Solar energy is good for the environment and your well-being
Much maligned in recent years for causing skin cancer, sunshine is back in fashion. Natural light affords us considerable savings on energy and provides for our general well being. The elevation of mood that occurs when you wake up to a sunny day, or when the sun shines after a rainy day is your body’s way of saying what’s best for you.
A sunrise a day….
Not getting enough sunlight can increase your chances of getting cancer by up to 70%. Insufficient supplies of vitamin D (which is produced when skin is exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun) negatively affects your bone density and immune system. This leads to a plethora of diseases:
- Adrenal malfunctions and autoimmune disorders including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Colon cancers, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
- An in allergies
- Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Infertility and PMS
- Type one and two diabetes
- Learning and behavioral disorders
- Heart disease and obesity
- Cavities, osteoporosis and psoriasis
Lack of natural light affects your circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are endogenous cycles that all living things follow throughout the course of a day. Natural light is the trigger for various biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes. The presence of natural light directly affects circadian rhythms and therefore general well-being by disrupting sleep patterns. A lack of sleep leads to a decrease in performance and alertness and symptoms resembling jetlag.
Several studies, dating back to the 1940’s espouse the need for natural lighting in the classroom. Most recently, studies by Hathaway (1994), Taylor and Gouisie (1980) and Hawkins and Lilley (1992) showed a significant increase in concentration, an improvement in mental
attitude and vision and an increase in levels of comfort and happiness when students were taught in classes that were naturally lit. Students who work in artificially or poorly lit classrooms suffer increased hyperactivity. Natural light (at least 20% of the wall space should be devoted to windows) fosters increased student achievement. Perhaps the most significant study in this regard is one conducted by the Heschong Mahone group in 1999. The study was conducted in more than 2000 classrooms across three school districts and it showed that students in the best lit classrooms scored 20% higher on math tests and 26% higher on reading tests than students in artificially lit classrooms.
In addition to the health benefits that natural lighting offers, it can also offer warmth. Utilization of passive solar thermal massing is an increasingly important aspect in Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs). NZEBs produce all the energy they consume through a combination of insulation, passive solar heating and renewable energy technologies. This reduces greenhouse gases and increases the quality of our environment. Although renewable sources of energy (like solar photovoltaic cells) are utilized, thermal masses inside the home and insulation of the walls, doors and windows must improve the energy efficiently of the home by 60 to 75% over standard guidelines in order to be dubbed an NZEB. Thermal masses work by absorbing natural sunlight during the day, storing the heat energy, and radiating it back into the house at night when ambient temperatures are lower. The effectiveness of the mass material depends on what it is made of. Thermal mass elements should be relatively heavy, good at conducting heat and dark or textured. The orientation of the building, to maximize the absorption of light, is critical in the effectiveness of passive solar technology. If the house is correctly oriented and the envelope provides appropriate insulation, thermal massing can reduce heating costs by up to 85%.