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April 2014: Where is the daylight in new housing?

For those of you who are engaged with the building industry currently you will know we are experiencing significant shifts with regard to changes to planning and building regulations.  The most recent changes to be published are those to housing standards ( which will see a significant reduction and simplification of the existing framework.

The degree to which this will reduce the quality and sustainability of new housing or improve the delivery, given the huge demand of housing in the UK remains a contentious issue and one I will not dwell on.  But rather I would like to talk about a standard that was never included and indeed is not proposed to be included which may well surprise you.

The standards I am interested in is daylight and sunlight.  Given the importance of sunlight and daylight for our physiological and physical health as well as providing free energy (either through windows or onto surface mounted renewable technology) it is somewhat surprising to find there are no mandatory minimum standards in building regulations or planning for either access to sunlight or minimum daylight in buildings.  There are however some guidance documents and there are some standards in non-mandatory codes but nothing universal.

So why is this the case?  Well a small research project in collaboration with Light Up analytics ( and the Master of Architecture students at Plymouth University which examined 10 award winning housing developments and their adequacy for daylight and sunlight revealed, at least in part, the reason for this.

Image credit: Matthew Clarke, Plymouth Master of Architecture Student

Having examined all these housing projects we found that none of the projects universally met all the guidance for good daylight and sunlight despite them being award winning schemes.  In some instances it was clear that daylight was not adequately considered but in others there was clearly a conflict between daylight and other desirable factors such as density (a very important criteria for sustainable development), site constraints such as topography or vegetation, or achieving privacy in individual units.  Additionally daylight is a very complex thing to measure and quantify as it is constantly changing and the methodologies are not always consistent. 

What we may learn from this is that it may not always be appropriate to have universal minimum standards as they come at a cost of other desirable outcomes.  Also daylight although important is not the only consideration when we design buildings. However we do need to encourage better practice with daylight as a relevant consideration in the design process while not allowing the development of poorly daylight houses that are bad for the occupants and the environment.  The balance of how to regulate, encourage better practice and what should be a minimum continues to be a challenge for Architects and policy makers alike.

Simon Bradbury is a Lecturer in Architecture (Sustainable Design) at Plymouth University

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