The Multiple Functions of a Light Shelf
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BUILD covers the many functions and advantages of the exterior light shelf.
[All photos + drawings by BUILD LLC]
A current residential project of BUILD’s is set within a heavily wooded community, and for the most part this is advantageous. From inside, the picture windows frame views of the lush, green landscape. Outside, the tall tree canopy shades the house from the sun, and the thick vegetation acts as a natural privacy screen from the neighbors. Overall, it’s a fantastic site. It’s a home carefully nestled in the woods. One of the few disadvantages of a forest site in the Pacific Northwest, however, is making sure that enough natural light reaches the interiors; all the more challenging given the 200+ days of heavy cloud coverage in the Seattle area.
Without adding conspicuous design moves, we needed a method to bring more natural light into the interiors. The light shelf was designed to extend out approximately three feet from the envelope, its top clad with reflective metal panels which bounce natural light onto the ceiling of the living room. While this feature will significantly improve the natural light at the interiors, the light shelf plays several roles in addition.
The house sits low to the land, emphasizing its broad horizontal lines. The one exception is at the tall glass living room. The light shelf was integrated into the structure between the lower doors and the clerestory windows above; the horizontal of the light shelf breaks up the vertical proportions of this space while maintaining the harmony of the envelope.
There was also an issue of balance. A built-up roof deck at the northwest corner of the house resulted in a fascia nearly 24” deep. While this is a significant feature of the structure’s massing, it could also seem lopsided without the proper resolution. The thin line of the attenuated light shelf both complements and balances out the heaviness of the adjacent roof deck.
Artificial lighting is a common struggle at decks. Solutions typically involve sconce lights at the walls or additional structure at the perimeter of the deck. The light shelf allows inconspicuous under-mounted LED puck lights to hover over the deck right where you need them most — at the doors. The deck space will receive ample light when necessary, and the lights will nearly disappear when not in use.
There is also the issue of waterproofing and flashing above the doors. The light shelf provides a solid defense against the water trying to get inside from all those drippy trees.
And finally, the light shelf offers enough support for dad to get up there and clean the clerestory windows from time to time.
While the light shelf looks like a simple “racing stripe” around the structure, it’s actually performing a significant number of tasks. Stay tuned for more on the finished product.
Cheers from Team BUILD