Energy Efficiency, Windows, and Mental Health
Daylight Savings Time has kicked in, with many of my fellow Canadians rejoicing that sunlight is visible at dinnertime.
For weeks, I have cheered the looming changing of clocks, as this is the year I have really come to learn what (very mild) “Seasonal Affective Disorder” feels like, but mine is architecturally induced, thanks to poor building design and too few windows.
I moved from a nice bright apartment that had windows on all sides into one that’s tucked into an L-shaped building with northeast exposure, and only got a sliding glass door for light. It’s like I’m living inside a paper-bag, emotionally this winter. But as soon as I get outside, I turn into Little Miss Sunshine again.
Oh, architecture! How tricky of you.
Light and dark: a balancing act
So, it’s the apartment making me blue. I have fittingly dubbed “the Cave of Mordor,” resorting to craziness like putting a daylight therapy lamp on my desk.
And yet I have blackout blinds on my bedroom window.
Enter the irony of dark and light. Too light, and you might not have a good sleep. Too dark an apartment in the day, and you might screw up your circadian rhythm.
According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, “Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment.”
This is why it can really mess some of us up if our homes are not balanced with the right darkness at night and brightness in daytime, especially if you’re one of the lucky few prone to being affected by daylight exposure or lack thereof.
How efficient windows can decrease your S.A.D ness
I have your standard seasonal affectations, not an acute form of the affliction. The severe form of S.A.D. reportedly affects 4-6% of the public and can result in symptoms as severe as suicidal tendencies, so it’s worth taking your “winter blues” seriously.
For a further 10-20% of the population, like me, “SAD” means things like eating more carbs, disruptive sleep pattern, lethargy, moodiness, and other grumble-inducing phenomena — nothing too serious, but not a season at the beach, either.
For these folks, windows aren’t just nice to have, they’re a lifestyle necessity.
If you’re reaching the end of your rope as winter reaches the end of its season, it may be a good time for you to start thinking of summer projects… like installing additional windows.
Skylights, glass doors, windows, they all help to keep the psyche in a happy place for those of us really susceptible to daylight affecting our mindset.
Energy efficiency and emotional well-being
In northern places, like parts of Canada, Scandinavian countries, and so on, there’s a cultural shift in the winter. People sleep more, eat more, and don’t get out as much. All of these activities are also known behaviors of the seasonally-affected.
Of course, in these places it also gets pretty chilly in the winter, and the prevalent wisdom is fewer windows for better energy efficiency with heating.
Luckily, these days we have enough technology and energy smarts to get around such energy loss from windows, but it comes down to making quality choices.
Still, paying the big bucks for the right windows and skylights might be a big investment in your mental health for the years to come, if you’ve ever been affected by lack of sunshine in the winter.
So downsides to windows being the loss of heat and energy get more complicated than just “buying a good window.” It’s about your home’s construction, and the construction of the window, too.
According to my local hydro authority, everything from your frame choice to the gas used between panes to even the spacers used can dramatically change a window’s energy efficacy.
Astoundingly, some experts report that “installing high-performance windows in a 40-year-old home with single-glazed panes can nearly quadruple the insulation value. Whether you heat with electricity or gas, your heating bills will decline.”
Even your choice of curtains and blinds will drastically impact your loss of heat in the winter. A good, thick curtain will help keep the cold out and the hot in, and vice versa come summertime.
Mental health makeover
Obviously, there are a lot of factors to consider when you’re looking at installing windows and skylights, and it’s not an area you want to be cutting ANY corners on.
Cut corners mean moisture damage, heat loss, and doing the work again far sooner than you’d like, a high price to pay for fighting the winter blues.
Doing the job right means giving your home a mental-health makeover while adding resale value for the day you’re ready to find somewhere new.
With a combination of quality installation, energy-rated materials, and good thick window coverings, your many winters to come may have you being a whole lot blue and way more in the black — on your energy bills, that is.