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10 Ways to Bring More Natural Light into Your Home

Extra sun may boost your mood, conserve energy and save on power bills

spinner image a colorful bedroom with a dog lit by natural light
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​Let the sunshine in. If your home sometimes feels shuttered and gloomy, some simple changes can help. By inviting more natural light into a living space, you’ll create a lighter atmosphere and warm the interior.​

“Having a space that feels bright and airy creates almost an effervescence in the home that creates its own energy,” says Nicole Gibbons, an interior designer at Nicole Gibbons Studio in New York City.​ 

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Beyond aesthetics, you may also notice a change in well-being.​

“Sunlight increases the amount of serotonin in our brains, and this is what makes us humans happy,” says Richard Hess, a designer in architecture, interiors and furniture for 22 years and director of career services at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego. “It is scientifically proven that sunlight (vitamin D) elevates our moods daily” and decreases anxiety.​

As an added bonus, bringing in more natural light may reduce the amount of electricity used for artificial light, resulting in energy conservation and lowering your home's total energy costs by as much as one-third, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences. An integrated design approach called “daylighting” that's used in construction and remodeling can also be incorporated into an existing home. It combines well-positioned windows and skylights with blinds or shades to reduce glare during the day, along with artificial lighting to provide sufficient ambient lighting at night. ​

Here are 10 ways to bring more natural light indoors:​

1. Reconsider window treatments​

The amount of sunlight entering through windows depends on the type of window covering used. Liners on curtains or drapes help keep out the cold, but also block sunlight. Gibbons is a big fan of sun shades, which are made of a reflective material to repel heat and strong sun, but still let in some light. In warmer months, consider sheer curtains —on their own or layered over shades or under drapes. If privacy isn’t a concern, you live on an upper floor or face a grand view, you may be able to skip window treatments all together.​

2. Paint walls light colors​

A home’s interior colors play a role in the flow of natural light. Gibbons, who is also the founder and CEO of the paint site Clare, recommends using a lighter color palette to help reflect light and brighten spaces where sunlight is absent or limited. Look for paint colors with a light reflectance value of 70 or higher. That information can be found on the back of a paint chip card or online. On the LRV scale of zero to 100, a higher number means the paint reflects more light; a lower number absorbs more light. Gibbons likes neutral, warm colors like whites, beiges and pale blues, grays and greens for interior walls.​

Gibbons also suggests using an eggshell paint finish because it’s “matte enough so it doesn’t have an obvious sheen but has enough gloss to be wiped down.” A higher sheen may create a glare. For more color, paint one wall — such as behind your bed or sofa — in a different, bolder color or add color with movable accessories like pillows and curtains.​

3. Keep the ceiling white​

The color and type of paint on a room’s ceiling can make a difference. Most people like white to create a sense of space. Gibbons recommends using a flat white finish to avoid glare from a light fixture creating a halo effect on the ceiling.​ 

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4. Use mirrors to reflect light​

“Mirrors are a great trick for reflecting light,” Gibbons says. A mirror placed at the end of a hallway or in a corner opposite a window can bounce sunlight or light from an artificial light source around a room.​ 

5. Put in large windows​

One of the best strategies for bringing sunlight into a home is to install large windows, especially the floor-to-ceiling varieties, says Hess, who also teaches at the Design Institute of San Diego. Prices vary depending on the size and style of a window and the materials used, and costs can range from $150 to $2,500 per window. Gibbons likes adding transom windows, which go above a door or another window, in an interior room to let light filter into a darker space. Transom windows may range from about $100 to $300.​ 

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6. Choose doors with glass​

Doors containing glass inserts bring more sunlight into a home. You’ll find many styles of front doors with glass inserts or side windows to help illuminate entryways that may not get much light. Costs range from about $500 to $2,000, excluding installation. Inside the home, you can replace traditional doors or smaller windows with glass French doors, which typically cost $700 to $5,000, not including installation.​

When retirees Janell McClish and Mark Caballero renovated their San Francisco Bay Area home, they replaced small windows with larger ones or 8-foot French doors. The couple also added windows where there were none, such as at the top of a dark stairwell, to bring in more sunlight. ​

“We wanted access and light,” Caballero says.​

“It made a huge difference,” McClish adds. “It brought in the light and the ocean. As you get older, your vision may not be as sharp.” ​

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7. Install skylights or sun tubes ​

Designers like using skylights to bring natural light into a room, such as a bathroom, with small or no windows. Skylights and roof windows also provide a view of the sky or trees above to connect with nature outside. Some skylights open, providing ventilation as well. While you can install skylights yourself, it can be a challenging project, so many people hire a professional, which drives up the cost. The costs varies widely — from $200 to more than $5,000. If you’re looking for cost savings, consider solar tubes (also called sun tunnels), Hess recommends. They let in less light than skylights or roof windows, so some people install multiple solar tubes, he adds. They may cost roughly $600 to about $1,000. ​

8. Reconsider flooring​

It may not seem like an obvious place to look, but even the color of flooring can make a difference in helping to circulate light in a room. Whether it’s carpet or wood, go lighter for a brighter, airier feel.​

To lighten up their home, Caballero and McClish also replaced wood paneling in the kitchen with a cream-colored paint and dark wooden stairs with a neutral-colored carpet.​

9. Use lighter colors or reflective tiles​

The same concept goes for tiles, whether they’re on floors or walls. Choose a lighter color or pearlescent tile to help reflect light, Gibbons says. “It’s less about the material and more about the color,” she adds.​

10. Maintain the landscaping​

Trimming the trees and shrubs around your windows is an easy but often overlooked solution. Landscaping provides shade and beauty, but your plantings may block sunlight as they grow.​ ​

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