Great Design Makes Great Use of Passive Solar Energy & Natural Light

Great Design Makes Great Use of Passive Solar Energy & Natural Light 1080 720 White Sands Design/Build

Passive solar can plays a powerful role in good design. Ignoring natural light is a tragic—and rookie—mistake for Southern California beach homes.


We live in Southern California. Obviously we love the sun, or we wouldn’t be here. But even with our gorgeous beaches, bike trails, and parks, most of us spend the majority of our lives indoors. (According to a survey of 16,000 Americans, we spend about 90-percent of our life inside.)

Being indoors doesn’t mean missing out on all the health benefits of sunlight—not if you choose a home designer who understands how to work with natural lighting and passive solar energy.

Sunlight Makes Us Happy & Healthy

Exposure to sunlight stimulates our brains to release serotonin, which makes us more content, focused, and productive. It also boosts our metabolism and helps us sleep well. Sunlight spreads throughout a space better than even the most skillfully-rendered artificial lighting. It can make cramped spaces feel open and airy.

An expert designer can guide the flow of natural light and passive solar energy through your home in a way that enhances your living experience and ensures that you never have to use lamps during the day.

Passive Solar Tip: Use Glass In Your Design


Glass transmits up to 80-percent of natural light, but it can also be used to absorb or refract light. It’s a highly-versatile material, both eco-friendly and effective at blocking sound. Textured or sandblasted glass will let light through, while preventing glare and maintaining privacy.

There’s More To Glass Than Windows

  • Use glass to separate interior spaces, such as a spa from the rest of the bathroom, a dining area from a living area, or walk-in wine storage from a bar area.
  • Use glass walls above eye level or transoms to transfer light while maintaining privacy.
  • Use glass for banisters, staircases, and even stairs.
  • Floor-to-ceiling windows make your indoor spaces feel like outdoor spaces. Floor-to-ceiling doors allow your indoor spaces to actually become outdoor spaces.

Skylights & Solar Tubes

Skylights are a fantastic way to naturally illuminate your home, while also enhancing resale value. Skylights can be shaded or filtered to block UV rays or opened for ventilation.

Solar tubes strategically direct exterior sunbeams to dark or cramped nooks, flooding them with the spaciousness of gloom-dispelling natural light.

Visible Light Transmission & Solar Control Systems

In some spaces, we want dramatic direct light. In others, we want softer diffused light. We can control the amount of light passing through a window or skylight and block harmful UV-rays pass with textures, glazes, or smart-glass. Smart-glass turns opaque at the touch of a button or in some cases, automatically, in response to environmental changes.

Louvered Systems: Redirecting Light To Prevent Eye-Strain

Sunlight is constantly changing throughout the day. This is one of its most exciting characteristics, but it also presents a design challenge. Sometimes you may need to redirect light, in order to prevent glare on screens.

Louvered systems have horizontal slats, angled to admit air and diffuse light, while keeping out rain and direct sunlight. The angle of the slats can be changed to accommodate the position of the sun. Shutters and blinds are louvered systems, but you can also have a louvered roof over a patio or particular part of your house.

Architectural Light Shelves

Light shelves are horizontal design features that bounce natural light into specific areas, while helping reduce window glare.

How Passive Solar Works With Texture & Color

bathtub lit by passive solar energy and natural lighting

Flooring, wall materials, and finishes affect how natural light suffuses, or doesn’t, in a particular space. Carpets, unvarnished woods, and fabrics absorb rather than reflect light, which may be needed in order to provide ocular relief in rooms with tons of natural light. Mirrors, metallics, and varnished surfaces reflect the available light, bouncing it around a space.

Interior designers must understand how much room a light receives and how consistent that light is. Room orientation and seasonal light changes should be considered when choosing furniture, flooring, window, and wall dressings. Design rules can and should be broken, but some light elements to consider include choosing colors and textures that don’t wash out in bright light if a room is south-facing, selecting warm colors and textures for north-facing rooms, and cooler choices for southerly rooms. Think about shadows as a design motif; watching how they change throughout the day. (Renown artist James Turrell bases his architectural sculptures entirely around shadow-play.)

Natural Light & Wayfinding

Stairway lit up by passive solar and natural lighting

Each room needs its own purpose, identity, and ambiance. Wayfinding is about guiding people through a physical space and enhancing their understanding of that space. It includes subtle signifiers that establish a room as a place for relaxing, sleeping, eating, or playing. Design is largely about wayfinding, and lighting is a critical component of design. Knowing when and where natural light is available and how the quality of that light changes over time is a key part of effectively using this gift from the sun.

Interested in a sun-filled custom California beach home build or remodel? Get in touch with the designers at White Sands Design/Build. We’d be happy to talk options with you.


Thanks for reading,

Hawlie Ohe


Hawlie headshot for home air purifiers

Hawlie Ohe heads White Sands Interiors, and she and her husband are raising two boys along the South Bay coast. Hawlie brings the curiosity that fueled her first career, as a journalist, to her interior design approach: Who are you, who do want to be, and how can this space get you there? Great design makes you feel present and engaged, and Hawlie is here for it. Because she wants you to help you be “here” (in this space, in this moment), too.