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Should natural light in apartments be more tightly regulated?

By Alan Davies - posted Friday, 19 June 2015

Bedrooms that "borrow" natural light from living areas are a key target in the debate about apartment standards. Is it a problem? If so, is it severe enough to justify stronger regulation?

Proportion of dwellings in buildings of four or more storeys (source: Better Apartments discussion paper)


The Better Apartments discussion paper released recently by Victoria's Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, tells us that a key problem with Melbourne's apartment boom is that some units lack adequate daylight.

The paper states that natural ambient light is "important for people's health and wellbeing and also allows dwellings to be used and occupied without recourse to artificial lighting, thereby reducing energy consumption".

It's important to note that the discussion paper treats access to natural light and to direct sunlight as separate topics. This article is only about the former; I'll discuss access to sunlight another time.

"Borrowed" light

The main issue that's surfaced in the public debate is that some apartments have a bedroom without an external window; the bedroom relies on "borrowing" light via glass panels from living areas. There are also some with a "battle axe" bedroom that gets daylight via a narrow light corridor.

The discussion paper has a notional floor plan illustrating these problems (page 14). It rightly notes though that the level of natural light depends on a range of factors, including aspect, depth of the apartment, proximity of nearby buildings, ceiling height, and size of windows.


It also extends the public debate about natural light to new areas; it explicitly asks readers if they think daylight "should be required in secondary spaces such as corridors and bathrooms".

Daylight is of course a very good thing. If they can afford it, buyers and renters are prepared to pay extra to get more of it. We all know dwellings with a north facing backyard command a price premium and those with a southerly aspect sell at a discount.

The point at issue here though is more specific; it's whether access to daylight ought to be more tightly regulated; it's whether some approaches taken by developers ought to be placed off-limits. (1)

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This article was first published on The Urbanist.

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About the Author

Dr Alan Davies is a principal of Melbourne-based economic and planning consultancy, Pollard Davies Pty Ltd ( and is the editor of the The Urbanist blog.

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