Exterior Lighting and Controls: Problems and Solutions

The Impact of Aesthetics
The other significant reason for enhancing exterior lighting is aesthetics. Lighting is an important part of attracting tenants to your property, and it shouldn’t be overlooked.

“You want to make sure your building appears open and inviting, like a community beacon,” says Ponzini.

If you’re trying to light an object with flood lighting, like a sign or flag, the amount of light you put on it has a nearly direct effect on how much attention it gets. You should look to provide a 10-to-1 ratio between how much light is on the sign vs. the surrounding area.

“At that relationship, it will definitely stand out and jump at you,” explains Gibson. “Anything less than that will hardly look like it’s lit higher.”

Lighting design doesn’t only have to be functional. Certain monuments and museums just want to add extra oomph to their facade. The Castle Museum in Saginaw, MI, recently installed exterior lighting because it previously had none, preventing it from attracting evening foot traffic. For more information on this project, see the case study at right.

“Our goal was not to update or modernize the look of the castle. We wanted to create awareness of the castle’s classic aesthetic,” says Ken Santa, president and CEO of the museum. “The lighting enhances the historic architecture and made it possible to view the building 24 hours a day.”

Think of this kind of exterior lighting as painting with light, says Gibson. You can make certain parts of your site pop.

“All skyline buildings try to accent certain pieces,” he explains. “If you highlight specific areas, it makes the visual experience much more rewarding than just having a flat floodlight blasting the whole building.”

The Importance of Controls
Don’t think of controls as another bothersome wrinkle in your system. They make your life easier by removing the guesswork of when to reduce and how much.

Light Pollution Crash Course

Chances are if you’re stargazing in a big city, a gray haze will prevent you from glimpsing Orion’s Belt. The following fact sheet sheds light on light pollution.

  • Light pollution comes in many forms. Glare is excessive brightness causing visual comfort. Light trespass refers to light falling where it isn’t intended, needed, or wanted. Urban sky glow is the brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas. Clutter means bright, confusing, and excessive groupings of light sources.
  • If you shirk your impact on light pollution, you’re throwing a LEED point out the window – literally. The Light Pollution Reduction point – SS Credit 8 – provides guidelines for reducing interior and exterior lighting levels.
  • Suppliers should be able to provide cutoff or shielded light fixtures to limit excessive, misdirected, or invasive light. The IDA estimates 30% of all outdoor light is wasted, which amounts to 22 billion kWh per year, equivalent to 3.6 million tons of coal and 12.9 million barrels of oil.
  • Light levels at the property line should not exceed 0.1 footcandles adjacent to business properties and 0.05 at residential property boundaries.
  • Humans shouldn’t be night owls. Like plants and wildlife, we require regular circadian rhythms. When our day to night cycle is out of balance, melatonin levels drop, resulting in several disorders. The American Medical Association backs efforts to reduce light pollution.
  • Many states have implemented lighting ordinances, including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Make sure you’re in compliance.
  • Worried that your new products will produce light pollution? Look for the IDA Fixture Seal of Approval, an evaluation and certification program that ensures lights are fully shielded and cannot emit any luminous output above 90 degrees in the vertical place, among other criteria.
  • For reports, brochures, and newsletters about the detrimental effects of light pollution, visit the IDA website at www.darksky.org.
“Controls are becoming more prevalent. You can mistakenly think that they’re only feasible indoors, but they’re necessary for outdoors,” explains Ponzini. “In the past it was just dusk to dawn photo sensors and on or off, but it doesn’t have to literally be black or white. Sensors can respond and alter light levels based on time of day and motion.”

This often forgotten aspect yields several benefits, so it shouldn’t be dismissed or overlooked.

“With the burgeoning legislation requirements of energy savings and light pollution, the ability to control outdoor lighting is becoming a very important issue,” says Gibson. “You need to consider some type of sensor or timer.”

Because your system runs the risk of impeding on neighboring properties, you’ll want to include the ability to alter light levels manually. Many states have already enacted ordinances to combat light pollution.

To learn more about how you can reduce your light trespass, visit the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) website at www.darksky.org.

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