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Healthy Living

Infusing light and optimizing air flow in a healthy home

Architect Nathan Kipnis talks about the role skylights play in his health and wellness home designs.

Neutral color master bedroom skylights exposed wooden beams

Nathan Kipnis, FAIA, LEED BD+C, is Founder & Principal of Kipnis Architecture + Planning in Evanston, Ill. and Boulder, Colo., and co-founder of NextHaus Alliance, a unique collaboration that encompasses architecture, sustainable construction, interior design, smart home technology and innovative landscaping. In this guest blog, Kipnis writes about the role VELUX skylights played in a health and wellness home he designed for a Chicago family.

Natural light beautifies, calms, inspires and invigorates. It’s an important element of architecture, bridging the interior and exterior. Just as we all share the same air and live under the same sky, skylights can be used for the betterment of the collective and personal environment.

As an architect who has spent his career practicing and promoting the importance of sustainability and energy efficiency, I have almost always designed homes and buildings with skylights, because of the visual, health/wellness, and environmental benefits they offer. Indeed, daylight may be a passive strategy, but it’s an incredibly dynamic part of home design.

Flow, form and function

While the vista can be quite amazing, a key environmental aspect of operable skylights is whole home ventilation. In fact, one reason I’ve long used VELUX skylights is the ability to pair natural daylight with natural ventilation in a seamless, controlled way. This enables a homeowner to enjoy fresh, healthy air and comfortable surroundings through all seasons.

One of my most recent architectural projects underscores these benefits. This family home in Chicago, on a rare five-lot parcel overlooking the Chicago River, is infused with light and features several elements designed to promote healthy living. Because one of the family members is living with type 1 juvenile diabetes, this home is environmentally conscious throughout.

The role of skylights in healthy home design

VELUX skylights are one of the healthy home features that also elevate the overall design. Through the use of convenient remote controls, the owners can open the skylights in the front foyer stairwell, master bedroom and children's bedroom for natural ventilation at various points in the day.

In addition to airings that enhance air quality, there are other important upsides to architectural skylights evident in this healthy, resilient home. Natural light has been shown to improve mood, productivity, cognitive function and learning, which are other important attributes to this couple who are raising two active school-age children.

One of my favorite aspects of natural light – and another reason I added skylights to this modern farmhouse – is its ability to enhance circadian rhythms, natural internal process that regulate the sleep-wake cycle every 24 hours. Natural daylight helps ensure ideal circadian rhythms, because it is dynamic and full spectrum compared to various forms of artificial lighting.

Natural light and natural ventilation boost energy efficiency

Thoughtful skylights also bolster this home’s energy efficiency. In the warm months, skylights take heat out of the top of the building and allow for a natural breeze throughout the house. On a sweltering day, it can naturally feel up to four degrees cooler in an interior, if you open a low window and vent out the top with a skylight. That can eliminate the need for air conditioning, thereby improving efficiency and keeping a lid on cooling costs, too.

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Designing homes for health and wellness

During their first year living in this home – through all four seasons and the accompanying weather extremes – these clients have noted the advantages, spanning health, mood, efficiency, and aesthetics, that their VELUX skylights have offered. They told me they especially love the operable skylights in personal spaces like their bedrooms, and appreciate the fact that the skylights have remote-controlled room-darkening shades to conveniently control the light – they can easily take a daytime nap, for example!

As we continue to help clients create sustainable, resilient homes, we expect that an increasing number of residences will be designed for health and wellness. Natural light and whole home ventilation through skylights will be an important part of that. In this sense, we’re working together to not only go with the flow, but to direct it to everyone’s benefit and well-being.

Next: Interior Decor: It's About a Feeling

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