Updated: Nov 10, 2020
Optimizing Lighting at Home is important because:
Our body’s 24 hour internal clock called the Circadian Rhythm physiologically responds to light whenever we are awake and asleep
Spending copious amounts of time in extremely low light spaces (40 to 400 lux) increases our risk of depression significantly (NCBI, 2011).
We are 20 times more likely to develop anxiety and panic disorders if we continuously get poor quality of sleep (Harvard Medical School, 2008)
(Source: WELL v2, 2018)
Receptors in our eyes called rods and cones allow us to see by capturing light. Additionally, ipRGCs (intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells) not only do the same, but these receptor cells channel light into our brain to facilitate a circadian rhythm response, a physiological clock in our body that regulates hormones relative to the time of day. This therefore showcases the interdependency of our body relative to environmental lighting conditions.
Too much or insufficient lighting can negatively impact a person's mood, work performance, cortisol levels, metabolism, and nutritional choices the next day, thereby throwing their entire circadian rhythm out of balance, called a phase shift.
For example, if a person consistently exposes themselves to bright light in the evening, it can cause insomnia and affect their quality of sleep at night. On the contrary, a person who experiences low-light conditions in a space for long periods of time can also develop mood disorders such as depression due to the lack of Vitamin D synthesis in their skin.
The takeaway here is that we need to ensure our spaces are adequately lit so that we can protect our well-being throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are therefore 12 DIY Hacks for Optimizing Lighting at Home (from outside to inside) within a reasonable price range:
1) Determine the Sun’s path relative to your Location and space(s)
The Earth’s axial tilt throughout its orbit around the Sun creates the four seasons and the equinoxes.
In the Northern hemisphere, summers are hot because the Sun is directly above us, and thus we receive more light and heat. In the winter however, we receive less light and heat because the Sun is not directly above us as the Earth is slightly tilted away from it.
It is therefore important to consider the Sun’s path as we start to plan for our daylighting, shading and interior lighting strategy for our homes.
2) Determine the Use of your spaces
Depending on the room and the activities to be held, each household space can have different lighting requirements.
Spaces such as the Living, Bedroom and Washroom are typically comfortable in moderate lighting (200 to 300 lux), whereas task-oriented spaces such as Kitchen countertops and/or Home Office spaces will require higher lighting levels (500 to 800 lux).
To determine the Lux of a space, download and use the free SMART app called Lux Meter. It is available on the Apple App store.
3) Determine the amount of Glazed elements in your spaces
Windows, skylights and doors with side-lights are glazed elements that allow light into a space.
By considering point (2) above with respect to the glazed elements in each household room, an overall lighting strategy becomes easier to determine.
4) Determine the Interior Width and Height of your spaces
Cost: $50 (Laser Distance Measure)
Purchase a Laser Distance Measure and measure the Width and Height of your illuminated spaces.
A lofty space with high ceilings (10’ or more) can expect daylight to penetrate deeper into it than one with 9’ of ceiling height.
Similarly, spaces that are wider than they are tall will receive a larger spread of light into the space than a narrower one.
5) Determine the Environment outside your spaces
If your home is surrounded by neighboring buildings that are made of highly reflective materials or paints (i.e. metal panels or a white-coloured building), your space will obtain extra illumination due to the bouncing of light from these outside surfaces coming in.
On the contrary, if your home is surrounded by darker, non-reflective materials of buildings (i.e. darker-coloured stones or paints), or if there are canopies, trees or terrace adjacent to space, your room will be shaded and will thus be darker instead.
6) Determine the Interior Finishes of your spaces
As per (5) above, the same principles apply but for your interior spaces.
By being cognizant of material finishes and their reflective qualities, one may potentially find ways to leverage this illumination strategy when additional lux is needed deeper into a space.
7) Measure the Visual Light Transmittance (VLT) of the Glass of Windows and other Openings
Cost: $0 (free app called Tint Meter) to $180 (VLT Tint Meter instrument)
The thickness of window panes and their color due to their specs also determine the quantity and quality of light that enter into our spaces.
Purchase a VLT Tint Meter or make use of a SMART app called Tint Meter to measure the percentage of Visual Light Transmittance (VLT) value of your window panes.
The clearer the glass, the higher the percentage of VLT is to 100%.
8) Create a Uniform Lighting Experience throughout all your spaces
Cost: $0 (free app called Lux Meter)
Ensure that the brightness of your spaces are uniform as you move across them. Are there any spaces in your house that make you feel great or does your lighting make you feel uneasy? Consider these questions before purchasing any light fixtures.
A lack of uniformity in lighting levels has been shown to cause discomfort, distractions, a loss of productivity and even stress, all of which can impact our mental health.
9) Purchase LED Light Bulbs & Fixtures
Cost: $25 (6 LED light bulbs, soft white, non-dimmable) to $240 (Phillips Hue starter set)
LED light fixtures have many advantages, such as their energy efficiency and their light emittance which resembles daylight.
The latter property is measured using a Color Rendering Index (CRI) value, a number between 0 to 100 that suggests how natural and accurate objects appear when rendered by such lighting. Lighting with a CRI of 65 to 85 closely resembles daylight, while 85 and above is considered excellent lighting.
As a recommendation, circulation spaces should aim for a CRI >80, whereas all other spaces, especially areas that are task-oriented or contain exhibit pieces like art, should utilize lighting with CRI > 90 or a CRI > 80 with R9 > 50*.
Finally, when supplementary lighting is needed for task-oriented spaces (i.e. work desk), consider getting an LED Task Lighting that allows you to adjust its light levels and the color of the light. Such lighting will be beneficial for working in the evening also.
10) Purchase LED Light Fixtures that have Dimmable Lighting Controls
Cost: $25 (6 dimmable LED light bulbs) to $40 (dimmable LED lamp)
Individual lighting control is important because everyone uses their spaces differently. One person may find a space too bright, whereas someone else may find it just right.
Dimmable lighting controls also allows you to save money on energy as you can control just how much light you need without being “wasteful”.
11) Purchase and install Blinds
Cost: $25 to $100
Blinds can come in the form of fabric curtains to roller shades, with various aesthetics and functional properties.
Consider commercial-grade roller shades also. Due to their sleek and modern design, they too can be used at home, and can perform as blackout curtains with waterproof, thermal insulated and UV protection properties.
12) Purchase Tall and/or Hanging Plants for the purpose of Shading
Cost: $20 to $150
A creative way to add internal shade for your space is to hang plants that trail or to purchase a really large 12” pot + plants for your space.
Some additional benefits of this strategy is that the greenery can relax the mind and can also help provide cleaner air for your space.
Consider getting an 8” hanging Epipremnum or Pothos (various varieties) which can create dapple lighting, whereas a large plant like a Monstera Deliciousa or Bird of Paradise can serve as a canopy for a reading space underneath.
*R9 is a color that is commonly not used in the evaluation of CRI values, and is responsible for the reds in light. A CRI > 90 is not able to account for R9 sufficiently because it is too deep within the cool light spectrum, hence the use of CRI>80 instead.. Neglecting the R9 value (or vibrant red tones) can have a significant impact on how paintings look in a space or how appetizing a steak appears at a high-end restaurant.