NOV 18, 2011

New Homes Make the Most of Winter Rays

Chicago Tribune

Yvonne Wagoner has every reason to feel more tired than usual. With fall rapidly fading into winter, short days and long, dark nights are becoming the norm again, something she has noticed more since turning the clock back this month.

Add to that the sleep deprivation she and her husband, Josh, are experiencing as parents of a 3-month-old and it might be difficult to stay alert if it weren't for the sun's rays streaming into her town house in Lexington Homes'Lexington Squarecommunity inChicago'sBridgeportneighborhood.

The sunlight pours in so intensely at different times of day that the hallway almost glows," said Wagoner. "I'm finding that I don't even need the alarm clock as much to wake up."

The Wagoners liked the open floor plan and location of their new town home, but it was the light, airy feel of the space that clinched the deal. Among the selling points: a wall and a half of windows in the open living room/kitchen/dining area, plentiful light in the three bedrooms and a sliding-glass door opening to a back deck.

While "light, bright and airy" has been builders' mantra for years, a slower housing market provides more time to think through such details as optimal home siting and window placement.

"In the busier days, we didn't have time to customize the light to a specific house," said John Wozniak, president of Wheaton-based J. Lawrence Homes.

Homebuyers now have plenty of choices to maximize a commodity in short supply during winter: natural light.

Narrow transom windows provide extra rays when placed around a front door or above a living-room window. A windowless bathroom is flooded with light thanks to a skylight. A bay window gives kids a sunny spot to read.

Like most builders, J. Lawrence wants to make buyers fall in love with a new home, and, Wozniak said, "Light makes them fall in love."

At J. Lawrence's Remington Landings development inNorth Aurora, buyers have the option to place bay windows in the most sun-soaked spot of the house, whether it's a living or dining room. In the bathroom, a long window traces the length of the tub/shower. Its high placement allows natural light to filter in for grooming or dressing, while preserving privacy.

Evan Harris, president of Custom Harris Design/Build, said the most effective light-capturing measures are sometimes the simplest.

"The direction the rear of the home faces is very important," Harris said.

He said the majority of buyers at his custom homes in theBarringtonarea place their most-used rooms, such as the kitchen, family room and master bedroom, in the back of the house. "That's where they want their best light," he said.

Harris is building in Barrington Hills andInverness, where its single-family homes start at 4,000 square feet and are on land parcels ranging from 1 to 5 acres. The large lot sizes give the builder leeway to place homes where they capture the sun at its peak hours.

About 90 percent of homes at Harris Design/Build's Abbey Woods development in Barrington Hills include walkout basements, allowing the sun to penetrate dark lower levels as well.

Harris' high-end buyers even ask for windows in their closets, so they can examine the color of fabric and put together coordinating outfits, he said.

A yearning for the sun isn't just a cosmetic or decorative issue, said Meritus Homes President Brian Brunhofer. Health-conscious buyers want to be able to breathe fresh air or use sunlight and nature to boost their mood.

Meritus' buyers are also eager to lower heat and electric bills through savvy window placement or by installing energy-efficient windows.

"Buyers are asking, 'How can I get natural light and how can I get natural air into my home?'" he said. "They want to be able to open up windows as opposed to using the air conditioning. People are more dialed in to the total cost of owning a home, and they plan to be there for a longer time."

Floor plans for the company's Creekside at Inverness Ridge development inInvernessinclude windows in first-floor laundry rooms, garages and on the way down to the basement.

"It's kind of nice to not always have to turn on a light or open up the garage door to find what you're looking for," Brunhofer said.

Jason LaFleur, regional director of theAlliancefor Environmental Sustainability and anOak Parkhomeowner, turned to a relatively new device to brighten his 100-year-old home. He recently installed three daylighting tubes to collect and divert sunlight to darker rooms. The clear-domed tubes, installed between rafters and joists, collect sunlight from the roof through a reflective transfer tube, shooting it down through a domed diffuser into spaces below.

LaFleur said he chose the tubes over a skylight because they cost less, are more energy-efficient and less likely to leak.

"They work out fantastic," he said. "We find we don't even turn on the lights on the second floor of our home anymore."

Daylighting tubes have been available for more than 20 years, but many customers are recently discovering them as they search for green home-building products, said Keith Johnson, whose company, Brighter Concepts, sells and installs the Solatube brand. One tube typically takes less than two hours to install and costs about $500, he said.

"Everything starts to look better when you have natural light in a space," Johnson said. "You can see the full array of color. Suddenly, the granite on your countertop starts popping. It does wonders for a home's interior design."

"Everyone that comes over to my lovely house loves our home."

- In Kyung Kim