Let There be Light?
December 10, 2014 11:05 PM   Subscribe

Is there such a thing as too much light in a living space? I'm looking for a new apartment. One possibility is a large studio in a high rise tower (30th floor) with floor-to-ceiling west-facing, unobstructed windows. This is in the Northeastern section of the US (an area known for hot and humid summers). The property developers have not included cellular shades, only standard mini blinds. It is lovely now in the winter and makes the apartment seem large and cheerful, but will I regret signing a lease come July?
posted by girl flaneur to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have no geographic knowledge but in my Australian townhouse the western facing wall has one large glass sliding door into the living area and one large window onto the stairwell and come spring I loathe these features. We recently bought a sunblock umbrella for in front of the doors which made a big difference. The sunblock curtains work okay as well but block out breezes (unlikely to be an issue for you?) but in essence, large unshaded glass for full afternoon sun means I can melt butter by sitting it inbetween the curtain and the window.

Light is overrated in extremely sunny environments.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:08 PM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can't sleep for shit in a sunny, bright room. My childhood bedroom was painted yellow and had bright yellow see-through blinds in there. I'd say to at least get blackout curtains if you're allowed for the bedroom.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:11 PM on December 10, 2014

How many layers of glazing do the windows have? What coating do the windows have? There might be a reason why the flat is being rented in the winter, come summer that room might be a greenhouse. Ask them, and get them to put their answer in the lease agreement.
posted by devnull at 11:45 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah... There is definitely such a thing as too much light. Too much sunlight is not only bright, but also HOT. If you live in a hot climate and get a bunch of sunlight at your place be prepared to pay more for air conditioning. I sat in a waiting room once with large windows where so much sunlight was coming through I felt the back of my neck getting burned and the bright light was giving me a headache.

But the good thing is that there are curtains you can buy to filter any light that might be too much. There aren't any magic curtains that can give you more natural sunlight though. So in this sense I would say too much sunlight is better than too little.
posted by rancher at 12:32 AM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Since this is a long term arrangement, you should also consider the effect of lots of direct sunlight on things like books, furniture fabrics and artwork on your walls: colors will fade much faster if things are in direct sunlight all day every day.

There's a bookcase in the office next to mine that has been directly opposite a wall of south-facing windows for about ten years now: many of the books have severely faded spines, and a distinct vertical line of color change in the cover, between the few mm exposed to sunlight and the part protected by the next book on the shelf.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:33 AM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I lived in an apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows on the west wall of every room for about four years. The windows looked nice, but ultimately I didn't like them. In the evenings, the floor near the windows got so hot that I couldn't walk on it barefoot. I would have needed blackout curtains to block the sun and control the temperature, which would have been expensive and heavy. I started house-hunting while I lived there, and one of my requirements was that I didn't want a house with west-facing windows.
posted by neushoorn at 2:11 AM on December 11, 2014

We had big west-facing windows in our old flat, and in summer, the heat could get absolutely unbearable. And this was in London, so we're not talking about a place that's normally bothered with excessive sunlight and heat (plenty of humidity, though). Blackout curtains helped to a degree, and we had a bunch of trees shading those windows, but it still frequently got totally stifling in the summer.
posted by skybluepink at 2:18 AM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

West facing windows are an absolute no for me. Summer is unbearable.
posted by kjs4 at 3:20 AM on December 11, 2014

We live in Atlanta (so hotter weather and more intense sunlight) in a duplex with almost exclusively west facing windows. It's not that bad. We have sheer curtains that work fine for most of the year at blocking the direct sun in the afternoon but letting in light. In the winter, I frequently intentionally open the sheers to let in the direct sunlight to warm the place up. In the summer, we close the heavier drapes. They're not blackout curtains, just standard heavy drapes from Ikea. Previously, we lived in a duplex with only north facing windows. West facing is much much better.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:14 AM on December 11, 2014

My workplace installed a partially solar reflecting (blocking?) film on most of the windows to cut down on the heat from the sun making it inside. Might be a possibility to look into if you love the apartment otherwise.
posted by TheAdamist at 4:43 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love lots of light. Makes me happy. Makes the cats happy.

