter weight than mirrors, need less structure to hold them, and not dangerous if they come loose. I'll be putting ours to harvest light from the clerestory windows, and take it down to the basement, so no roof sealing required, the windows will already be watertight, and I want no roof penetrations to leak. Walls are always easier to water seal than a roof. Basic periscope type reflection turns light 90 degrees easily.

On the basic question that started this thread, depends on what you mean by "make better use of." Do you mean "(A) how can we get more ambient brightness in our houses without enlarging or adding windows" or "(B) how can we optimize how much light comes in our houses" or "(C) how can we move light from brighter to dimmer places in our houses?" All are good questions, all look like different answers to me. My answer to the light tubes thought is answering C.
 
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One very simple method (that must be designed into the house at construction) is to put windows next to adjoining walls instead of in the middle of walls. The entering light reflects off the adjoining wall and spreads the source, making the lighting more pleasant and probably more useful, versus having all the light going straight to the back or floor and leaving the exterior wall dark with a bright contrasting spot in it.

My mother designed our house like this in the late '50s and it worked very well.

Also, in a house where the concept can fit, clerestory windows in the center or north edge of a deep south-facing space can balance the light excellently without large north-facing windows. Our 15' x 25' living/dining room, narrow end south, has a row of clerestory windows across the middle that let winter sun straight onto the living room floor in the north half, and exclude summer sun due to overhangs. My house has a high clerestory window that lights the stairwell on the north wall of the house, and also bounces off the stairwell wall to balance the south light in the living room.
 
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Shawn,

I can tell you what I did with my house, but this was done at construction and designed into the house itself.  We deliberately designed the house to take advantage of the natural landscape on which it would sit.  The spot was absolutely perfect from a light perspective.  The house is surrounded on the north and west sides by tall trees.  The west side was particularly important as those trees cast shade especially in the blazing hot summers we get.  We intentionally designed both northern and especially western protection into the design to help block cold northern winds and that awful, unbearable heat we get around 7:00pm in the summer when sunlight will blaze its way right through even the best of insulation.

We all designed the house with eastern and southern exposure.  We have windows on the east side to let in plenty of natural sunlight during the cooler morning hours.  We have a large window in our great room that lets in plenty of indirect ambient lighting even in summer heat.

The south side is where the real advantages come into play.  During the summer, the sun passes directly over the house and virtually no direct sunlight comes through the southern windows, so any light making its way in is indirect, ambient lighting that carries no appreciable heat.  In the winter, as the sun is lower in the sky at noon, the sunlight pours into the southern windows, bringing in a nice, warm (thermally and aesthetically) light into the house.  In our great room, we basically don’t need indoor lighting in the day as plenty of light comes in via the strategically placed windows.

We are further refining our heat management by placing shade trees around specific points of the house.

Last point.  Our great room is two stories high.  This was to let warm air during the winter rise up and heat the upstairs.  

Last, last point, we have installed sunsetter awnings on our western sliding glass doors to cut down on summer sun getting into the house.

We a very happy with our house, and we intentionally designed it to make use of direct sunlight in the winter and have strategic shade in the summer.

Eric
 
pollinator
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this is a good one. think ill be having them in my sheds n coop.
solar-bottle-bulbs_5029148639b41.jpg
[Thumbnail for solar-bottle-bulbs_5029148639b41.jpg]
 
John C Daley
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good idea
Potential spoiler;How would you seal the roof to prevent water leaks?
 
John C Daley
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Solar lights with fibres

Solar light deep into buildings


 
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Here's a simple strategy that definitely brightens an existing room using the existing windows. Often, when light shines in, it will strike a piece of furniture or dark colored floor and be quickly converted to heat. Light  that strikes a white or mirrored window sill, will be reflected upward toward the ceiling. With the ceiling illuminated, every part of the room will get some.

