How to Bring More Natural Light into your Home

Rooflights and Bifold doors work together to add light to this kitchen

During the Summer months our homes are flooded with natural light which is beneficial to not only our homes; but also has a positive effect on our overall health and well-being. However, come the winter months when it turns dark and dreary; unfortunately, our homes (and often our moods) can go the same way.  Here are some different options for increasing the natural light into your home.

Roof Lanterns
Roof lanterns not only fill a space with natural daylight, but also add a focal point and height to the interior of a room. They work particularly well in new kitchens, sun rooms and garden rooms. Building Tectonics were asked by a client to design a very airy space to connect their house with their garden and the end result was this stunning garden room. Although it has plenty of glass it still has the feel of a solid structure, unlike a conservatory.

Garden Room with Roof Lantern

Rooflights
A popular choice for loft conversions – rooflights (or skylights as they are also called) can make a significant difference to the overall light in your home. They can be placed above a staircase, in a bedroom or bathroom or in a living or dining space (maybe over a kitchen island). They will bring in twice the amount of light of the average window and are also perfect for rooms where side glazing is not possible or you want to maintain maximum wall space.  

Rooflights come in a wide choice of designs and sizes with the main manufacturer being ‘Velux’ and are angled towards the sky allowing considerable light into a room. They work well in open-plan kitchen/living areas as they let so much light in alongside French doors or bifold doors. Many ‘Velux’ windows now offer built-in blinds and remote-controlled opening and some even allow the glazing to slide right back for a real ‘open air’ feel.

If you’re undertaking a loft conversion and are putting an extra bedroom in the loft space, you may want to think about the noise of the heavy rain hitting a skylight during the night as well as how much light it will allow. Velux windows are usually cheaper than a dormer (which we will cover next), and normally don’t need planning permission.

Rooflights really let the light into this kitchen extension

Dormer Windows
Another option for loft spaces are Dormer windows which give you the benefit of maximising the headroom and then depending on your surroundings – enjoying a great view. Some home-owners choose to go for the balcony option so therefore, have big glass doors fitted opening out with a railing across to enjoy the morning sunshine.  Often homeowners go for both a Dormer window and rooflights to increase both headroom and the light coming in. Dormer windows are usually more expensive than skylights and most also require planning permission as they alter the exterior of the house.

Clerestory Windows
If you need to bring more natural light into your home without losing valuable wall-space and want to keep a degree of privacy, Clerestory windows could be the answer to your prayers.  Although mainly seen in the commercial sector or in contemporary/smart houses and apartments, these little gems are windows at high level (above your eye line) which can solve issues, such as overlooking in new extensions (which helps with planning permission) or hiding an ugly feature next door.

Clerestory windows can bring natural light in without losing wall space

Bi-fold Doors
With the continued trend for open-plan living; bi-fold doors are still very popular. They allow you to open up part of a wall or the whole of the back wall of a house; thereby joining your home with your garden space. If you have a smaller space you could consider French doors; but you will need to have the room for them to open out or inwards onto a wall.

Bifold doors not only increase the amount of light entering the home but also give great views outside and can be incorporated into both period renovations and modern extensions; due to the number of different sizes and styles available.  If you have a house that has dark and pokey areas; adding bifold doors when renovating or extending it is definitely worth considering; as they can make smaller spaces feel bigger.

Bifold doors really open up and connect your internal space to your garden

Glazed Internal Bifold Doors
With homeowners loving the trend of open-plan living; another way to increase natural lights is through adding internal bifold doors as they offer flexibility to your home. You can simple fold away the partition when guests are visiting or keep an eye on the kids while cooking dinner, and then shut them when you need privacy or to feel snug. By also choosing a glazed panel option it means the natural light can still flood the spaces, while keeping the practical functionality of internal doors.

You don’t generally need planning permission for bifold doors, but if your house is listed or in a conservation area, it is best to first check with your Local Planning Authority.

The Open Tread Staircase
Staircases are now becoming a real feature of many houses; from traditional bannisters and treads through to having no rails or glass rails. They can play a big role in the way light moves between the floor levels and opting for an open tread will give a greater sense of space and allow the light to trickle down. Adding a glass balustrade will then give a real contemporary look to your home.

The Glass Floor (or Ceiling)
If you have several levels to your home another way of gaining light from above is by installing either glass flooring or a panel of glass to the floor. This contemporary design not only lets additional light pass through to the rooms below, but makes a real talking point in your home. It isn’t just for new builds though, as it can be added to any age house within reason.

Sun Pipe
Some houses can have challenging internal layouts where extensions have been added over the years; therefore, leaving a room in the centre of the house with no windows and no natural light. Or you may have a house with a basement and would love to have some natural light entering the space? This is where sun or light tunnels or sun pipes as they are called are an ideal solution for introducing natural light into those awkward spaces. They allow light to reach this space and stop it feeling dark and claustrophobic.

We hope these suggestions have given you ideas for how to bring more natural light into your home and to better connect your house to your outside space. Whether it’s Summer or Winter; the more natural light you can achieve in your home the better.  

If you would like more information on which option would be the best choice for your current home or proposed self-build home, please do contact Building Tectonics 0n 01908 366000 as we will be only too pleased to advise you.

