8 Ways To Add More Natural Light In Your Basement

Does your gloomy basement have you feeling down in the dumps? Here are some ways to cheer things up with natural light, and many are DIY-able.

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bright refinished basement in a residential houseANATOLI IGOLKIN/GETTY IMAGES

Benefits of Natural Light in a Basement

The basement is the coldest, darkest room in any house. In many, it’s a place much more suited for storing potatoes and doing laundry than hanging out. To change that and turn your basement into an area where you can relax, work or sleep restfully, increase the natural light.

Adding more light fixtures will make it easier to see, but artificial light doesn’t confer all the benefits of natural light. Natural light can do the following:

  • Control moisture and mold: Where there’s light, there’s warmth. Even if it isn’t very much, it can reduce condensation on the walls, floor and ceiling. That helps control mold and mildew, which need moisture and darkness to thrive.
  • Reduce eye strain: It’s easier to see in natural light. The alternating current that powers light bulbs causes flickering. Though it might not be noticeable, it strains the eyes. This is particularly true for fluorescent bulbs.
  • Save energy: The extra warmth natural sunlight brings, you don’t have to pay for. If there’s enough of it, you could lower the basement heat for a few hours every day and save on your energy bill.
  • Relieve seasonal depression: People are confined to their homes during the coldest, darkest part of the winter. If they have a finished basement, that’s when they’re most likely to use it. An abundance of natural light lets the brain produce more mood-enhancing serotonin, so people are less affected by the winter blues.
  • Improve the aesthetics of the space: Natural lighting makes a room feel more spacious. In a finished basement, it illuminates architectural features, artwork and other design details that may not have otherwise seen the light of day.

Here are some tried and true methods for bringing more natural light into your basement.

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Exterior view of an egress window in a basement bedroom. These windows are required as part of the USA fire code for basement bedrooms
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Add Windows

Every basement needs at least one egress window to satisfy the fire code, and every basement bedroom requires an additional one, but there’s no limit. The more you add, the brighter things will be down there.

It’s best to install windows during new construction, but you can do it anytime. It costs from $2,500 to $5,000 to dig a window well and install an egress window in the foundation wall. A half window placed above the foundation — which requires no well — costs $1,000 to $2,000 to install.

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Construction worker installing window in house
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Modify Existing Windows

Existing basement windows don’t always realize their potential for light transmission. Simple improvements include deep-cleaning the glass and installing curtain rods long enough to keep the curtains completely open.

Other improvements may require professional help. Those include replacing frosted glass with clear, replacing small windows with larger ones and removing security bars and grates that block the light.

Hopper windows that tilt outward or inward to open are standard in basements, but they tend to have thick wood frames. Consider replacing them with sliding windows with vinyl or aluminum frames.

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row of dome shaped solar tubular skylights installed on an asphalt shingle roof
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Install Solar Tubes

Solar tubes, aka tubular skylights, bring light into a dark space. A solar tube consists of a roof-mounted dome, a 10-inch metal tube that extends to the ceiling of a room, and a ceiling-mounted diffuser that mimics a light fixture.

The tube needs to pass through intermediate stories before it reaches the basement, which can be a problem. One solution: Running it through a closet where no one will see it.

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Mirror wall In a finished contemporary Basement
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Amplify Light with Reflection

In feng shui (the art of space harmony and balance), mirrors reflect and multiply. To make the most of limited sunlight, put them in front of windows, angled to reflect light onto the walls or ceilings. They can also brighten dark corners of the basement.

Shiny stainless steel or glass furnishings can have the same light-amplifying effect. Prisms hanging in the windows will create a kaleidoscope-like effect that cheers up the space on bright, sunshiny days.

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a washing machine in a refinished basement with bright white walls and a wood floor
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Use Light-Colored, Glossy Paint

Highly reflective glossy paint can provide the same effect as mirrors, but that isn’t the only reason to use it. The higher its gloss, the more durable the paint. That makes a difference in a space that needs extra protection against moisture incursion. High gloss paint is also easier to clean, and clean walls are bright walls.

Choose light colors like whites, off-whites and pastels to maximize brightness. This rule also applies to any furniture you paint and bring into the space.

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A view of a basement window well of a residential home
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Control Light from Outdoors

Basement windows are often dug into window wells, and wells full of clutter and overgrown vegetation won’t allow much light in. Make clearing out the wells part of your cleaning routine.

Window wells are usually covered to keep out animals and prevent kids from falling in. Choose transparent bubble-type covers instead of grates or solid wood covers. The curved shape creates a lens effect that magnifies sunlight falling on the windows. Before you move ahead, here’s what you need to know about faux basement windows.

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organized storage in a residential unfinished basement
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Eliminate Clutter

The simplest way to brighten a room? Clearing out all the obstacles that block light. Place furniture against walls, not in the middle of the room. And find someplace else to hang your coats, towels and laundry.

If you use the basement for storage, the same advice applies. Put the things next to a wall or, if possible, in a seldom-used area. Keep surfaces free of clutter to maximize the feeling of spaciousness, because spaciousness and light go hand-in-hand.

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a bright finished basement with light colored luxury vinyl flooring, and a wooden staircase
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Install Light-Colored Flooring

All your efforts to brighten the basement will be foiled by dark flooring that absorbs light. Luxury vinyl flooring is perfect for basements, and it comes in lots of light-colored patterns. Depending on how dry the basement is, you may want engineered hardwood. If so, go with a blonde species like maple or birch.

You might even to paint the concrete floor with epoxy. If so, you won’t have any trouble finding light tones, and gain the advantage of epoxy’s high reflectivity.

Chris Deziel
Chris Deziel has been active in the building trades for more than 30 years. He helped build a small city in the Oregon desert from the ground up and helped establish two landscaping companies. He has worked as a carpenter, plumber and furniture refinisher. Deziel has been writing DIY articles since 2010 and has worked as an online consultant, most recently with Home Depot's Pro Referral service. His work has been published on Landlordology, Apartments.com and Hunker. Deziel has also published science content and is an avid musician.