I have used a small table covered in tin foil, set under the window, to get this effect. Something with a bit less glare, like brilliant white paint might be more suitable. Dress it up with some plants.
 
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In the greenhouse research I've done, they recommend painting any surfaces white to reflect light (unless they need to collect heat like water barrels or tomatoes).  They say not to use reflective mirrors or foil.  From what I've seen in my greenhouse, the flat white bounces most/all of the light that hits it in a nice diffuse way.  A mirror would reflect light but in a blazing beam.  If you're in that beam, you better be a sleeping cat or wearing sunglasses.  Anywhere else in the room, the mirror just looks like a darkish hole in the wall.

I like that ceiling bottle bulb idea.  Any idea how to keep it from freezing?  Maybe fill it with a clear oil instead of water?
 
author & steward
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My family has a tradition of "going to bed with the chickens". In other words, if we go to bed when it gets dark, and get up when it gets light, then we don't need as much supplemental lighting.  I often find myself showering without turning on the bathroom light. I don't really need sight to take a shower.

I often plan my work schedule, for fussy little things that are best done with full illumination, for the middle of the day. Sure is more comfortable to do them under natural light than artificial.

When I owned a mortgage, I put skylights into every suitable room in the house.
 
Mike Haasl
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We brightened up our kitchen dramatically by changing out the light fixture.  The original one was a 4 bulb florescent fixture with a dark oak frame.  It sucked every bit of light out of the middle of the ceiling.  We changed to recessed lights and now the light from the small window over the sink can bounce much further into the room.  We also took the dark shiny paneling off of the wall opposite the window.  Applesauce colored paint is much brighter than the dark 1980's style paneling.

If you have valence curtains (I think that's the right word for them), making sure they are high enough that they don't block light coming in through the windows is very helpful.  

Taking insect screens off the windows in the winter lets a decent amount more light in.

Our house is darker in the summer than in the winter.  Low sun angles and snow send a lot more light into the interior of the house.  Nothing you can really do about that other than to move your house as needed...
 
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The living room in our new home has 8 windows floor to ceiling (Its two story). It lights up deep into the hallway, across the upper walk way to bedrooms. They are double paned to help with the R factor, but eventually I have to design a thermal blanket to cover the windows at night when winter sets in.
 
John C Daley
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More details of the optic fibre items I wrote about 2 years agooptical fibre skylights

 
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I want to focus on one aspect: the fact that in non-tropical places, and especially those that are cloudier in winter than summer, what makes the house bright enough in winter may make it too bright in summer. How to deal with this? Answer--take advantage of the different pattern of sun angles seasonally. This is a matter of latitude--longitude is irrelevant and it doesn't matter whether you live in the northern or southern hemisphere. For example, I live at (nearly) 39 degrees north latitude. Someone living at 39 degrees south would have the same pattern, just their summer would be in December, January and February. At my latitude, the sun is at 26 degrees angle at noon in midwinter (that is, the official start of winter at the solstice Dec 21 or so). But at the summer solstice it's more like 76 degrees. We have a small, 12 by seven foot greenhouse attached to the south wall; I marked the place hear head height on the northern wall where the sun  hits at noon at the winter solstice. But at the summer solstice, it barely penetrates a foot into the floor of the greenhouse--a little roof overhang screens most of it out. Then consider that at the summer solstice, the sun rises and sets from due northeast and northwest, at the equinoxes it's due east and west, and at the winter solstice it's due southeast and southwest. This would vary by latitude (and reverse the words "south" and "north" for the southern hemisphere) except I think every place has due east and west at the equinoxes. But this difference means you  can screen out the especially unwelcome late afternoon sun in summer, which in this latitude and hemisphere will be well north of east--in early summer near the solstice, anyway--while the winter sun hangs low in the sky and only traverses a shallow arc from southeast to southwest. We designed this house, much like someone else mentioned, with tall trees to the west, to screen out afternoon heat in summer. Being morning people, we have fine open eastern exposure--even in summer a little morning sun is not unwelcome. Most of the trees are deciduous, so they let in much more sun in winter...but we get much more cloudiness in winter, a fact underlined for me by having off-grid solar. No solution to that!
 
pollinator
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A source for glass for something like a solar tube would be old glass pot, pan, slow cooker lids.

