4 Ways to Bring Smarter, Healthier Lighting to Your Home
Lighting affects our health and wellness and, when used well, can improve mood and mindset and even boost productivity. With more of us working from home, upgrading your lighting may be on your home improvement wish list. If so, you may want to consider some of today’s healthier and smarter lighting strategies. Here are four worth a look.
Daylighting means using natural sunlight to illuminate a space, and it can make your home a happier place. Research suggests that sunlight helps the brain produce serotonin, a mood-lifting chemical — which helps explain why so many of us feel good on sunny days. Increasing the amount of daylight in your home can even reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder such as low energy, lack of focus and feeling blue.
“From a health perspective, I would say there’s no such thing as too much daylight,” says Jennifer Brons, research program coordinator at the Light and Health Research Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
Skylights and large windows are the most common ways to achieve daylighting in the home. “I would put a skylight in a space where I think I could use it the most,” Brons says. “Areas that are very deep core spaces where you don’t have much access to daylight but you do spend a lot of time in — like a kitchen, if it’s really far from windows.”
Another benefit of daylighting is that it can reduce electricity consumption, which saves energy and therefore reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Blinds diffuse direct light, helping to create a low-contrast lighting area suitable for a home office.
One potential downside of daylighting is that skylights and windows can produce large, high-contrast shafts of light that make some tasks — like reading — difficult. “If you are working from home and you have a big shaft of sun landing on your monitor, it can definitely create too much high contrast, interfering with your ability to see your work,” Brons says. “What we recommend is avoiding direct sunshine in workspaces, places where you are trying to read something, screens that you are trying to look at — flat-screen TVs or your computer monitor or tablet. Bounce the light off the architecture or diffuse it through window coverings to make it softer, diffused light.”
A sun tunnel, or solar tube, brings daylight to a bathroom.
Another way to bring daylight into your home is with sun tunnels, also known as solar tubes. These tubes are lined with a reflective film that channels light from an opening in the roof through ducts that run inside the ceiling.
Sun tunnels are a clever way to transport daylight to darker areas of the home where a skylight or window wouldn’t be feasible. They’re also easier to install than skylights as they require less carpentry work.
The designers of this bedroom used circadian lighting techniques to facilitate restful sleep for the occupants. The lighting mimics the sun’s color temperature as it changes from morning to night: cool blue light during the day and warm, buttery light at sunrise and sunset.
2. Circadian Lighting
Our bodies have a master clock, known as our circadian rhythm, that regulates our sleep-wake cycle and keeps us in sync with the 24-hour cycles of the sun. When it’s dark, the brain responds by producing melatonin, which makes us sleepy. During the daytime, these signals are suppressed.
Circadian lighting design aims to work in harmony with the body’s master clock by imitating the sun’s natural cycle. This includes mimicking the color and intensity of sunlight as it changes throughout the day: warm amber light at sunrise slowly changes to a cooler, brighter light during the afternoon, before warming back into an amber light at sunset.
“You can have big, elaborate control systems that automatically do this and cost thousands and thousands of dollars,” Brons says. “Or you can have layers of light that you can reach over and turn off and on. In order to have effective circadian lighting in your home, it’s more about quantity and timing of light.”
One simple way to introduce circadian lighting in your home is with clever lightbulbs, such as the Philips SceneSwitch. This product has three modes: daytime, nighttime and in-between. The daytime mode emits a very white light meant to emulate daylight. The nighttime mode is more like sunset or candlelight and signals the end of the day. And the in-between mode acts as a midpoint between the two settings and is best used in the early morning (before sunrise) and early evening (before sunset.)
The lightbulb fits like any ordinary bulb into a light socket. To activate each lighting mode, you simply flip your light switch quickly on and off — no smart apps or controls required.
The Casper Glow. Photo from Casper
Another product that helps bring the benefits of circadian lighting to your home is the Casper Glow light, a 5-inch-tall, 3-inch-wide portable light that gradually dims to help you wind down for a deeper sleep. In the morning, the light gradually brightens for a less harsh awakening.
A benefit of this product is its built-in ambient light sensor. Just before the light turns on, the sensor detects how bright or dark the room is, then adjusts the light emitted to an appropriate level for the environment. This is a handy feature for late-night trips to the bathroom — it means you can wiggle the Glow to activate the light, yet avoid exposure to bright light that could make it more difficult to fall back asleep.
For those who like smart technology, this light works with the Casper Glow app, which offers customizable options such as programmable alarms. The light is also Bluetooth-enabled so you can connect up to six individual lights.
A green wall infuses nature and a sense of wellness into this open-concept living space.
3. Biophilic Lighting
Like circadian lighting, biophilic lighting mimics nature. Designers use biophilic lighting to connect us to the natural world and to create a healthy living environment. The goal is to experience some of the benefits of being outdoors without leaving your home.
To that end, innovative product designers are combining organic elements with indoor lighting to create designs with an outdoorsy feel.
Ryan Taylor, founder of Toronto-based Object Interface, combined an LED pendant with a planter to create the Babylon light. The fixture was inspired by macramé hanging planters but has a more contemporary or minimalist look. The LED bulb emits light without much heat, keeping it cool to the touch and preventing the plants from drying out or burning.
Like the Babylon light, the Palma pendant by Spanish designer Antoni Arola was created to combine light and nature. This fixture features three handblown glass spheres and a flowerpot joined by an aluminum belt that allows greenery to hang over either side. A small light highlights the greenery. The light can be customized by adding or reducing the number of glass globes. It’s also available as a horizontal or vertical wall fixture.
The pendant’s LED light puts 90% of its energy into light and only 10% into heat, so the light source is healthy for the plants and even helps them photosynthesize.
“The plant doesn’t know — neither does the human eye — whether the photons were generated electrically or in terms of fusion,” Brons says. “So it doesn’t really matter to the plant whether light is coming from the sun or electric light sources — same with humans. In our industry, we don’t use the term ‘artificial light,’ because the human eye doesn’t really know how photons are generated. It’s just important to get the photons into your retina.”
Layers of lighting in this Manhattan living room include LED cove lighting, recessed lighting and TV cabinet lighting, all controlled by a smart lighting system.
4. Smart Lighting Systems
Smart lighting systems are another way to achieve healthy lighting at home. These systems use technology to control multiple layers of light: task lighting, accent lighting and ambient lighting.
“We advise people to use several layers of light,” Brons says. “So use those cute Edison bulb light fixtures as one layer, like the cherry on top of your cake. The majority of your cake is wall washing, or uplighting. Make your whole ceiling glow, smear lighting across all your architectural surfaces, bounce the light off those surfaces before it gets to your eye rather than having light travel in a path directly from the electric light source to your retina — that’s really uncomfortable.”
Many smart lighting systems that control these layers of light work with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and can be managed remotely with an app on your phone or tablet. Often, they can also be combined with other home-automation devices for a complete smart home system.
For example, in the Manhattan apartment seen here, New York design firm StudioLAB used a smart home system to control layers of lighting, as well as audiovisual, HVAC and solar shades. The homeowners can connect to the system with their iPads.
Smart lighting systems and devices come priced for a range of budgets and are produced by many manufacturers, from Lutron to Ikea. Many systems connect with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant or Sonos.
Of course, if you’re not comfortable with technology, a smart lighting system may not be the best choice for your home. “Some people are tinkerers and really enjoy fiddling around and adding things to their system,” Brons says. “But [if] the hassle of doing IT in your house might have other health implications, I wouldn’t do it. I’d rather just flip a switch and get on with my life.”