Daylighting is the practice of placing windows, skylights, other openings, and reflective surfaces so that sunlight (direct or indirect) can provide effective internal lighting. Particular attention is given to daylighting while designing a building when the aim is to maximize visual comfort or to reduce energy use. Energy savings can be achieved from the reduced use of artificial (electric) lighting or from passive solar heating. Artificial lighting energy use can be reduced by simply installing fewer electric lights where daylight is present or by automatically dimming/switching off electric lights in response to the presence of daylight – a process known as daylight harvesting.
The amount of daylight received in an internal space can be analyzed by measuring illuminance on a grid or undertaking a daylight factor calculation. Computer programs such as Radiance allow an architect or engineer to quickly calculate benefits of a particular design. The human eye's response to light is non-linear, so a more even distribution of the same amount of light makes a room appear brighter.
The source of all daylight is the Sun. The proportion of direct to diffuse light impacts the amount and quality of daylight. "Direct sunlight" reaches a site without being scattered within Earth's atmosphere. Sunlight that is scattered in the atmosphere is "diffused daylight". Sunlight reflected off walls and the ground also contributes to daylight. Each climate has different composition of these daylights and different cloud coverage, so daylighting strategies vary with site locations and climates. There is no direct sunlight on the polar-side wall (north-facing wall in the Northern Hemisphere and south-facing wall in the Southern Hemisphere) of a building from the autumnal equinox to the vernal equinox at latitudes north of the Tropic of Cancer and south of the Tropic of Capricorn.
Traditionally, houses were designed with minimal windows on the polar side, but more and larger windows on the equatorial side (south-facing wall in the Northern Hemisphere and north-facing wall in the Southern Hemisphere). Equatorial-side windows receive at least some direct sunlight on any sunny day of the year (except in the tropics in summer), so they are effective at daylighting areas of the house adjacent to the windows. At higher latitudes during midwinter, light incidence is highly directional and casts long shadows. This may be partially ameliorated through light diffusion, light pipes or tubes, and through somewhat reflective internal surfaces. At fairly low latitudes in summertime, windows that face east and west and sometimes those that face toward the nearer pole receive more sunlight than windows facing toward the equator.