Does your home really work?
The average home in the UK is over 50 years old (*). In the USA it’s over 35.(*) They were designed for a world before smart phones or laptops - if you can imagine that. And nearly half of all men and almost one-third of women in the UK still live with their parents into their early thirties. (*)
Around half of us work from home for at least part of the week by choice or by necessity according to this ONS survey.(*) Over half Americans log in to the office from a bedroom or a communal space.(*) Over half of students from the poorest backgrounds in the UK log into school from a shared space too (*). They will spend at least 5 hours every day on-screen on school-work alone (*). That study time has been boosted by a staggering rise in home tuition - a mind-expanding £1.7 billion in the UK in 2019.(*)
How can lighting help?
The average home is neither bright enough to give us the ‘wake up’ signal we need - or dark enough to allow us to switch off (*) . The impact of this twilight existence was brought home during lock-down - it has been linked to a three-fold increase in myopia diagnosis in school-aged children (*), increased anxiety and depression(*) and obesity(*) . This review explains how lighting improves performance across the board, from memory, mood and attention to sleep (*)
So what can you do about it?
Most of us are not about to call in a designer - although listening to the brilliant designer Rebecca Weir and Iain Johnson discuss their collaboration, you can see why so many of their clients come back year after year (*).
According to a survey of over 800 clients by LEDWholesale, most of the people buying lights for the domestic market are men between 35 and 44 years old (73%). They buy a single lightbulb to replace a broken one. Three-quarters said they know exactly what they want and not interested in advice on what to buy. (*)
Until now there really was very little choice for the domestic retrofit market. But a new generation of consumer products are beginning to approach the quality and quantity of light we need - although they will never replace the sunlight. Link these new lighting products to a smart switching system and they can save money, cut light pollution and be a selling point too.
It's not rocket science - and it doesn't need to be expensive.
Bright days - The new EN-12464-1 standard for lighting in the workplace is a good place to start. Bright light during the day - daylight from time outside, plus windows, boosted by bright cool light - is not a one size fits all. The reflectance or ‘shininess’ of the surfaces - and the position of your desk - can help you get up to 20% more out of your lighting - according to recent research by Fagerhult. Cuttle's principle of Perceived Adequacy of Illumination (*) is an interesting read.
Dim evenings - The high blue content - or ‘biological potency’ of the lighting in the average home stops many of us getting a good nights' sleep - another key predictor of performance (*)- it's like caffeine for the brain (*). Professor Steven Lockley suggests you simply switch off overhead lights and shift to warm low-level lighting around two hours before bed.
Dark nights - You may think you'll score points by checking your inbox after dark - but that exposure to blue light will stop the brain moving through the deep sleep cycles that are so vital to memory formation and mood - one experiment on mice showed that two hours exposure to the equivalent of a mobile phone screen over a couple of weeks triggered depressive-like symptoms(*). Switching off matters for your energy bills too. Simple dimmers and occupancy switches can cut your bill by up to 27% (*). An estimated 35% - or $3 billion of artificial lighting is wasted by being poorly aimed or unshielded’ at night in the US alone. (*)
Investing in better lighting could not only improve your families' health and well-being.
It could improve the financial performance of your asset too. 54% of potential buyers say that if they had to choose between otherwise identical houses, one with smart technology, the other without, they’d buy the smart home (*).
Better lights are probably going to be more expensive than the ‘bare minimum’ solution. You get what you pay for after all.
But given that we spend an average of £34.55 per hour on that personal tutor, the average cost of an employee is around £3,600 per month (*), and that your home represents around 37% of the average person's net wealth (*), lighting might just be the best investment you could make!