Ralph Bouwmeester calculates how proposed buildings
will limit the sunlight on adjacent homes
Lurking in the shadows
J. THOMPSON / NATIONAL POST
Blinded by the light:
Bouwmeester's program determines
the shadow that would be cast anywhere in the world.
It is enough to make you tear out your hair. A
couple of years ago, you found a new townhome that was just perfect for you.
It was centrally located, close to transit and shopping and came with a host
of amenities that suited your lifestyle to a tee. The spring day you viewed
it was clear and sunny, showing off the freshly landscaped exterior to
advantage. The sunlight shone warmly on the freshly painted walls of a
charming outside back patio, the outstanding feature that sold you on the
place. Then, a year later, yikes.
The bulldozers came. They razed an entire row of old houses right behind your
complex and up went a new condo building, situated in such a way that now it
casts a shadow over your patio during the peak hours of summer sunlight, and
your next-door neighbour's, too. The thing is, both you and your neighbour
are at the end of the complex and it is pretty obvious that if they had made
a few simple adjustments to the condo, you would still have your sunny patio
and everyone would be happy. It is too late now. How come someone didn't do
an analysis to figure this out before they built the damn thing?
If something like this has not actually happened to you, it has quite likely
happened to someone you know. There are variations on the theme: The new
monster home wedged into a street of older homes, casting permanent shade
over the next-door neighbour's once-sunny breakfast nook; a house addition
that looms over what was once the adjacent property's rose garden, now
planted with gloom-loving ferns - you get the picture.
While architects and builders generally take into consideration the shadow
impact of a new development or addition, often the method they use to figure
out what is called "sun positioning" is based on generalized
sunlight tables that cover a large geographical area. Site-specific sunlight
projections can be askew. The discrepancy seems subtle on paper but the
ramifications are huge for the homeowner or homebuyer left shivering in the
dark by the inaccuracy. Enter Ralph Bouwmeester.
Mr. Bouwmeester is a Toronto-area civil engineer who created a unique solar
computer model, a kind of hyper-sundial that accurately determines how much
sunlight a building will get as well as where it will cast shade. The model
is based on a series of astronomical formulas. For any position anywhere in
the world, on any given date, it can calculate the position of the sun in
terms of azimuth, the direction in relationship to true north and altitude,
which refers to the height above an observer's horizon. To generate sun
position data, basic input is required: dates, times and the observer's
location expressed in latitude and longitude. Mr. Bouwmeester developed the
basic program in 1982, making gradual improvements and refining the software
for personal computer use in 1991. He has used the program on development
projects since 1987.
The model can be used at the micro level for individual units and homes, as
well as for large developments. Builders, developers, architects,
municipalities, homeowners and ratepayers groups are lining up for Mr.
Bouwmeester, who has saved many neighbour-hoods and properties from being eclipsed.
His model is so effective he is in demand across North America,
HE HAS EVEN
THE BEST SPOT
FOR A BACKYARD POOL
having recently done sun-positioning analyses
for office towers, high rises and single dwellings in California, Florida and
New York City. The building and development boom in Toronto has revved his
business into overdrive. While he has not consulted homebuyers directly as of
yet, there is no doubt his services could be of value to someone who wants to
make sure they are not getting a shady deal. He can tell prospective
purchasers how much sunlight a property will get - and where it will fall -
before they buy.
"I've been an amateur astronomer ever since I was a kid," says Mr.
Bouwmeester, who became obsessed with sundials back in the early 1980's.
"I wanted my model to take into account the fact that the Earth has an
elliptical, not circular, orbit around the sun. Sundials, and the method many
architects have used to determine sunshine at any given time of day, are
based on latitude. But within each latitude the sun's position can change
somewhat every 10 or 15 kilometres."
Mr. Bouwmeester got an opportunity to beta-test his model on a single-family
infill project in Durham Region. A neighbour went to the Ontario Municipal
Board, concerned that the new house would overshadow their property. Prior to
the issuance of a permit, Mr. Bouwmeester was called in to do a sun-position
analysis. There was good news all around. His survey concluded the shadow
impact would be minimal and the house went up as planned.
His first high-rise project was the Oasis condominium in Don Mills. Another
project in Scarborough, the St. Paul L'amoreaux retirement home at Warden and
Finch Avenues, had Mr. Bouwmeester determining whether a new development next
door would reduce the sun access of specific individual units. This led to
minimal structural changes to the new building. In another situation, the
owner of a downtown high rise wanted to transform its mechanical penthouse,
which housed the building's electrical and utilities systems, by making some
adjustments that would accommodate extra rental units. Would this affect
sunlight on adjacent properties? Mr. Bouwmeester confirmed it would not.
Sometimes, his work has nothing to do with preventing disputes between
neighbours. For a home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Mr. Bouwmeester was brought
in to figure out how to position the swimming pool for maximum exposure to
sunlight. He has even supplied evidence in court to support the claim of a
defendant in a traffic accident case who maintained he had been blinded by
Mr. Bouwmeester is currently consulting on several proposed high-rise
condominium projects, one in the Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue area,
another at Yonge near Summerhill Avenue, and on a plan to develop 13 high-rise
condos on a large parcel of vacant land in Mississauga. He is also advising
on a site intensification project - the development of two new residential
high-rise buildings on a site with three existing high-rises in the Bayview
and Steeles Avenues area.
"Certainly, some architects stick with their own analyses," says
Mr. Bouwmeester. "However, the ones I deal with appreciate the fact that
they can concentrate on what they do best, that is, design the building. They
prefer to leave the sun/shade analysis to someone else who can take
responsibility for that component of the project."
That said, developments continue to be built in the Toronto area without
accurate shadow-impact studies. Not far from where Mr. Bouwmeester lives in
Barrie, Ont., a new high rise was built on the waterfront where it looms over
a marina, casting it in shade for most of the day. "I wish they'd called
me," he says.
September 22, 2001
to SunPosition.com Home Page