Fenestration: Seasonal Affective Disorder

How Window Design & Placement Can Help With Seasonal Depression

by Jim Horn, director of channel marketing, U.S. Windows, Ply Gem, a Division of the Cornerstone Building Brands Family

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) describes a type of depression brought on by lack of sunlight.  For millions of Americans, effects of SAD typically begin in the late fall/early winter and can last until spring or summer.  With this winter already bringing new emotional challenges as individuals spend more time at home, it’s important for building professionals to understand how windows, and strategic window placement, can help combat the effects of SAD so they can build this into their designs and show added value to their customers. 

         What kind of windows should you be looking for?  Think big.  With shortened winter days, daylight is limited, causing people to lose the mood-enhancing benefits of natural light.  However, designing homes with larger windows that allow more sunlight in can increase homeowners’ vitamin D intake, without the risks associated with direct sun exposure.  With a brighter home and increased sunlight flowing indoors, homeowners may also experience better regulated circadian rhythms and sleep cycles, allowing them to stay more physically and mentally healthy. 

         Beyond increased natural light, investing in new windows can bring improved weatherproofing and energy efficiency to homes during the winter.  While some homeowners enjoy keeping their windows open during certain times of the year, people living in colder climates need their windows sealed tightly shut to keep out the cold winter air.  Old windows with multiple panes often cause extensive air leakage, meaning heat escapes the house and cold air enters.  Not only is this uncomfortable, air leakage can also mean increased energy consumption and higher bills to keep a home at a comfortable temperature.  According to the United States Department of Energy, poorly designed older windows can account for 25-30% of an average household’s energy bill. 

         When helping your customers choose replacement windows, look for double or triple pane options and ENERGY STAR®-rated products, as well as windows filled with argon or krypton gas and special Low-E glass coatings.  Designers can also consider enhancing interior wall insulation with materials like fiberglass, cellulose, or natural fibers for ultimate energy efficiency.  Lastly, be sure to keep in mind the ENERGY STAR climate zone where the home is located. 

         Window placement must be strategic to ensure strong functionality and energy efficiency, even past the winter season.  While windows that face toward the south may bring in more winter sunlight, come summer, the rays shining in could also raise the temperature of your home.  In reverse, north-facing windows allow for even, natural light with little glare and nearly no summer heat gain.  Windows that face toward the east admit good daylight in the morning and windows that face toward the west admit good evening light.  However, it should be noted that these windows may create a glare and unwanted heat during the summer and little solar heat in the winter.

         All in all, architects and homeowners alike should be equipped with this information to make strategic decisions on which windows to choose and where to place them to experience benefits year-round.  Architects and designers may also consider recommending windows customized with different glass packages for each side of the house to achieve maximum benefits.

         Windows are one of the few product categories that impact both the interior and exterior of a home, providing views to the outdoors, while defining curb appeal.  Today’s consumers want bold and attractive products, and they’re used to being able to customize anything they buy.  Look for brands that offer varying color and design choices such as garden, bay, or geometric windows, which come in a variety of arched, radius, and linear shapes to add visual character to any home’s architecture.  Not only will homeowners achieve a unique and high-performing home, a vibrant space will also be sure to lift their spirits and combat the effects of SAD this winter. 

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