…continuedYour Home Lighting Guide
Roaming the Aisles
Three categories of exterior lighting await you at your neighborhood home-improvement store: "security," decorative, and path. Unfortunately, many outdoor-lighting offerings control their output poorly and waste energy needlessly, so learn to discern the good from the bad by asking questions and examining various fixtures carefully. But if you must choose from among the "lesser of evils" that you find at local retailers, here are some basic guidelines:
- Ask for "glare-free" or "neighbor-friendly" lights — many retailers and manufacturers were confused when we mentioned "dark-sky-friendly" or "full-cutoff" fixtures.
- Look for fixtures that direct the light where you want it - down, toward the ground. These will have an opaque cover that hides the bulb itself from view to the side, or they may have glare shields.
- Buy lights with motion sensors, if possible, or buy one that allows you to attach a motion sensor yourself.
- Be wary of a fixture that merely claims to be dark-sky friendly. Determine for yourself whether it will create glare, or is simply too bright for your intended purpose. (Note that "Energy Star" fixtures contain energy-efficient bulbs, but they still may shine much of their light toward the sky.)
- Remember that fixtures are frequently marked with the highest-wattage bulb that they accept — but choose instead the lowest wattage that you need.
You may have some luck finding a dark-sky-friendly security or area light, as a few good ones have been introduced recently. In any case, look for the lowest-wattage floodlights possible (as mentioned earlier, an excessively strong source can do more harm than good), and if you have to angle the floodlight slightly upward, attach a shield so that the light goes only where needed.
If you're determined to have a light stay on all night, consider dual-brightness fixtures with motion sensors; these shine at partial brightness until activated by someone walking by, at which point they temporarily switch to full intensity. Expect to spend $35 to $50 for a good area light and $10 to $90 for a motion sensor with floodlights attached. You can also buy motion sensors alone ($10 to $60) that can be screwed or wired into your existing fixtures.
Good decorative fixtures are much harder to come by. Designed to look nice in daylight, almost all have glass sides that expose the glaring bulb to direct view and spill light in all directions at night. So if you must have these outside your home, base your purchase on performance, rather than good looks alone, and use low-output bulbs. Hampton Bay (Heath Zenith), Regent, and Surveillance brands all offer $30-to-$50 decorative fixtures equipped with motion sensors, or you can attach a sensor to your existing light.
Path lighting is least problematic from the dark-sky standpoint. Closely spaced and low to the ground, these lights use low-output bulbs and tend to be well shielded. Individual fixtures run from $6 to $70, and many are solar powered. But displayed along with these you’ll often find landscape lighting, which is used to illuminate trees and buildings from the ground up. They send most of their light skyward — hardly dark-sky friendly — though many models use low-wattage bulbs. If you use landscaping lighting, whenever possible place the fixtures well above ground level (look for tree mounts) so that the light shines down, and place the lights on a timer so that they are on only when people are around to admire them.
You may not find a specific fixture on the store’s shelves. However, both Lowe’s and Home Depot allow you to special order any product that their manufacturers offer; Lowe’s even has catalogs in the aisle for your perusal. Sears Hardware maintains a “buy list” from which you can order. You can also head online to search for fixtures that are truly dark-sky friendly.