We spend much more time inside our house during the winter. So why don't we design more for Winter? A great way to stave off those winter blues and begin to enjoy winter is by paying attention to our windows. It may seem obvious but windows significantly contribute to our health and well being. However, they often take a backseat to both reducing energy consumption as well as the typical norms of where we should have windows.
Windows provide us with both natural light and connection to outdoors. There has been extensive research that looks at the benefits of both in relation to healthcare settings and offices. More of both leads to faster healing times 1, and more productive, healthier and happier employees 2. Unsurprisingly, preliminary research shows this also applies to our homes 3. For further research check out our reference section at the end of the article for more info on circadian rhythm, metabolic rate and well being as it relates to light and connection to outdoors.
As much as living in a glass box in the woods overlooking the lake would give us lots of natural light and connection to nature, in Canada, energy efficiency plays a huge part in home design and window placement. The Ontario Building Code (an most building codes) limits the percentage of windows in our walls before special considerations are needed to improve the energy efficiency of the walls and windows beyond the typical standard. Most of us can't afford the increased cost in terms of heating, insulation and extra efficient windows to go beyond those limits. So instead, let's use windows strategically, in a way that benefits the occupants the most while still limiting our energy consumption and cost.
One of the first things I do when starting a design is look at the way the sun moves through the site or house and where the best views are located. This is where you should be making use of windows; where there is sun and where there are views. These areas are where you should be locating the rooms that you spend the most amount of waking time. Would you like to spend most of day in a bright, naturally-lit living room or a sunny productivity-inducing office or studio? The answer will vary depending on the individual or family. Write down where you spend your time the most, especially in the winter when we spend the most amount of time indoors. Also, think about the decreased daylight hours in winter; as 5pm to 7:30am is often dark, which leaves some areas less effective for window placement in the winter.
Figuring out where you spend the most time is a good first step, as this will help determine where window placement will be the most beneficial. Don't be afraid of adding windows to rooms that aren't what you would call your typical ones. Kitchens are where we tend to sacrifice window space for upper cabinets. But some people spend a lot of daylight hours there, with their mornings eating at the island or the weekends baking and cooking for the week. In contrast, some of the rooms which typically get the most windows possibly shouldn't. Often, we have the dining room with the most beautiful view outside but we are looking out to darkness most of the winter. Not only that, but we often abandon those dining rooms to dine outside as soon as the weather is tolerable. However, for some people the dining room is the centre of the home, with homework and crafts being done all throughout the day. Abandon any sort of convention (within reason) and focus on what will make your home work better for your lifestyle and family.
And sometimes, we need to delve a bit deeper than functionality and efficiency. We all have things that make us happy in relation to spaces: a quiet cup of coffee while we enjoy the view, a comfy spot to read, that perfect bath moment, or a cozy corner with a fireplace to share a drink with a friend. As much I advocate for efficiency and putting windows where we spend the most time, it can also help to use them to create those special moments. If you like to wake up to a beautiful sunrise, window placement should reflect this. We may not spend the most time there, but these moments often have the most impact on our happiness and well being.
Energy Efficiency and Window Tips
I could write an entire article on energy efficiency and windows, so here are some very general tips and considerations that can help us control heat loss/gain to give us a more energy efficient use of our windows. Generally, you don't want many windows on the northside of your house where you get little sun and lose more heat. And you want more on the south but with some sort of heat control like coatings or multiple panes or even overhangs to limit heat gain in the summer. Since the angle of the sun is higher in the summer and lower in the winter, overhangs, awnings and slats can help block out summer light and let winter light get deep within the home. You should be asking your windows supplier if they've accounted for sun exposure, as different coatings, the number off panes of glass and the type of gas infill should vary depending on how much or little sun the windows will get. Not all your windows need to be triple pane but certain ones may benefit more from it (say if your view is on the north side and you want to advantage of it). One way to offset the cost of higher energy efficiency windows is making sure only the windows you need are operable. Non-operable windows cost less. Also make use of insulated curtains for once the sun is down and you want to limit your heat loss.
Generally, we don't consider how different seasons affect how we live in our home, particularly in Canada. But given where we live and the amount of time we spend indoors during the winter, we should be more attuned to them. We have a limit on the amount of windows we can have, so we should use them wisely. After all, natural light is a key element in staving off those window (winter) blues.
Principle Architect - Fabricae Architecture and Art Ltd.