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Daylight Makes Kids Brighter – Forrest Linebarger

Submitted by on Tuesday, 13 July 2010One Comment

Forrest is a frontier in the Mountain View/Palo Alto Ca. area. He lives and works green and consequently has shared his wisdom as much as possible. I am merely trying to catch up to part of his knowledge, this information on daylighting is great.

Daylight Makes Kids Brighter
Let a little sunshine in and the truth will reveal itself. The use of light and darkness as a
metaphor for knowledge and intelligence has a long literary tradition. While the dimwitted
wallow in darkness, we like to think or ourselves as enlightened and perhaps, hope
against hope, brilliant. Science has now revealed a strong dose of truth in the ancient
A 1999 study illuminated
significant differences in
reading comprehension and
math scores among students
based on the quality of daylight
in their classrooms. Did I say
significant? The differences
were astounding. Comparing
the best lit classrooms with the
worst, California students
performed 21% better in math
and 26% better in reading
comprehension. Similar, if
slightly less dramatic, results
were found for Washington and
Colorado students. Take
daylight away from an A student, he could drop to a C student. The benighted D student
could rise to B student with a little sunshine. The results came like a shot in the dark to
educators focused on traditional learning factors such as class size, teaching methods, and
standardized testing.
Although the study covered over 21,000 students in three states (California, Washington
and Colorado), skeptics abounded.
Rightfully so. A single study should not be relied upon, especially when the results are
so revolutionary. The methodology of the study was analyzed by a mind boggling
number of critics. Some of the criticisms raised legitimate doubts about the results. Were
the best teachers given the best classrooms, skewing the results? Were the results
impacted by improved air quality- such as operable windows- in day lit rooms?
The renowned authority on daylight research,
the Heschong Mahone Group, was called back
to do further research. The State of California
kicked in much of the money. More studies
were designed, both to re-evaluate the original
data taking into account the possible
confounding factors and to design completely new studies.
Due to the tilt of the earth as it rotates around the sun, the sun in
higher in the sky in the summer than in the winter. This difference
can be used to maximize sun in the winter while allowing only
indirect light on hot summer days.
Environments that provide direct
light in the winter, indirect light in
the summer and fresh air increase
learning in children and raise
productivity in adults.
Meanwhile research continued to pour in from a variety of sources suggesting day light
was impacting the health and performance of building occupants of all ages. Case studies
comparing companies that moved from an old dark building to new, day lit offices gave
tantalizing support for the importance of daylight. Some research showed employee sick
days down an incredible 40%, others showed productivity up by as much as 16%. Other
studies linked reduced depression to improved daylight. Even retailers showed
substantial increases in sales in day lit stores.
Is daylight a panacea for all the world’s ills or was this all a part of some Ponzi scheme
hatched by window manufacturers? That leads us back to the question of what ever
happened to the government funded follow up studies/
A 2001 reanalysis of the California results of the 1999 study found teachers were not
given better classrooms, so that did not inflate the results. Overall, they found students
in the best lit classrooms had a 21% higher learning rate than those in the poorest lit
classrooms. This is not to say the all
daylight is created equal. A 2003 study in
scorching Fresno found too much direct
daylight reduced student performance due to
glare and temperature extremes. Indoor air
quality was also found to impact learning.
Fresh clean air is also associated with higher
learning rates.
Environments that provide direct light in the
winter, indirect light in the summer and
fresh air seem to work best. Fortunately,
Mother Nature is quite cooperative. The tilt
of the earth in relation to the sun changes
summer to winter. In the summer, the sun is
higher in the sky than in the winter, so eaves
or trellises can be designed to allow only indirect summer light while maximizing winter
light, not only brightening the room but also providing heat. Proper placement of
windows and eves can provide ample direct and indirect light while reducing glare and
summer heat build up. Happily, this same formula also reduces energy use for heating
and cooling, which saves money and reduces pollution. These methods are well known
to green building designers, which already emphasize indirect daylight in summer, direct
light in winter, local temperature control, and improved indoor air quality. The
conclusion of the Heschong Manhone Group is that schools could improve the
productivity and learning of our children by building smarter, greener structures.
If daylight makes us smarter, happier and more productive in offices, stores and schools,
what about our homes? People spend an average of 90% of their day indoors. Shockingly
little science has been conducted on private homes. In part this lack of research is due to
methodological issues difficulties in comparing private residences, but also because in the
Using solar tables and window orientation, roof
eaves can be designed to provide indirect light
during the summer while allowing direct light in
winter months.
conservative world of homebuilding, so one is paying for science that might upend the
status quo.
It seems that a lot of folks aren’t waiting for a new round of studies. Green building grew
at an astounding rate of 30% in 2006 according to the National Association of
Homebuilders. Are we about to leave the gloomy dark ages for a new illustrious epoch
where everyone is bright and the sun shines everyday?
Some of you- probably those in well lit rooms- may note that a green building designer
such as I espousing the benefits of green design is like the fox guarding the hen house. I
encourage the skeptical reader to look at web sites such as the City of Seattle’s thoughtful
website evaluating daylighting studies
(http://www.cityofseattle.net/light/conserve/sustainability/studies/cv5_sb.htm) or go to
the Heschong Manhone Group’s site and dig into the research yourself, at http://www.hm-
On an intuitive level, we’ve know this all long. Something feels right about a well
designed room with the sun filtering gently through the window.
Forrest Linebarger is the CEO and chief designer at VOX Design Group Inc. Mr. Linebarger has been
designing green buildings in the Bay Area for over a decade. If you have questions he can be reached at
Forrest@VoxDesignGroup.com or at (650) 694-6200 x 511.



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One Comment »

  • anonymous says:

    Forrest Linebarger rented us a home with illegal and dangerous gas heaters and refused to provide a sufficient amount of CO detectors until forced by a compliance order from the city. He also mis-represented a rental home by stating it was a 3br when two of the said “bedrooms” are in fact not legal or “up-to-code” for sleeping quarters as decided by the City of Mountain View. He even had the audacity to charge for a 3br when he knew two of the rooms were not habitable. He knowingly put at least three families in danger over the years with these irresponsible and greedy ways of doing business. We trusted him as an architect and builder in our community. Boy were we wrong.

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