We care about energy usage but we also need to see what we’re doing – as I get older, I find that it’s harder for my eyes to adjust to dim light.  Twilight is the absolute worst time of day for me.  I feel like I should take my sunglasses off, but wait, I don’t have them on!

Not enough light http://www.morguefile.com

Overall, I want more natural light in my house – well, except in the morning when I’ve just woken up…then I want everything dark so I can pretend I’m still asleep.  Turning on the light makes it real.

 In the new houses and additions we design (well, that Rick designs) there is the opportunity to have ample light fixtures, larger windows, clerestory windows and skylights.

 If you suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), the lack of sunlight during the winter months is causing you to feel, well, sad.  I notice it every January without fail, I’m desperate for sunshine!  One means of therapy is to sit under a lamp that simulates natural sunlight, but what I really want is to sit under a palm tree with my toes in the sand.

Unique idea for a folding chair http://www.dornob.com

 But what do you do with the house in which you now live?  — My mom would be proud of that sentence, since I didn’t end it with a preposition 😉   

 Well, you can add lamps, using your existing power outlets.  You can add new wiring so you can have more light fixtures on walls and/or ceilings, but then you’ve just increased your energy usage. 

If you want to simply add lamps – here’s an eco-friendly one, an algae-powered lamp:

Powered by green algae! http://www.dornob.com

Here’s another idea…add a skylight!  The ones that come first to your mind are probably those where there is a lens on the roof and an framed opening in the ceiling (called a ‘well’) that leads up to the skylight itself.  Sometimes there is a lens at the ceiling and the well itself is hidden between the two lenses – meaning you don’t have to worry about cleaning those darn cobwebs!

 There’s one type of skylight in particular that I think you might have seen without even knowing what it was.  The simplest kind doesn’t involve much in the way of framing it into place.  It’s a tube that reflects light from the opening at the roof down to the opening in the ceiling.  Some tubes have a fixed form and others are flexible between the roof and the room where you want the light.  There is a covered lens at the ceiling level so you might have considered it to be just another ‘can light’.

 Say you want to install the skylight over a bathroom but the roof framing in the attic space or maybe some wiring or pipes are in the way.  The flexible tube doesn’t have to be perfectly vertical from one end to the other, so you can curve or bend the tube between the placement on the roof and the placement in the ceiling.  The interior of the tube is made of reflective material so it bounces sunlight down to the ceiling lens.  Some of them advertise that 99% of the sunlight is reflected down into the room below.

 There is also a 10% tax credit available (through 12/31/11) for adding some skylights, whoo-hoo!  I even saw one supplier advertising a 30% Federal tax credit!

 If you install the kind of skylight that requires framing, then there is a lot of heat gain from what is basically a large window in the ceiling.  Homeowners have to add blinds or a coating onto the glass in order to keep the room from getting too warm.  Double-pane or triple-pane windows have argon gas in the airspace between the glass panes to help reduce heat gain.  While these do the job to some degree (no pun intended), there is something called a ‘silica aerogel’ or ‘frozen smoke’ that virtually stops thermal transfer.  This gel is between the panes of glass instead of argon gas.  A tube skylight has a smaller transparent surface (rooftop solar collector – ooh, sounds so technical!) so the heat gain (and heat loss in winter) is minimized.

Angled between roof trusses http://www.nahb.com

Some skylights are openable but not the tube type.  And, if you are planning to add a regular skylight, be sure to check into your local rules about whether or not it can be an openable one or whether it must be ‘fixed’, i.e. non-openable.  If you have a skylight too close to a kitchen or bathroom vent or a chimney, you are inviting those fumes and smoke into the room >ewww< 

 To find the right skylight for you, you can do internet searches on ‘skylight’, ‘solar tube’, ‘sun tube’ and the like.  You can find some that have vents (handy for the bathroom and laundry room) or lights in them.  I even found a tubular skylight kit for $152 (on sale) at www.theHardwareCity.com  

 Sidebar related to bathroom fans:  A friend of ours had no fan in the bathroom and even when leaving the window open after a shower, the paint on the window sill would peel and mildew would start to grow all over.  She had to be very vigilant to keep the bathroom clean – which she was, btw.  A bathroom fan helps to minimize this kind of thing. 

Mushrooms growing in under-ventilated shower, ugh! http://www.uglyhousephotos.com

This site has good information on benefits vs cost, manufacturers, installation, etc. from the National Association of Home Builders:  http://www.toolbase.org/Technology-Inventory/Interior-Partitions-Ceilings/tubular-skylights   

 In fact, NAHB has much to offer a homeowner interested in learning about all sorts of products, installation, best practices, and construction methods and so forth and so on.  Here’s the link:  www.nahb.com

 The U.S. Department of Energy has a website devoted to this also:  http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/windows_doors_skylights/index.cfm/mytopic=13640  along with definitions of terms used in the industry, like ‘passive solar heating’, ‘daylight plane’ and ‘glazing’ and what factors to consider in choosing a skylight for your home.

 Here’s a link to an article by the people at This Old House which helps you learn what to consider when contemplating a skylight http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/article/0,,195083,00.html

 As we’re going into summer (it’s been pouring rain here, so I’m wondering if summer will EVER arrive!), we anticipate the long, dreary winter ahead by installing skylights to harness the sun; being green by saving energy, reducing our electric bill and combating SAD in the process 😉