One thing I'd do is have a look at the utility bills. If there are no scary spikes in the summer, then the glazing and insulation are doing what they're doing it may be a great place for you. You can call the utility company and ask. Also, is there A/C in the unit? If there is, and you can afford it, then go for it.

Close the blinds and see if it gets nice and dark. And nthing black out curtains for bedrooms.

Hope it works out, sounds heavenly to me!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:26 AM on December 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

Are there neighbors who can see into this glassy apartment? If so, keep possible peepers in mind.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:13 AM on December 11, 2014

I live in southern New England (hello, hot and humid summers) in a 1-BR with an old-school sunroom. There are no blinds or curtains, and only the outer two of those windows open, just a few inches. (They face south and west.) In the summer it is a bit like living in the tropical plant exhibit at the botanical gardens. That said, I wouldn't tell someone not to move there because of it. However, I don't have to sleep in that room, and I'm almost always cold. If you're a person who's almost always hot, it might be unbearable.

Two more things to consider: is there a place to put your computer/tv/any other screen you might need to use so that the sun's not hitting it? And, can people see in?
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:19 AM on December 11, 2014

The front of my apartment has large, west facing bay windows. It's pretty unpleasant in the summer, makes watching TV in my living room hard because the room is just FULL of light, and the sheer largeness of the windows loses heat in winter. Thankfully I have a row of buildings across the street so I have maybe 6 hours of direct sunlight instead of all of the direct sunlight, but even so I keep the blinds closed 100% of the time and have a Chicago flag hanging in the largest window to further block it out. (I dislike sunlight.)

Knowing what I know now I would reconsider it.
posted by phunniemee at 6:35 AM on December 11, 2014

The angle of the sun changes in summer, to be higher up. Are there any obstructions above the windows? Like a porch or long overhang? This affects southern-facing windows more, but it would mitigate a fair amount (cut out a couple hours of full sun).

I used to tape aluminium foil to the windows to reflect heat. You could do something similar with a foil-faced piece of polyisocyanurate foam that you put in part of the window during summer. It doesn't cost much and would be a short, fun little DIY project to paint it so it is pretty on the inside.

I also assume you have A/C.
posted by flimflam at 7:38 AM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

West-facing is good, that means you don't get morning sunbeams waking you up. But west-facing is bad, because that's direct afternoon rays in the hottest part of the day. You might consider a sun-control window film for reducing the heat impact but letting in the light.
posted by aimedwander at 7:54 AM on December 11, 2014

I would be very hesitant about it if your building doesn't have AC or the possibility for you to install a window unit, just because it's really hard to counteract overheating without AC. Mind you, I'd say the same thing regardless of the windows (it also gets hot and humid here in the summers).

If your building does have AC it will probably be fine. Even better if you can also open the windows and get a breeze instead of using AC on the less intense days. Maybe ask the landlords in advance if you can install better blinds/blackout curtains/etc if necessary (at your expense most likely). Window films/reflectors are another good idea which should be fine to install as a renter.

Really though, I'd say the best way to answer your question is to knock on a few doors of the neighbours facing the same direction and just ask them how bad it gets in the summer, since a lot of it will be climate and building-dependent, some ACs work better than others, etc.
posted by randomnity at 8:14 AM on December 11, 2014

Depends. I have basically a wall of SW-facing windows that get a ton of light. My winter heating bills are absurdly low. This, in turn, lets me splurge on a/c during the summer to keep my apartment from being a lava pit.

I have pretty good curtains that I often just leave drawn in the summer and open as soon as it's light in winter. I've found that the extra light my big windows provide in winter has definitely helped my mood, so there's that, too.
posted by TwoStride at 8:15 AM on December 11, 2014

Ruthless Bunny has it - look at the summer bills (assuming the place has been occupied in the summer, and assuming the unit has a separate meter).

