Skylights are a great way to increase your use of natural light in your home. This is important for all sorts of reasons; for example, it reduces energy consumption as you don’t need to use electric lights as much, and it provides some of the health benefits associated with exposure to sunlight. Many homes and offices have started to realise these benefits and are installing a range of skylights, from tubular to ventilating skylights. The good news is that skylights are no longer the luxury they once were. In fact, they’re actually quite affordable and easy to install. However, there are still instances when, even though they are necessary, skylights are beyond financial reach. In situations like this, some creativity is required. In 2011, creativity is exactly what the people in the shanty towns of the Philippines got.
Plastic bottles see the light
Shanty towns are not exactly known for their healthy living conditions. They’re overcrowded with homes piled almost on top of one another. Aside from the health risks this poses, it also means that very little natural light makes it into the homes. This drives up electricity use, which is obviously expensive. The traditional alternatives to expensive electricity are candles and oil-, petrol-, or gas-fuelled lights, which pose a serious fire danger.
The situation is untenable, so in April 2011, a Philippines-based non-profit organisation called My Shelter Foundation launched the Liter of Light project. According to an article on the Guardian, the project aimed to lower the dependence on electricity and hazardous light sources, and to improve the general well-being of people living in shanty towns using a very simple solution: discarded plastic bottles.
The aim was to provide one million homes with natural light using these inventive plastic bottle skylights by the end of 2015. It’s been so successful that the project is now being implemented in India, Indonesia, and even Switzerland – not a county you’d think is in need of seriously low-cost lighting solutions.
And these plastic bottle skylights really are seriously low-cost.
According to the Guardian, the lights cost only $1 to make and take only five minutes to create and install. The result is the equivalent of 55W of refracted sunlight. Basically, a two litre plastic bottle (a standard soda bottle, in other words), is filled with water and two capfuls of bleach (this prevents the build up of bacteria and algae), a hole is made in the corrugated iron roof, a collar or brace is attached to the bottle, and the collar is then attached to the hole in the roof. Some sealant makes it all waterproof. Voila, let there be natural light!
One of the great things about these plastic lights is their longevity. They have a lifespan of around five years, which may not be quite as long as an energy-saving bulb, but it’s certainly longer than the conventional kind. But it’s their cost-savings that are the real benefit. According to Illac Diaz, who monitors the plastic lights at a jail in the Philippines, households using the plastic lights will save an average of $10 a month on their electricity bills. In a country where most of the population lives on less than $2 a day, that works out to a lot of money.
In addition to the energy savings that everyone using skylights can expect, there are several other fringe benefits. For example, the Guardian cites Eduardo Carillo, one of the residents who has benefitted from the plastic skylights, who says that children are no longer scared because they don’t have to play out in the streets if they want to see what they are doing. Instead, they can happily play indoors, where it’s safe, and where they can still benefit from natural light.
Job creation is also a pleasant side-effect, as My Shelter Foundation trains unemployed residents to make and install the lights.
Perhaps one of the most important benefits is the inspiration that projects such as this provide to the rest of the world. If something as simple as a soda bottle can provide such powerful light, and such important energy savings, then what other easily discarded material can be drafted into use?
Jemima Winslow believes wholeheartedly that everyone should be doing their bit to reduce their energy consumption, not only to save money but also to save the planet. All of her lights are energy savers, and she does all of the little things that are advised, like only turning on her geyser for an hour a day, and only ever switching on lights and appliances when they’re needed.