Roof trusses

Most modern house roofs use trussed rafters in the construction of the roof. They consist of quite slender pieces of wood, which are fixed together at the junctions with metal plates. The really clever thing about them is that they derive their strength from their geometry, which is always based on a system of triangles. The alternative way to construct a timber roof is for a carpenter to cut timbers on-site, to the correct length, and then nail them together. This process takes longer than unloading the ready-made trussed rafters from a lorry and positioning them on the house. Invariably, the size of the timbers in a cut, or framed up roof, as it is usually called are much bigger than the timbers used in a trussed rafter roof, this is because you cannot rely on the strength of the junctions to transmit the loads in the same way. In a trussed rafter, the metal plates used to join the timbers together have protruding ‘teeth’, which are forced into the wood by a press, and because this is done in a factory, the quality can be more precise than if you were to rely on a carpenter hammering nails in on the building site. Also, the wood used in trussed rafters is selected to ensure that the design strength is achieved. Apart from the economies in wood, and the time taken, the other significant factor is that the trussed rafter can often span considerably further than a traditional framed roof, often from one outside wall to the other outside wall, meaning the internal walls may not be load-bearing, which in turn means less foundations need to be constructed. All of this can result in large savings in house building costs.

There are of course some disadvantages. The resulting roof space will be a bit more cluttered due to the timber members forming the triangular geometry, and the trusses have to be handled and stored with care, as they can be easily be damaged. They can be more easily affected by wood rot than a cut roof because the timbers are smaller, however, it is now usual practice to have trusses treated with wood preservatives, which help to resolve this issue. In the past, the metal plates have also been known to suffer from corrosion, but these too are now treated to stop them from rusting – it may surprise you to know how the damp the internal space of a roof space can be, which is why we now ventilate roof spaces.

Another disadvantage of a trussed rafter roof is that they are usually (but not always) more difficult to convert to a useful space, like a bedroom. Here at Building Tectonics, we do the design for many loft conversions, and we have derived techniques for both types of roof. but generally a little more steel work is required for a roof consisting of trussed rafters. Of course, with a little forethought from the house builder, this can be overcome by using what we call “room in the roof trussed rafters”. These are more expensive than the alternatives, but still a lot cheaper than constructing the roof on-site out of timbers. It is a shame that more developers do not use the room in the roof trusses as it would allow many houses to later be given an additional bedroom more easily if they ever wanted to convert the space, but of course, house builders want to maximise their profit. Self builders should really consider spending the bit extra to give themselves that flexibility later. We usually do recommend this to clients, we have also had some past conversion/alteration projects where because of the drastic nature of the work, we have suggested that while the client is going to all this effort, they may as well remove the existing roof and replace it with room in the roof trusses. Even though taking a roof completely off is not for the faint hearted and can only be done after much preparatory work such as creating a temporary tent over the house, it is sometimes a brilliant success, it is also more often than not, a lot cheaper than many alternatives too.

The trussed rafter roof was a major innovation in the construction industry when they started being used more generally in the 1960’s. Once the early issues of rot and some manufacturing problems were overcome, the only real problem we are left with in their use is that they are not being handled on site with the care that they should be. They create a very strong roof when it is complete, but the slender nature of the wood elements makes trusses very susceptible to damage until they are in place, therefore good on-site management is required. Apart from the framed roof, and trussed rafter roofs, there have been some other types of roof structures formed in wood, one such system is often called a Trussed roof, this is where timbers are bolted together to form a very strong element, which is then used to support purlins and rafters, which can be smaller than those used in a corresponding framed roof. These were used a lot in in the post housing boom of the 1950’s, but even though they were more economic in timber (meaning that there was less timber involved) than the traditional framed roof, they still lost out to the even more efficient Trussed rafter.  However the terminology can cause some confusion when discussing older buildings, but since many (younger) builders have never seen such a thing, getting the terminology correct is now less important.

This is what one happy client wrote after we advised him of the benefits of using trussed rafters:

Thanks Tony for recommending I use prefab roof trusses on my loft conversion and extension. Not only did it give me the ability to have a much wider open plan kitchen family room but it was significantly cheaper. My builder quoted me 12k but I ended up paying just under 7k.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

I’d like a roof on my conservatory please.

If you have seen the Building Tectonics blogs or the Facebook page, you may know that Tony is not exactly a massive fan of conservatories, so when he brought his house a few years ago (which happened to include a conservatory!) he decided that this would have to go.

The previous owners had probably spent a fair amount of money on this, and had tried to make it a more appealing area by removing the windows and doors between the kitchen and conservatory. This made the first two winters at his home horribly cold, so as soon as he had the funding for it, the project to change this space was underway.

One of the main differences he made to this area was the fact that he put a ‘proper’ roof on it. The team of builders Tony brought in formed a foundation outside the conservatory, constructed the necessary steel-work  and when the right moment presented itself (a dry day), the old plastic roof came off and a new traditional roof went on. Making this weather tight took mere hours, and the interior of it was finished within a few days. The outside of this conservatory could be worked on at a more leisurely rate. The glass sides and the floor were left as they were, but now that he has a super insulated roof installed, there are no more worries about cold winters. Planning and Building Regulation approvals will often be necessary for this type of work and so you need to know what you are doing but it is worth the effort.

A conservatory roof being changed to a proper roof.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.