I love windows too but I recently moved my office/showroom into a building with a bunch of windows that face SW in the showroom space, and it's really challenging. In our case it's because that area is walled off and has significantly different heating and cooling needs than the rest of the building. In your case the entire unit might just not have enough capacity or if you're on some kind of building-wide physical plant your unit may be one of the ones that never quite gets cool.

If you're considering buying or leasing it, this is the right time to negotiate a healthy concession on exactly the tinting/blinds/etc. you want.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:21 AM on December 11, 2014

I have windows and sliding glass door facing southwest. There's a deck, so I use patio umbrellas for shade in summer, and one of these years will try an awning. I love the warmth in winter, and tolerate the heat in summer (Maine, no a/c) with fans and breezes.

You can get a translucent mylar shade with a reflective coating on the outside. Stuff like that makes a huge difference. I love big windows and summer in Maine is too short, so would be a bonus for me.
posted by theora55 at 8:21 AM on December 11, 2014

Can you perhaps ask the people in the apartments directly above/below if they have any regrets or what their apartment is like in the summer? They'd have a similar experience to what yours would be.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:08 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you otherwise like the apartment, you can always install solar window film. I lived in a trailer with no insulation in California and it did a pretty good job of blocking both light and heat. It can be removed when you move out.
posted by zug at 11:21 AM on December 11, 2014

As someone who lived in a one bedroom apartment in a high rise building with floor to ceiling, west facing windows in the tri-state area.


It was absolutely terrible in the summer. Because of the floor to ceiling windows, it was not possible to open them, instead we were "lucky" enough to have 2 A/C units for our apartment and that was not enough to keep either room cool in the summer time. Bills for electricity during the summer was over $250 a month to keep both air conditioner units running and that was still not enough to keep the apartment cool enough to live in during the day time.

While it had a great view, hardwood floors, etc. I would definitely re-thinking about living here if I had known before if it was like this during the summer.
posted by QueenHawkeye at 11:47 AM on December 11, 2014

I miss my apartment with big west-facing windows. But we were fortunate enough to be renting it with effective central A/C and utilities included. Even then, for a few early-evening hours in the summer, we had to have the venetian blinds slightly closed to keep out the blast. Other than environmental guilt, though, it was worth it for the year-round light.

We also filmed a little movie in that place, and as soon as the sun sank into the view of the windows, we couldn't shoot because the light and shadows wouldn't be consistent from one take to the next.
posted by Beardman at 11:51 AM on December 11, 2014

Oh, yeah, and as someone mentioned above: we couldn't watch movies on the computer without drawing the blinds. Still worth it, though.
posted by Beardman at 11:52 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks very much, everyone! It looks like most people (although not all!) think it would be a bad idea to move into the unit. I've been so sad lately, I actually thought the light would do me good, but I guess I need to think carefully about what, if anything, I can do to avoid a sauna next summer or if it is better just to pass on the apartment altogether.

There is central AC in the unit, and the vent is high on the wall adjacent to the windows. I'm not sure if that's good or bad placement. I asked the building manager for information about the windows. He knows they are energy efficient, but didn't say much more beyond referring me to the manufacturer; he did say that there wasn't any complaints last summer. The building is somewhat reflective, so presumably whatever coating is on the windows might help, but I doubt it will fully address the issue. Unfortunately, this is a pretty tightly controlled operation, so knocking on doors during my visits wasn't a possibility.

Now I have to figure out if this is more risky than the building where multiple people refer to "extremely thin walls" in the on-line reviews....
posted by girl flaneur at 8:40 PM on December 11, 2014

Does that building have a similar suite, but with a NE exposure instead of SW? Because I would grab that if I were you. I have lived in NE exposure homes ever since I have moved to Vancouver, and I get morning sun then the home is cool in the afternoon. Something to ask the property managers.

Extremely thin walls in the other place? My first home here in Vancouver had walls so thin I could hear my neighbors whisper in bed at night. Run !!
posted by seawallrunner at 8:36 PM on December 12, 2014

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