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Blinded by the Light

When the sun's glaring emissions are too intense, here's how to fight back.


ou finally got it, that home with the marvelous view and the big, clear windows that take full advantage of it. But then the sun nears the horizon. Suddenly it's "Lawrence of Arabia" time. The glare becomes razor blades aimed at your eyes. The room temperature soars. You can hear the furnishings wither around you.

Heat (from infrared and visible light), glare (from visible light) and ultraviolet rays come with the territory in Orange County.

While bountiful sunshine is one of the area's most treasured resources, it also has to be respected for its destructive power.

"When the sun's in front of you, you're going to get a blast of radiation," says George A. Loisos, architectural program coordinator at the PG&E Energy Center in San Francisco.

"So many homes have so much window space. And not just homes looking out on the ocean. In Southern California it is something that has to be dealt with," says David Atwood of D.W. Design in Laguna Niguel. "People want to have the shade down and still be able to see out. They also want the privacy at night."

In decades past, designers used heavy drapes and windows with deep color tints to shut out the sun during the worst part of the day. These solutions were in tune with the interior design schemes of their day, but they defeated the purpose of having all that glass. And as time went on, scientific evidence began to suggest that these methods weren't warding off sunlight's more harmful effects.

Today, homeowners look for design solutions that are unobtrusive yet more effective. They want materials that filter out the dangerous ultraviolet light, keep the infrared and visible light from heating up the home's interior and block the glare without interfering with the view.

They also want to keep room temperatures down--lowering cooling costs--and prevent ultraviolet light from fading fabrics, drying and cracking furniture and warping and shrinking wood floors.

The bad news is, there's no single solution to the challenge. However, the home dweller can use low-tech and higher-tech solutions to fend off the bulk of the heat and glare while still being able to admire the scenery.

It depends on what homeowners want in the way of a view and what they will tolerate to have it.

An inland home with a dramatic westward view may benefit most from exterior shading that prevents the sun from hitting the windows, thereby reducing heat gain and lessening the need for air-conditioning.

The owner of a house on the coast might require less stringent measures for keeping cool but may want ways to cut down the glare from the ocean without interfering with the view.

Sunlight Control

For owners of homes under construction or homes undergoing major renovation, the most effective solutions to sunlight control are in space planning and the use of modern windows.

An architect can come up with appropriate window placements, particularly to the south and west, so that the sunlight isn't coming directly through the windows.

Roof overhangs and deep windowsills can keep sun off the windows. Proper placement can keep heating, cooling and lighting costs down.

Homeowners not only have to consider the windows' functionality, but also their aesthetic appeal and how they create a psychological link to the outside world.

Window manufacturers began working on more sophisticated windows in the mid-1970s, soon after the first energy crisis. Modern double-pane windows have a space between the panes where manufacturers can install coatings for solar control.

High-quality windows are available with "spectrally selective" tints and coatings. The tints reduce glare, while the coatings filter out solar heat while interfering very little with the visible light.

These windows can be "tuned" to block solar radiation in hot climates, or to allow solar radiation to pass through, helping to keep the home's interior warm in cold climates.

The coatings and tints in a modern window can be very subtle; someone looking at the house from the outside would see little if any evidence of them.

Heat Reduction

For existing homes where owners aren't tackling major renovations, glare and heat can suddenly become a problem when owners take down the old, heavy drapes. While they want protection from the sun, they don't want to reprise bulky window treatments, which take up so much room, Atwood says.

A common solution in these cases is window tinting.

While glare is a major reason to want tinting, an effective film will also prevent solar heat gain--the difference in temperature created by sunlight hitting the window--thereby reducing cooling needs.

On a 70-degree day, with the sunlight coming directly at the window, the temperature near the glass might be 100, a 30-degree increase. If tinting reduces that by 50%, the temperature near the window would be only 85 degrees.

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