Article in The Light Review
6 January 2020
In my time on this planet as a lighting designer it has come to my attention that for some reason everything that has significance comes in threes. We had a project a year or so ago where the client, electrician and project manager were all called Jerry – so we had Jerry the vicar, Jerry the sparks and then the PM got to be called just plain Jerry. At the moment I have 3 projects with Architects called Alex; and on one day last year we had 3 unexpected projects materialise.
So THREE seems important and in the last couple of weeks I have had occasion to look at 3 individuals’ home-working environments, who all suffer from S.A.D. This led me to reprise a vein of enquiry via NHS Health A-Z which really annoyed me a few years ago when I found this statement “Light therapy is also a popular treatment for SAD, although NICE says it’s not clear whether it’s effective.” In fact, hardly any light therapy is recommended by NHS. This could be due to the over-zealous denials on almost all light-related headlines issued via NHS (though that’s just my opinion), though ‘Behind the headlines’ is curated by Bazian, owned by the Economist,(and self-proclaimed champions of evidence-based healthcare), or it could be that all apparent SAD sufferers who have seen relief of their symptoms from light therapy are experiencing a placebo response.
This confusing situation means that there are no “official” guidelines in the UK for the use of Light Boxes or Light Alarms but a myriad of choices out there. I tried to find out which light therapy products have been approved by the MHRA (Medicines and healthcare products Regulatory Agency) but I didn’t get very far. Why did I do this? Well to return to my 3 different people who want tons more light in their home in the winter.
- Client 1 had an 8000 lumen light box supplied via his employer which was apparently intended to be mounted on the wall about 400mm from his nose so that he could receive his light therapy whilst working on his computer.
- Client 2 wanted the whole office to be lit with sky and cloud-printed warm/cool lights
- Client 3 couldn’t understand why his tungsten daylight lamp wasn’t good enough to provide any relief from the symptoms of SAD (assuming we believe in their power anyhow).
Well-lighting design (and common sense) would dictate that being illuminated by 10000 lux whilst looking at a computer screen is obviously bad for the eye; that a sky-printed panel might look pretty but will be terribly inefficient; that a blue-painted incandescent lamp is just plain wrong – but that didn’t stop a lot of argument and references to smart devices. Hence my own trawling of official advice to get a definitive answer.
As you might expect, clients 2 and 3 were easy to pacify with a proper lighting design solution and references to old favourite lighting buzzwords such as lumen output and lux. Not so client 1. We ended by recommending that the light box be used on the kitchen table at an oblique angle and we simply improved the background lighting around the work station. And of course exposure to daylight whenever the weather permits.
I never thought I would say this – as I love to break a rule – but it’s the lack of rules that have allowed poor quality equipment and just plain bad advice to take such a hold on affairs.