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Hamptons Life

Aug 1, 2008 11:39 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Preserving "dark skies"

Aug 1, 2008 11:39 AM

East End residents are among the one-third of the world’s population who can see the Milky Way from their homes, but that view will fade as development continues and the night sky is threatened by light pollution.

That’s where organizations like the International Dark-Sky Association come in. The IDA isn’t looking for nightly blackouts. Rather, the association challenges municipalities, businesses and homeowners to reduce “sky glow” with smarter lighting practices that are adequate for nighttime needs without polluting the skies with light.

“More light is not necessarily better,” Susan Harder, the executive director of the IDA’s New York Chapter, said in a recent interview at her East Hampton home. Not only does light pollution ruin the view of the stars, it also wastes electricity, encroaches on neighbors and creates dangerous glare, she said.

Ms. Harder offers simple solutions: asking an electrician or retailer for the right fixtures, minimizing how often lights are left on, and recognizing appropriate brightness.

The problem is outdoor light fixtures that send light out in all directions, rather than just down to the ground. “Why in God’s name do we need to light the treetops?” she quipped.

The proper and most efficient way to light, according to Ms. Harder and the IDA, is with full cutoff and fully shielded lighting fixtures. Ms. Harder explained that desirable fixtures conceal bulbs, and they direct light straight down. In a non-shielded fixture, light goes in all directions, and 30 percent of it is wasted going straight up or sideways, Ms. Harder said. In a night sky-friendly fixture, that 30 percent is where it’s needed, so a bulb with far less wattage can be used to achieve the same amount of lighting, she noted. The energy savings pays for replacing fixtures and then some, she added.

On top of the savings from the right fixture, switch

ing to compact fluorescent bulbs can also produce the same amount of light, or lumens, while using far less electricity, she noted, pointing out that a 100-watt incandescent bulb and a 23-watt compact fluorescent bulb emit equal light.

She went on to say that municipalities tend to pick street lamps based on how they look during the day, rather than how well they work at night. But villages don’t need to sacrifice aesthetics for good lighting, she emphasized. Manufacturers produce shielded alternatives to nearly all their fixtures, she said.

Ms. Harder acknowledged that even with the best fixtures there will still be some light pollution, because light reflects off the ground or moisture in the air. But the right fixtures can still make a significant difference to the skies, she said.

“Nighttime is so beautiful, and this is why I try to emphasize looking at the stars,” she said.

Another problem is that people leave their lights on when they really don’t need to, and they use much brighter bulbs than necessary, Ms. Harder said.

The worst offenders are parabolic aluminized reflector lights, according to Ms. Harder. The lights, known as PARs, are commonly used as floodlights for driveways and front yards. “It’s a complete waste of money,” she said. “It’s terrible and it’s bad lighting.”

Running a pair of floodlights from dusk till dawn costs $250 per year between the electricity use and replacing the bulbs twice a year, she said. Rather than running floodlights all night, a solar timetable switch can be installed to turn the lights on at dusk each night and turn them off at a designated hour, she suggested.

Twenty-four hour light has very negative effects on wildlife and the nocturnal environment, Ms. Harder added. She said it fools trees, so they don’t go into hibernation for the winter when they should, causing dieback. Also, studies show various animal species are negatively affected as well, she said.

While many homeowners use lighting all night for security, Ms. Harder said it really isn’t as much of a deterrent to criminals as people think it is. And when the lights are any brighter than they need to be, it makes unlit areas appear much darker, she pointed out.

Besides light pollution’s effect on the night sky and wildlife, there is also glare and “light trespass” to worry about, Ms. Harder said. Glare from an exposed bulb or misdirected light can be dangerous for drivers and cause accidents, she said, adding that it is rude to neighbors.

Light trespass occurs when light from an adjacent house or business crosses property lines and shines into neighbors’ windows. In fact, it’s how Ms. Harder became so interested in light pollution in the first place.

Her interest started eight years ago, she said. She was lying in bed at night, but the glass ceiling over her bedroom was all lit up, she recalled. She said it was like a train headed toward her bedroom. It turned out to be a neighbor’s floodlight, unshielded and directed outward rather than at the ground.

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Just got to say Susan Harder Patent# 6,497,501 Serial # 76381699 Jan 14th 2003. Company name is Parshield. The shield she is promoting and trying to Legislate is made in China and costs around 20 per shield. She has said publically that she "gives the shields away so no one thinks I'm making any money". I also give away one free when you buy 12 does that make me an environmentalist or just a capitalist. Don't mind a marketing campaign that includes concerns for the environment but to legislate that ...more
By Bob Schepps (77), Southampton on Aug 13, 09 7:16 AM