Paul Trace, Managing Director of Lumen Rooflight, discusses why it is important to incorporate more natural light in new build homes.
Over the past few months one of the only things that the main political parties have been able to agree on is the lack of available housing stock and the need to build new homes on a massive scale to combat the problem.
For all the debate and political rhetoric regarding the housing crisis we face in the UK, all the talk has been about quantity and not once has the issue of quality been raised. The time has surely come to address the issue of standards of living in respect to the ever-diminishing space in which we call home.
Studies published in 2014 by the University of Cambridge highlighted that homes in Britain have less space than any other country in Europe, with the average new build property covering just 76sq m compared with almost double that amount of 137sq m in Denmark. The research also concluded that up to a third of people in the UK are dissatisfied with the amount of space in their homes.
People often have a strong emotional reaction to spaces, and people's perception of their homes can affect their quality of life. Indeed the experts from Cambridge warned that overcrowding can lead to depression, the breakdown of relationships and physical symptoms such as asthma. It can even impact on children's social and emotional development.
With the high value of land and the low number of homes built by public authorities and housing associations in recent years it is unlikely that we will see the any increase in the footprint of properties. So if the majority of people are to be condemned to this 'rabbit hutch existence' what can we do to combat the problem?
Space versus light
At the very least we need to ensure that we make the most of the little space we do have by ensuring adequate natural daylight in the construction of our new homes.
Even in our rather dull climate, passive solar gain provides significant potential to improve the environment within any building. The introduction of natural daylight to a property does two things. Firstly, it creates the impression of space, and secondly, and perhaps most importantly it has proven physiological and physical health benefits.
Evidence from the numerous physical and psychological studies undertaken on the subject, suggests that our brains respond better to natural light, and can act to counter some of the problems associated with overcrowded living such as depression.
What does the law say?
Despite the strong arguments in favour of natural light there are no minimum legal requirements associated with daylight and new build homes in the UK. However, it is important to note that most countries have (as a minimum) informative codes and standards requiring "sufficient" daylight or illumination, but with mandatory levels not being defined.
In countries with Building Code requirements associated with daylight, they are generally based on average Daylight Factor and/or minimum window sizes as a % of floor area (and/or wall area).
The UK's Code for Sustainable Homes calls for average daylight factors as low as 1.5% for living and dining areas and 2% for kitchens. However it does state that kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms and studies should be designed to have a view of the sky.
A daylight factor of 1.5% or 2% may not mean much to the average man on the street, but for those in the know, these figures really need to be much higher (somewhere closer to 5%) to ensure a space is considered well lit and achieve the aforementioned psychological and health benefits.
Furthermore, this higher figure should not simply act as a recommended guide, but should be an essential part of the Building Regulations - something which is currently being reviewed in Scotland.
The role of the rooflight
There are many ways in which light can be emitted into a building - windows being the obvious option. However, rooflights are not generally affected by external obstructions, such as trees or other buildings and provide a more even pattern of light than vertical windows.
In addition, rooflights can also add to the more subjective qualities of spaces as an integral part of the building's architecture. They can provide views of the sky and promote a sense of well-being and connection with the outside without the distractions encountered with views through vertical glass windows.
These facts are well understood by most people involved in building design. However the huge potential of rooflights to provide exactly the amount, type and distribution of natural light required to meet any given specification is not always appreciated by those who make the laws.
So if the future of housing in this country is to continue down the 'pack em and stack em' route, then surely it is time for the Government to see the light and legislate for more natural light in new homes.