Just before moving into Active House Centennial Park, I  gave a group of my colleagues a tour of the place. I kid you not, eight of us ended up spending about 15 minutes in the master ensuite together, about half the total time we spent in the house. The bathroom has two skylights, a vertical window, and of course some electric lights. By closing the blinds and turning off the lights, we compared the daylight to the electric light by showing each light source by itself. We observed and discussed the variations in brightness, contrast, colour, and balance of light between daylight sources and electric light. It was easy for everyone to appreciate the quality that daylight can bring to a space. This was my first time using a bathroom as a classroom, but it may have been the best talk I have ever given on the subject of daylighting, the use of daylight in a home. If the bathroom can inspire a lecture on daylight in design, just imagine what the rest of the house can do!

I often start my architect lunch-and-learn seminars with the line “Good design deserves good daylighting.” A brighter home feels bigger, is more comfortable, and can make a lasting impression on occupants and visitors alike. One important takeaway is that the quality of the design’s daylighting can be measured. There are metrics and computer modelling programs that can guide designers to produce brighter spaces. I believe this should be a priority in housing design — and yes, I am somewhat biased as I work for a skylight company — but high performance houses should consider the experiences of the home’s occupants, and good daylighting improves that experience.

Daylight into the bedroom

The Active House standard uses a metric called “daylight factor” to measure the brightness of the house. This is typically modelled on a computer and produces funny little floor plans with topographic map-like lines that tell you where it’s light or dark. Scoring a 2.2 on the Active House radar, or an average of 3.3% daylight factor, the computer said the house did pretty well. I have started verifying the model by measuring light levels to compare the real life house to the computer model. In the model the middle bedroom and kitchen produced the lowest scores. In real life, the middle bedroom measures brighter as the neighbour’s roofline is set back more than modelled. A good rule of thumb is that the more blue sky you can see from a window, the more daylight you will get. This bedroom sees more sky than assumed, so it’s brighter.

light meter pic 670 LuxThe girls recently helped me take some light measurements in the kitchen, living room, and dining room on an overcast day. We measured an average of 1% daylight factor on the kitchen island, 3% on the dining room table, and 4% on the living room coffee table But with the bright spaces and light colouring, the kitchen feels brighter than it measures.

The rest of the main rooms — the family room, living room, dining room, and remaining bedrooms — score very well. The stairwell isn’t part of the scoring system, but the four skylights and large mirror make for a dramatic ascent to the upper floor. The house sports larger than average windows, a nice number of well-placed skylights, and a generous open-to-above space and side courtyard to bring daylight deep into the home. This results in a very bright space that is mostly free of contrast, which is caused by large variations in brightness that can be uncomfortable or “squinty,” as Bethany calls it. An all-around bright house has less contrast than a darker house would and is therefore more comfortable.

The brightness of Active House Centennial Park is something you could get used to, and I already have. We recently spent a week at our house in Dundas as two of the girls had summer camp. Even with the crazy heat we were having, I found myself drawn outside to a brighter space. Active House Centennial Park has shown me the light — pun intended. We’re moving back to Dundas at the end of the year and I’m already thinking about where I can add some skylights and windows. You too can learn to appreciate good daylighting — next time you find yourself in a relaxing space with a lot of daylight, take a moment to observe where and how the light is entering the space. This will take you one step closer to being a better designer or simply make you better able to appreciate brighter spaces!