How to maximise natural light

Find out how to create a bright, daylight-filled home, with advice on glass extensions, rooflights and skylights and some handy design tricks

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Natural light is fundamental to our wellbeing, but so often our homes severely lacking in it, creating dark gloomy spaces that do nothing for our state of mind. However, when you come to remodel or redesign your home, you are given the perfect opportunity to look at ways to bring more light in.

Here we run through some of the obvious, and less obvious ways to create a light-filled home, and tell you how to do it.

How to add windows

You do not normally need planning permission to replace, alter or add new windows to introduce more natural light into your house, providing your permitted development rights have not been removed or restricted for our home. It is always worth checking with your local authority, though. There is one important restriction: unless you get planning permission, any new side-facing first-floor windows will have to be obscure-glazed, to protect your neighbours’ privacy.

Where windows and doors are completely replaced in existing dwellings, as opposed to repaired, they must comply with the up-to date Building Regulations Part L for conservation of fuel and power.

Whether you are undertaking the work yourself or using a builder, your local authority must be notified and you will have to pay a fee of £70 for them to inspect. On completion, you will receive a certificate of compliance. If, however, you use an installer registered with FENSA, then the company can issue a certificate of compliance itself under the self-assessment scheme.

Note that a compliance certificate will be required by the purchaser’s solicitor when you come to sell the property on.

Mary Hewett


Add a glass box extension to your home

A 2x4m glass box with a front height of 2.5m will cost around £30,000-£36,000 – allow £1,100-£1,300 per m² of glass. It will be maintenance-free and won’t require decoration like a typical extension.

A structure essentially made entirely from glass only becomes stable when engineering considerations are combined with the correct materials, which are then constructed by experienced specialists. Silicone and glass form a permanent and stable bond, which will not deteriorate over time.

The glass used must be high-performance, to limit the extremes of temperature within the room. Building Regulations permit glass with a U-value – a measurement, in W per m²K, of thermal transmittance for energy-efficiency – of up to 1.8W per m²K. This value should, though, be closer to 1.1W per m²K for minimal heat wastage and all-year-round comfort.

There is considerable preoccupation with the notion of heat loss through glass, but the heat gain on cold, sunny days far outweighs any heat loss in dark winter months. The overall heating costs of your home will be reduced by the addition of an efficiently insulated glass box.

Fiona Sharman

Maximise natural light

ABOVE (left-right): This kitchen, in a converted dairy, has been given Cantifix glazing comprising two large rooflights and a glass box; Pilkington™ laminated glass for extra safety and security; A triangular window and a glazed wall bring warmth to the lean-to landing, redesigned by architect Jane Burnside

Keep your glazing clean

Some areas of glass in the home, such as rooflights, can prove difficult to reach for cleaning and maintenance. Manufacturers have attempted to solve this problem by producing coating and treatment options that modify the surface. These can be applied either during, or after, manufacture and are intended for both internal and external surfaces. The correct product must be applied depending on the location of the glass.

Photo-catalytic coatings are often described as ‘self-cleaning’ – when exposed to natural light, the coating breaks down organic dirt deposits, such as bird droppings, and the loosened dirt is washed away by rainwater. The glass needs little maintenance and dries rapidly, so it’s especially beneficial in difficult-to-reach areas such as conservatory roofs.

This solution – which cannot be retrospectively applied to glass – works best on surfaces at an incline of more than 30 degrees (at least ten degrees is always required) and exposed to daylight and rain, otherwise the structure must be watered down manually.

Polymeric resins – also known as non-stick or easy-clean treatments – work by minimising the accumulation of dirt on the surface of the glass, making it easier to clean. The need for regular washing is decreased and the glass is protected against dust and grit abrasion, staining and discolouration.

The performance is continuous and doesn’t rely on sunlight or rainfall, and polymer resin treatments can be reapplied in situ as and when required. These products, available from companies such as Ritec International, can be used for both internal and external glass, and can be applied retrospectively.’


