“The idea that more light always results in better safety and security is a myth. One needs only the right amount of light, in the right place, at the right time. More light often means wasted light and energy.” — Simple Guidelines from the International Dark Sky Association
Most everyone has heard the Motel 6 radio commercial in which Tom Bodett utters the enduring catchphrase — “We’ll leave the light on for you”. The sound of Mr. Bodett’s voice is nostalgically familiar. However, the research being produced in the burgeoning field of scotobiology attests that leaving the lights on after dark not only wastes energy and mucks up our view of the stars, but also has detrimental effects on most birds, mammals, and amphibians.
Scotobiology is the study of the effects of darkness on the animal world. Scotobiologists have discovered that the dark night sky is as important to some creatures’ biology as being able to find food, water, and shelter. Choosing dark sky friendly outdoor lighting and using it appropriately is crucial to preserving this natural resource and constitutes a key feature of any eco-sensitive residence, especially in rural locations.
Preserving the dark sky night starts with three basic behaviors:
1) Turn off outdoor lights when not in use. Don’t leave lights on through the night. If there is a perceived need for light after dark for security, install a motion-sensitive fixture. If an installed fixture is not motion-sensitive, a 15 minute trip to the nearest hardware store (or a quick search on Amazon) for a $10 motion sensor which can be retrofitted to almost any light is a simple solution.
2) Choose dark sky friendly fixtures. What makes a fixture dark-sky compliant? Most lighting manufacturers label fixtures which are dark-sky compliant. A good rule of thumb is that if the light bulb (sometimes referred to as the lamp) is visible while looking at the fixture from the side, then the fixture is not dark sky compliant. Any fixture that directs light downward and prevents light from leaking upward or outward is dark-sky friendly.
3) Choose the right light bulb for your fixture. The color of the light should be warm and the lowest lumens possible.
The good news is that dark-sky compliant lights have been around for years, and come in numerous style options from a wide variety of lighting manufacturers at varying price points.
The following is a small sample of dark-sky friendly lights:
Economical choice– The Farm & Barn All Weather Warehouse light from Barn Light Electric. This fixture articulates and can either be wall or ceiling mounted. It costs a mere $61 dollars when you order it with protective glass for the bulb ($53 without) and is available in silver, red, and dark green.
Wall-washer of interest – Designed by Davey Lighting, The Mast Light available at Design Within Reach generates ambient perimeter light. Limestone walls glow at night with this type of directional lighting. Shown here in polished bronze, it is also available in polished aluminum and a weathered bronze finish.
If a transitional look is preferred – Try the Ripley Collection from Kichler. Is it modern or is it Mission? Or both?
Traditional, yet versatile – The Pullman from Hinkley is suitable for the wall of a German-style farmhouse or a Mexican hacienda. Hinkley has an extensive inventory of dark-sky compliant fixtures for residential applications, both modernist and traditional, most of which are available in a variety of finishes.
Timeless option – The Rodeo Warehouse light, also available from Barn Light Electric. This fixture comes in a rainbow of colors, and is pictured here with a red shade and galvalume arm. Traditional barn lights are the original dark sky friendly lights.
The population of Texas is booming. With more and more people moving into our cities and rural areas, now is the time to make choices that protect our night sky. Otherwise, there may come a time when the stars at night aren’t big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, just dull and dim. For a complete guide to Dark Sky lighting, see the International Darky Sky Association’s guidelines here.