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Trapped in the dead of winter, a little sunshine can go a long way for people’s well-being and mental health, and as dreary winter days seem to drag on—and sunlight can be limited—proper lighting in new homes is a necessity.

“We spend 90% of our time indoors working and living; lighting, especially access to daylight, is a very big component to our well-being. Architecture is at its most beautiful when lighting is cleverly used in a space both to enhance it and for occupants’ comfort,” says Hafsa Burt, AIA, founder and principal of California-based hb+a Architects. Burt is a recognized expert in healthy building practices and actively contributes to state-level legislation on the built environment and climate change.

Scott Stephenson, senior director of product, global motorization, at Hunter Douglas, says, “Exposure to natural light, or the lack thereof, is scientifically proven to affect mood, energy levels, and overall well-being. Our bodies operate on a finely tuned circadian rhythm, a biological clock dictating the ebb and flow of our sleep-wake cycle. Many studies have revealed that insufficient exposure to natural light, especially in the morning, can disrupt our circadian rhythm, potentially leading to difficulty falling asleep, waking up, or staying alert during the day. During the winter months, when natural light exposure is limited, individuals can also experience changes to their mood and, for some, an increased susceptibility to seasonal affective disorder (SAD)."

Burt agrees that daylight can improve cognitive function and increase productivity. She says, “We feel our best in natural environments, and any illusion or interaction with natural elements such as daylight contributes to our overall well-being.”

Building the Light In

So how can builders best utilize natural light? “Natural light can be optimized when siting or building a home in the Northern Hemisphere by orienting the longest axis of the home in the east and west directions,” explains Lance Cayko, self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur and co-founder of F9 Productions, an architecture and construction firm based in Colorado.

However, it is impossible for all homes in a development to align the longest axis from east to west. That’s where window placement and artificial lighting can make the largest impact. Cayko recommends a lighting design professional, such as an architect or interior designer, to best plan for synthetic lighting, while Burt notes, “Placement of windows in a room can allow daylight to filter through mood-boosting light in a space. It can add to solar heat gain contributing to occupants' thermal comfort and energy usage, that's why orientation is so important. Lighting can never be an afterthought.”

When natural light is limited, human-centric lighting can boost the whole home. Stephenson shares, “Human-centric lighting thrives on personalization. Begin by understanding occupants' needs for the spaces being equipped, discussing the types of activities that will take place, the desired ambiance, and any individual requirements such as work-from-home routines, schedules, and preferences. This information will assist builders, designers, and integrators in selecting and placing the right lighting and shading solutions to support the homeowners’ goals.”

He continues: “Automation systems can truly optimize lighting by adjusting incoming or artificial light based on time, occupancy, or tasks. Other considerations for human-centric lighting design include prioritizing natural light, when possible, whether through large windows and skylights to elevate the overall availability of incoming rays.”

Stephenson notes that builders should consider their lighting and shading packages as a part of their build process, noting that wiring needs to happen before drywall goes up and some in-demand lighting solutions can get costly if added post-construction.

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An Array of Solutions

While Burt warns that some artificial lighting—especially fluorescent light—can cause headaches and even disrupted sleep patterns in sensitive individuals, she says it can enhance a space by uplifting occupants and helping with tasks.

To simulate the benefits of daylight, Stephenson recommends tuneable bulbs and fixtures that are designed to mimic natural sunlight offering a range of brightness and color temperatures that can be automated. “Builders, designers, and technology integrators can recommend which color and brightness settings might work best in each space or during each time of day—for example, a selection of warm, orange hues for a soothing wind-down atmosphere in the bedroom and energizing blue light for spaces to foster productivity in the home office,” Stephenson says.

Yet, there can be too much of a good thing as Burt points out that glare can be counterproductive. Stephenson recommends window treatments made with sheer and light-filtering fabrics that let light in giving soft, diffused illumination and privacy when needed. He says that window treatments as well as lighting can be best optimized when automated—a common trend that can support the circadian rhythm.

“Modern smart home systems are designed to create scenes that directly cater to the users occupying the space—automating lighting and shading to move with the sun throughout the day, blocking or filtering light with precision,” Stephenson adds. “Homeowners can program their favorite scenes for movie night, relaxation, energizing, or resting and use the technologies to simulate a healthy lighting pattern.”

Part of the Package

In Johnson Development’s new holistic Jubilee community in Hockley, Texas, home builders, including Coventry Homes, David Weekley Homes, Highland Homes, Perry Homes, Chesmar Homes, Westin Homes, Newmark Homes, and Tri Pointe Homes, are installing specialized lighting as a part of their standard packages.

“Our collaboration with Jasco to introduce circadian rhythm lighting in every home is a revolutionary step toward enhancing health and wellness for our residents. This initiative is at the heart of our commitment to creating a community that supports holistic well-being,” says June Tang, vice president and general manager of Jubilee.

The standard package with circadian rhythm lighting will include all light switches and lightbulbs in three rooms—presumably the primary bedroom, kitchen, and family room. Johnson Development says each home will also have “a platform automation panel that will control lighting brightness, color temperature, dim level settings, and outdoor lighting emergency flash status.”

Certifiably Well

Because of the specialized lighting package and additional (now standard) features like a fresh-air intake, MERV 13-rated whole-home media filter, and a reverse-osmosis filtration system in the kitchens, the homes in Jubilee are going to be WELL for residential certified.

Tang says, “These enhanced standard features are part of what has allowed us to become an early adopter of the WELL for residential program by the International WELL Building Institute.” The new WELL for residential program is a third-party verification system that will certify Jubilee homes as achieving advanced wellness.

“The WELL standard includes features related to lighting, such as circadian lighting design, glare control, and access to natural light. Projects seeking WELL certification are evaluated based on their ability to create lighting environments that support occupant health and comfort,” Stephenson shares.

Other building certifications that recognize lighting as a part of wellness are the LEED v4 standard for single-family homes and the Center for Active Design’s Fitwel certification for multifamily spaces.

As enhanced lighting features and natural light optimization become an expectation—especially with wellness being named a top trend in 2024 by the American Society of Interior Designers and National Kitchen & Bath Association—builders can look for ways to implement better lighting and wellness-enhancing features as a part of their standard offerings.

On the horizon, Stephenson believes lighting will be top of mind in the home building space. He concludes, “Over the past few years, we’ve seen a tighter-than-ever collaboration between technology integrators, designers, and builders. When lighting and shading are part of design and exploration discussions, the trio of experts can come together and recommend solutions that complement the architectural, lifestyle, and functional needs of the space.

“From this, I think we’re going to see more built-in lighting and shading features in the next few years. Anticipate more integration, with components hardwired into homes for long-term reliability and seamless design. This shift reflects a commitment to enduring, design-complimenting solutions and a rise in smart-home experiences at the foundation of modern homes.”

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