Buildings that let in more light work better for the people inside. Studies in schools retrofitted with large skylights have proved the benefits. Where extra sources are added, light bills go down, as expected, and test scores go up — as much as 25 percent. Even in classrooms with the same amount of light, the ones with natural sources dramatically outscore the ones with bulbs.
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Over 20 years, several studies have tracked other benefits like reduced absenteeism and fewer behavior problems that may not apply around the house. But there’s no question that most people feel better and are more productive under natural light. There are two ways to bring it through the roof: skylights and light tubes.
Skylights are a great option if you have a vaulted ceiling. The latest models are solar powered so you don’t have to rip into walls and ceilings to install wiring for motorized operation. There are screens, of course, also built in shades to filter direct sunlight in summer, and rain sensors that close the unit to prevent leaks even if you’re not home.
The problem with skylights is that most houses don’t have vaulted ceilings. They have attics. If yours is full-height finished living space skylights are fine — and less expensive and easier to install than dormers with windows. But if it’s a storage attic or crawl space with a maze of low-slope trusses, skylights present problems.
To bring light from the roof, through the attic, and into living spaces below you need to build a light well— a basic box connecting the roof to the finished ceiling. That requires a lot of framing, then drywalling, taping, sanding and painting. And if the attic isn’t heated the walls of the well have to be insulated because they’re an extension of conditioned living areas. In attics with conventional rafters you can slope the walls of the well to create a larger opening in the ceiling and let in more light. With trusses (the way most roofs are framed now), you’re limited by the maze of framing typically set 24 inches on center.
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