The British housing landscape

Georgian, Victorian and early twentieth-century era cottages and terrace homes are commonplace in the countryside, towns and cities in many parts of the UK. Often built with low ceilings, small windows, lowered ground floors and little regard for orientation towards the sun, many of these homes are dark, cold and have limited view to the outdoors.

There are definitely a number of obstacles to overcome when brightening up these older homes, however there are also a multitude of ways to get daylight pouring back into even the gloomiest rooms.

A legacy of poor daylighting

Although the Victorians were huge believers in the importance of daylight, big windows and high ceilings were the preserve of the wealthy. Many of these larger homes have been altered over the years due to changing needs – blocking up or decreasing the size of windows to minimise heat loss, sub-divided into smaller dwellings, or incorporating modern insulation, effectively shrinking internal living spaces.

The “cookie cutter” layouts of many older homes can also cause several daylight issues. In many terrace homes, for example, hallways, staircases, landings and box rooms are typically found in the middle of the home or abutting a common property wall, leaving them dark and devoid of access to exterior walls or windows.

Preserving historical integrity

Beyond traditional layout issues, older homes tend to be built with thick stone, brick or even cob walls, meaning the installation of façade windows or extension of rooms can become a costly and difficult exercise.

Renovating, converting or extending a period home can also be a fairly tricky concern for another reason. Many homes from the Georgian and Victorian era may be listed buildings, and conservation needs may leave you with few viable options with regards to upgrades.

On the bright side, you can sidestep many of these issues by opening the roof up to allow more daylight in. Roof covering has a limited service life, and many older homes will probably have had their roofs upgraded or fixed at some point, leaving you with little need to conserve it. and upgrades to this part of the external envelope are more commonplace.

Roof windows

Ideal for pitched roofs

For homes with pitched roofs that incorporate exposed ceilings or attic rooms, roof windows are an ideal way to introduce daylight into bungalows, upstairs rooms or double-volume spaces without disturbing the integrity of the main building structure.

Roof windows are affordable, fairly easy to install and can be purchased “off the shelf”, and they make a massive impact on the levels of light coming into any part of the home. Even in winter, rooms will still feel well lit during daylight hours, whilst in the summer they can be opened to allow fresh air in.


Ideal for flat roofs

Rooflights are a great way to transform a space by allowing daylight to flood into a room directly through a flat roof making the space feel much brighter and lighter. They are ideal for flat roofed spaces that do not require additional ventilation, such as a single-floor, double-volume or upstairs extensions which already incorporate exterior façade windows.

Sun tunnels

Ideal for deeper light penetration

If roof windows or rooflights are impractical due to the nature of the roof, a sun tunnel could be an effective alternative. Sun tunnels can be installed between a pitched roof and a ceiling to funnel light directly from the roof through a reflective pipe bringing daylight to the rooms below.

Sun tunnels are a cost-effective and easy to install way to bring daylight into spaces generally not thought possible, such as hallways, top-floor rooms, walk-in cupboards and windowless bathrooms.

How an extension affects the whole

More space could mean less daylight

A well thought out extension can bring in a lot of daylight, even improving the amount of daylight received by the rest of the home. This can be achieved by strategically combining features such as a contemporary design, plenty of glazing, roof windows, roof lights, or even natural illumination via secondary sources like sun tunnels.

However, if not fully considered, an extension has the potential to make existing internal rooms feel darker, block off other daylight sources or even allow in excessive daylight, resulting in glare or overheating. Every home improvement project needs to be treated as part of a whole and should always consider year-round comfort its ultimate goal.

The perfect combination

Roof windows and glass doors

When an extension is added to a home, the usual effect is of the original room becoming longer, meaning the daylight has further to travel to get to the interior of the house. All too often, the original room becomes dark and gloomy and even on the brightest days, electric lights have to be switched on. 

Roof windows in combination with glass doors can help daylight penetrates deeper into the interior of the home for a much longer period of the day than glass doors alone, ensuring the whole room feel brighter, larger and more welcoming. 

Fortess Grove, Kentish Town

Case Study

After 15 years in their quiet, period terrace home, Tania and Mike Voaden decided they needed to renovate. With the help of Martins Camisuli Architects, they made the decision to create a larger, brighter, open-plan kitchen and living space at the back of their property, remove a disused and cramped attic to allow daylight to filter throughout the home, and add a third bedroom above the newly created extension.

The layout and character of the home restricted the use of large picture windows to allow light in. Instead, the solution was to add VELUX roof windows to all three of the bedrooms, the upstairs bathroom and in the newly created kitchen. They allowed for the maximum amount of daylight and fresh air to enter the home, while preserving the Victorian features and clean look throughout.

The Voadens set out to increase the size of their family living space, and what they got in return is a bright and airy home that perfectly integrates both old and new aspects of the building.


Read Case Study

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