Are Bedrooms With No Windows a New Trend?

windowless bedrooms apartment
Forget the room with a view -- in fact, you can forget the room with a window. Don't be surprised to discover during your next apartment hunt a strange phenomenon -- a windowless bedroom. But is it really OK to live in a windowless bedroom or, more specifically, to allow windowless rooms to be called bedrooms?

This is an increasingly relevant question since a 2006 change in the federal government's Universal Building Code (UBC) that allowed bedrooms to be built without windows. Historically, both national and most local building codes have required windows in bedrooms for ventilation and safety. But improvements in fire safety and building materials called into question the necessity of such regulation, so today bedroom windows are officially optional.

No market was hit harder by the Great Recession than condominium sales, and today what few projects that are going forward nationally are making more compact use of space.
The Madison Capital Times, for example, reports that despite nearly a third of the 234 bedrooms in the proposed 75-unit Humbucker Apartments having no windows, the project was unanimously approved by the Madison Plan Commission.

"With the exception of the rooms without windows I really like this project," Alderwoman Julia Kerr said while commission member Tim Gruber pressed developers during their testimony about concerns about light-deprived tenants.

Ironically, today there is more evidence than ever that natural light affects human physiology in measurable ways. In my 2003 New York Times story called "Beyond the Bulbs: In Praise of Natural Light," I write about how one's body knows the difference between electric and natural illumination. It's like knowing the difference between nutritious food and a bag of Doritos.

Artificial light exists primarily in the long wavelength, the red region. But the body's circadian system, governing waking and sleeping patterns, prefers light in the blue region of shorter waves, which suppress the natural hormone melatonin and stimulate the hormone serotonin. The combination leads to greater alertness.

For the human body, electric illumination is ''ineffective compared to something as simple as waking up and looking out the window at the blue sky,'' Dr. Mark Rea of the Lighting Research Center, part of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said then. His research and the center's, drawing from previous studies of Dr. Alfred Lewy of Oregon Health Sciences University, have helped to determine definitively that human performance is improved by natural light.

This evidence also exists in ample studies of environments outside the home, such as schools and retail spaces. One study in 2000 by the Heschong Mahone Group of Sacramento, Calif., involved 20,000 students in California, Colorado and Massachusetts in 1998 and 2002. It found that standardized test scores among comparable students could be as much as 26 percent higher when they attended classes in buildings illuminated primarily by natural light, compared with those who relied mainly on artificial light. Another Heschong Mahone study, conducted in 1995 at a Wal-Mart store in Lawrence, Kan., showed 40 percent higher sales at checkout counters that were underneath skylights.

But does one really need natural light in architectural spaces devoted first and foremost to their occupants being asleep? What's more, some might argue that government regulations against windowless rooms are an unnecessary interference with market preferences, now that safety is no longer a concern. And besides, the last several years have seen a proliferation of loft-style residential spaces, in which interior walls can be created without windows.

Isn't allowing windowless bedrooms in regular dwellings the next logical step?

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