In their 2011 paper on the coincidence between poorly lit indoor environments, depression, and the likelihood of falling, Mary Jean Brown, Sc.D., RN, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Vision 2020 chair David Jacobs, Ph.D., of the National Center for Healthy Housing, concluded that, “Inadequate light was associated with risk for depression and falls, both of which contribute substantially to the global burden of disease.” Given the magnitude of the problem, and how inexpensive the intervention, the researchers suggest that further studies should focus on design considerations to increase exposure to sunlight and improve artificial lighting standards.
All of this contradicts much of what we do nowadays in designing for greater energy efficiency, given windows and bulbs represent easy targets for energy misers. Walk into many offices, hotels, and apartment corridors nowadays, and you might wonder if the business has gone dark, with how dimly lit, in the name of conservation.
In his keynote address last year to the 6th annual North American Passive House Conference in Silver Spring, Md., the DOE’s Sam Rashkin showed a slide of a recently certified Passive House and pointed out the lack of windows on certain elevations, designed to avoid solar again, and the depressing, dark interior that resulted from a lack of views and natural light. His point was about aesthetics and the need to balance efficiency with elegance if we have any hope of selling high performance to the general public. But certain items of beauty, such as ample glazing, respond to legitimate human needs that, when ignored, exact psychological and physiological costs, such as depression and, for those with low vision, falling. In some cases, good design and improving products will make compromise unnecessary. At other times, we may have to weigh cost and benefit with human wellness as a significant cost consideration.