How to retain privacy while bringing in maximum daylight

The use of textured, patterned and decorative glass seems to be having a revival; it allows scattered light to come in while distorting the view from both sides.

Typically found in bathrooms and kitchens, it can also be used creatively to divide rooms and create impact – as in the open-plan living room/diner shown right. Traditional leaf and floral designs are available, but simpler and more contemporary options keep up with the latest interiors trends.

Another option is white diffusing glass, which comes in a number of forms – from an acid-etched or sandblasted finish to layered panes with a white translucent component. Laminated glass comprises a wide range of coloured inter-layers, including translucent white, and the glass surface is smooth rather than textured.

The challenge is finding the right glazing for where privacy is paramount but vision is still required. A combination of glass with either a reflective coating and/or a tint, will make it more difficult to see into a room from the outside. Many glazing solutions are permanent, as privacy characteristics are a feature of the glass and the amount of distortion varies with the pattern.

‘Remember that in a bathroom it’s essential to install a window covering, such as blinds, even with patterned glass, because when it’s dark outside and the lights are turned on, privacy will be considerably reduced.

Kristian Chalmers

Maximise natural light

ABOVE (left-right): The double aspect in this kitchen brings in extra daylight and the high-gloss white units help reflect as much of it as possible; Patterned or decorative glass is perfect for preserving privacy in a dining room. Pilkington™ Texture Glass is available in 18 different designs, from classic to contemporary

Making better use of existing natural light

  1. Mirrors are a great way of reflecting natural light. As well as using wall-mounted mirrors, which create a great focal point, also consider mirrored furniture.
  2. Use sheer, lightweight fabric for large windows, to allow the maximum amount of natural light to flow through your rooms while bringing warmth and texture to the space.
  3. Keep your colour palette light. White and pale colours will reflect the light, while warm colours will absorb it. Use fabric with metallic accents, such as linens with silver weaves, to create highlights within the space.
  4. If you choose shutters, a wide-slat design will allow the most natural light to stream in, while also offering privacy as required.
  5. Choose a hard floor with a polished finish, whether this is wood or stone, as this will bounce light around the room. Carpet isn’t reflective, so if it is a must for comfort, try inlaying it into a wooden floor or add a wooden runner, to give the light somewhere to reflect off.’

Kelly Hoppen

Maximise natural light

ABOVE (left-right): In this dining room, a giant wall mirror and hard flooring with a reflective finish were chosen, to bounce light around the large space; In the guest room in Kelly’s home in west London, a light scheme with sheerfabric widow dressings ensures that the most is made of the daylight reaching the lower-ground floor

Redesigning your layout to make use of natural light

  • TRACK THE SUN: Understanding how the sun moves round your home will allow you to plan your layout to follow it throughout the day. For example, try eating breakfast in an east facing room and spend evenings in a west-facing space, to capture the sunset.
  • SOUTH-FACING ROOMS: Typically, people associate south-facing windows with enjoying the best natural (warm-toned) light. In response, many house builders locate their main living rooms to the south, specifying larger windows to increase the sun’s rays.
  • GLAZED ROOMS: Avoid building conservatories and sunrooms with glass roofs facing due south, as these will overheat and are better located to the east or west.
  • NORTH-FACING ROOMS: Northern light is a pure, blue-toned light that can make a room appear cold. Service spaces, such as utilities and bathrooms, are frequently positioned to the north with smaller windows, to prevent the areas from becoming cold due to heat loss.
  • DOUBLE-FACING ROOMS: Introducing windows on two sides of a room will not only create a double aspect, but will also ensure that the space is well lit throughout the day.
  • FRAMES: Slim window frames allow in the maximum daylight without unduly obstructing the view. Alternatively, frameless glazing does away with any kind of supporting framework, by attaching glass to glass directly with silicone – the perfect solution for corner windows.
  • ROOFLIGHTS: Skylights can easily and quickly be installed in both flat and pitched roofs, and this does not usually require planning permission. They can allow far more light to flood into the room, all through the day, than you get with regular, vertical windows.’

Jane Burnside