Home lighting design
Lighting is the forgotten hero of home design – when done well it makes us feel good, and our homes safe and easy to navigate, but it can also be energy hungry. Interior designer Megan Norgate suggests ways to make clever lighting choices that look great and have less impact.
Lighting accounts for an average of 6 per cent of residential energy use and between 8 and 15 per cent of the overall household electricity budget. There are clearly efficiency and budgetary gains to be made when designing and specifying lighting solutions. Despite this, home lighting choices are often an afterthought, missing the opportunity to maximise efficiency and to access the potential health, functionality and aesthetic benefits of good lighting design.
Each area of a home has different lighting requirements and each light fitting need only provide enough directional light for its purpose. The earlier that lighting is addressed in the design and build process, the more likely sustainable and appropriate choices will be made before time, patience and budget run out.
Daylight and people
The most important source of light to consider is daylight, not only because it is a free resource, but also because it positively affects our health and happiness. Ideally a home has enough windows that supplementary lighting is rarely needed during daylight hours, as this causes the least disturbance to human circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are the biological, behavioural and cognitive changes that occur in the body over a 24-hour period in response to environmental signals such as light and darkness. Natural light can assist in reducing fatigue and improve sleeping patterns, alertness and mood.
Appropriately sized and oriented windows will allow light gain according to the direction and timing of sunlight. For example, east-facing windows can be lovely in bedrooms and kitchens to help you start the day, and larger windows are needed in daytime use areas such as kitchens and living areas than in bedrooms andutility spaces. Though of course, window sizing and orientation for daylight should be considered within passive solar design requirements to balance against undesired heat gain or loss.
In a dimly-lit environment, the placement of new windows, skylights or solar tubes can have multiple benefits. When there is overshadowing from a neighbouring property, boundary wall or vegetation, a clerestory or highlight window can dramatically improve an interior space. Alternatively, quality skylights with seals, double glazing and a capacity for summer shading can be used. Solar tubes effectively access natural light with a small glazed surface area, preventing the heat gain and losses associated with skylights.
Other, often less expensive tactics include painting the shaft or light well a light colour to bounce light into the interior, or using light paint and reflective surfaces on south-side exterior fences or walls to bounce light back through south-facing windows. For apartments or other spaces with no roof or wall access to daylight, LED skylights that mimic the outdoor light levels could be a good option.
A Lume-inating design
Lighting was a carefully considered aspect of this new house design by Lume Architecture in Eltham, in outer leafy Melbourne (also pictured above). Architect Lynnsay Prunotto used a furniture plan, guided by the homeowners Sami and Sarita, to understand their lighting needs and to avoid overlighting.
Availability of natural light was prioritised so that artificial lighting is not needed in any room in the daytime, with no part of the house further than four metres away from a window. But Lynnsay also worked to balance glazing for natural light with energy efficiency aims. “I am very careful with window design as glass is such a poor insulator,” she says. “So there is just one large double-glazed window/door in the main living space to allow a positive connection with the outdoors.” In other rooms, the windows were kept smaller, but wherever possible had two in each room, facing different directions to allow for direct sunlight to enter for longer periods, as the sun moves across the sky. Attached shading to the outside prevents excessive solar gain in the summer.
Task lighting solutions included an LED spotlight, ceiling-mounted to cast directional light for reading music at the piano, and LED strip lighting over a sewing desk. Dimming switches were installed to turn task lighting to mood lighting, or to night lighting, when desirable, rather than having separate light fittings for each function, and to
reduce energy use.
Recessed downlights were used with discretion, and those that were used had sealed fittings, and allowed insulation around them to reduce heat transfer between internal spaces and the ceiling cavity.
Light fittings were selected for their functionality, but also to emphasise particular interior features. The stair light, for example, lights the steps below and the curve in the ceiling overhead. Fittings were also selected for fun, such as the bright yellow ceiling mount for Sami and Sarita’s young daughter, or for their sculptural quality, in the case of the pendant fittings over the dining table. Some fittings also include mobile app-controlled LED globes that can change colour.
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