A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Heading Towards the Light- Part 1

As a young man, I was fascinated by Bertolt Brecht’s plays. They were a wonder to me, and I was always a fan of his writing. Visually, the stage sets were great to see. I have been to several plays, and although good, the photographs of Brecht’s performances were different. This was due to Casper Naher, a stage set designer. He gave a great deal of thought to how the audience would view his sets. A chief concern was lighting. He could create intimacy and expanse with a flip of the switch.

I recently read that psychologists say that we are biologically inclined to move towards the light. This fact explains many images which recur throughout human history, and it gives us an insight to our own home’s lights. Lights should be strategically placed to give our mind a focus point, as much as providing us with the need for light for a certain task. This series of posts will deal with different types of lighting, home staging with lights, a home inspector’s concerns with light fixtures, and ideas on how to set up various lights.

In our energy conscious times, I wanted to start with sunlight. I walk into so many homes where the curtains are drawn. I love natural light, so I only close a curtain for privacy. This is not really in style, but some people still use sheer fabric curtains to allow light in, while maintaining a screen from public view. I enjoy creating scenes outside my windows, so I have a reason for them to be open. Outside my office window, I have bougainvilleas above with a bird bath set to the height of the bottom sill, so I can look out for avian visitors. My daughter’s window is high, so I grow cannas there to have flowers fill her view. My parents used glass blocks to provide light in part of their home, instead of a window. The windows were looking onto a driveway, where the sight could not be improved. Take the time to consider how you can use your windows effectively for light.

I have seen people add windows to help increase light in certain parts of a house; however, I came across two creative ways to bring light in, and prying eyes out. Light wells go back to ancient times. On Crete, you will find them used in the sprawling ruins, but the idea is still useful. Light wells are more common in town homes, where they service as private patios in the interior of the home. I have seen a builder use this idea in a new home though. The home’s design had one truly dark area, and the builder placed a light well in that location. It was designed as a garden space for a truly glorious effect. When building a home (or if undergoing major renovations), this method is a good choice. The second means which is similar to a light well is the cupola with windows. I was walking by a house this weekend which had a grand cupola installed to provide light to the middle of a large house. I have seen this idea used in non-living area buildings, such as churches, but not in a home. This cupola was added by the homeowners to bring light into their den area. It was a large structure, but this idea could work on a smaller scale. I like this idea better than a skylight, since they frequently leak when retrofitted into an existing roof.

A less expensive alternative to these solutions is a new product on the market, which I have seen called suntubes. (Note: I saw the suntubes name in an article about a year ago, but I saw a program with this device being called a Sola Tube or solatube.) They are like miniature skylights. The flange end for the interior looks similar to the flange for a recessed light. On the other end of the extendable tube is a bubble for the exterior. I have not seen one installed, but it appears to be less prone to leaks than a sky light. I want to install a couple of these tubes on my interior hallway, where I think they would work well. I am waiting till I install a new roof, just because I want to do everything possible to prevent a leak. These tubes seem to be a good idea for any location where you want sunlight, but do not have the option for a window or other means for bringing light into your home.

This is not my choice, but I have seen people use a wall of mirrors in a dark area of a home to reflect light coming from the windows on the other side of the room. I think a wall of mirrors is a trend item, which comes and goes in and out of fashion. It does work, so if it is your style, you may want to consider this. One interesting way to create a wall of mirrors without using large pieces are mirror tiles for walls. I helped to install this in my parents’ hall bathroom. It is a simple procedure with glue. I think you could create a better effect with these tiles than a large mirror, and there is an additional benefit to using these tiles. If one breaks, you do not have to replace the entire wall. More pleasing to my eye was the use of a framed mirror in a dark location to reflect light. This technique helped me in a back bedroom, and I have seen it done in a hall.

Lastly, you may use the sun’s power to light your home. It may not be natural light, but it does make use of it. I have seen people install smaller solar panel systems for this purpose. A solar panel system for all of your energy needs can be expensive. Using it to power your lights is a good stepping stone to solar power. The drawback to solar energy is not just cost: there has been a shortage of solar panels in recent years, and battery technology has not always been efficient enough to store the electricity needed during times when you are not obtaining all the energy you need from the sun. By using a combination of energy efficient lighting techniques and solar, this may not be a problem.

Open your blinds to see the light. Sunlight can possibly be your best means to light your home during the day, and maybe even at night too.

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2 Comments»

  fight4 solar panel wrote @

Something I find slightly comical is how so many people will say that it isn’t worth it to add

solar energy to your home because it takes too long for the system to “pay itself off”. If you

save up the money and have a system installed you suddenly have a tiny utility bill, if any

bill at all. To me it’s a simple cash-flow equation.

  frankschulteladbeck wrote @

It is true that solar energy can pay for itself, and there are programs to help you pay for the system. The city of Austin has a great program for this. For many of us though, solar does have an initial cost that is hard to overcome, and it will pay for itself, but the consideration for some homeowners is how soon can it pay for itself. With rising energy costs, it may be quicker now than before.


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