Easily and inexpensively obtainable from thrift stores, yard sales and the like.
 
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Shawn Klassen-Koop wrote:What are some ways that we can make better use of the free light coming from the sun to light our homes?

Having walls and floors with a lighter color comes to mind as a good starting point.




Light REFLECTOR:
On my none sun side (my south), I have a 45cm Diameter (1' +), driveway safety mirror cum light reflector.
It is a mirror that is usually used to see around the corner in apartment driveways etc so you can see if a car is pulling out of their garage or whatever safety need you want to use it for.

I use if for reflecting light into my dining room window during the winter.It is attached to the fence opposite the window and I tilt the convex mirrored surface to redirect the light as I need to. Also it is great if I am typing at the dining table as I am now, to look out, and see the outside world from a different angle.

Sometimes I purposely tilt it UP to see the blue sky and watch the cloud formations change at each glance when I walk past the window or when I happen to look up from the dining table.

It was a find on someones verge some while back. So free LIGHT reflector for my south/dark side in winter.
Hope that helps someone, e.g. maybe an old mirror can be framed and strung up in a deciduous tree at the right angle, or make a stand, where you can rotate its frame and lock it in so the wind does not swirl it and break it.

I had considered painting white-ash my walk way on the eastern side boundary so that it was more light after midday.  But have refrained thus far.

 
Joyce Harris
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John C Daley wrote:good idea
Potential spoiler;How would you seal the roof to prevent water leaks?



John

I have seen this promoted and successfully done in villages where there is no electricity etc.
They would have local methods of sealing around the bottles no doubt.

However we could do the same in our basic shed roofs or lean to etc.
and use our customary roofing sealants if one is inclined.
Or the homestead folk would know of other natural ways e.g. mud and wool or such I have seen others do.



 
pollinator
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Take the screens off your windows in the fall…..amazing
 
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Just yesterday I viewed a few short clips of Architecture Styles.
One was on the Shaker communities and one way they had of getting light into interior rooms was to install an interior window in the wall of a room which had a window to the outside, thus allowing light into an otherwise dark room.
 
John C Daley
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Even the use of mirrors inside works
 
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I would really like to see the comeback of transom windows over interior doors. You can still have light and airflow from one room to the next even with the door closed.
 
pollinator
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I am lucky to have rented a (ground-floor) apartment with a very large window (wall to wall, almost to the ceiling, about half a meter from the floor) in the living room, situated to the South-East (morning sun until halfway afternoon). But what's important too: this room is not large. In winter the low sun shines on the other wall of the room. To make even more use of sunlight I added two mirrors at each side of the window (leaning against the walls next to the window).

So when the sun shines in fall or winter, I have plenty of sunlight in my living room. There's only one problem: in this climate most fall and winter days are clouded and grey ...
 
pollinator
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Solar tubes were mentioned.  I really want to put some in, we have a very dark dining room and end up eating breakfast in the kitchen because of it. We have one of those corrugated tin roofs.  Has anyone ever successfully put solar tubes through one of these? I betcha there is some kind of way we could do it, and get a good seal, but my hubs says "no".  He is an artist however and not a builder or tool-collecting sort of guy.  At this point, if I think it can be done, I'll just hire someone.  Any help much appreciated!
 
Betsy Carraway
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I like Bee Putnam's water bottle idea; but I think a glass bottle, especially a globe-shaped one, would do a much better job (more brightness).  There is a Medieval invention using many water-filled globes on a round, tiered stand, with a candle in the middle; it provided many bright spots all around the table for people to do engraving and other such work inside in Winter, with adequate light..
 
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