Improve Outdoor Lighting Practices

Nov. 18, 2009

Adding a new “layer” to lighting design and operational practices presents a chance for long-term benefits

It takes work to achieve a lighting design that does what you want (provides illumination and looks good) and does what you need in order to be responsible (minimizes energy consumption and light trespass) – but it’s not impossible. It takes searching for luminaires that deliver good performance. And as far as the notions that energy-efficient luminaires can’t be efficient or aim light output well – those are myths.

Beyond installation engineering, there are a host of operational practices you can adopt to improve lighting practices:

  1. Add controls to shut off lights for a very cost-effective way to reduce power consumption and add less light to the environment.
  2. Security and other lighting left on “just in case” can be replaced with lighting that is controlled by motion detectors.
  3. Interior light that shines out through windows does as much environmental damage as exterior light, so turn off indoor lights when nobody’s there.
  4. Monitor and maintain lighting installations. Nighttime light that is stuck on all day consumes twice as much power. The old HID lamp that cycles on and off is just wasting energy.

Manmade Light at Night

The Illinois Coalition for Responsible Outdoor Lighting is presenting Manmade Light at Night: Perils and Promises on March 11, 2010. Teaming up with Lewis University, this day-long symposium covers manmade light and its effects on the planet. Topics include:

  • Artificial light and the natural environment.
  • Outdoor lighting, energy waste, and sustainability.
  • Light at night and human health.
  • The loss of the night sky and its effects on science and society.
  • Illumination for safety and security.

See www.illinoislighting.org for details.

As with other forms of conservation and environmental responsibility, adding this new “layer” to lighting installation design and operational practices may seem like an additional annoyance, but it actually presents opportunity for long-term benefits. Cost savings mount rapidly and are perpetual when energy efficiency is increased in lighting installations that run night after night, year after year. Contrary to the concept of annoying, glaring light attracting positive attention to your facilities, pleasantly illuminated exteriors are more attractive and present an air of “class” (as opposed to “crass”).

Lighting practices that minimize trespass of stray light off a property make for happier neighbors. All too often, you see one business that swamps its neighbors with glaring light, rendering the neighbors’ lighting less effective. This often leads to light “wars,” which end up with unsafe driving conditions, an unpleasant environment for customers, and no “winners.” Indeed, many business districts would be served well by adopting lighting ordinances along the lines of their sign ordinances, which have put an end to “sign wars” and greatly increased the attractiveness of whole blocks and districts.

You’re bound to see increased public displeasure with blatant energy consumption and waste, especially when citizens are being told that they have to throw out their old light bulbs and unplug their idle appliances. Why should they be pleased with businesses that don’t seem to be making any effort with their lighting installations, or that don’t bother to turn off the lights when they leave the room?

We predict there will be an increasing number of news items on research connecting excess light at night to a host of problems, including environmental damage and health problems. Before long, the property that shines glaringly bright at night is going to be looked upon with as much displeasure as the smokestack belching black smoke. On the flip side, the business that rethinks its lighting practices has a public face that says “environmentally conscious,” and it can advertise how it has taken responsible action to make the world a better place.

Drew Carhart is an executive board member of the Illinois Coalition for Responsible Outdoor Lighting.

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