Q. As darker days approach, how can we adjust our lighting to keep our home comfortable and well-lit?
Light fixtures and bulbs can have a huge impact on your mood, productivity, and the coziness of your living space. This is true all year long. But during the transition from summer to fall, lighting issues are particularly noticeable. Walkways and interiors can suddenly feel dramatically dimmer. And you may feel like you’re constantly chasing the illumination you need to cook, work, help with homework, or put on makeup. With some smart changes, however, you can brighten your home — and your outlook.
Start Outside. Adjust any timers on your exterior lights to accommodate the changes in daylight. If your walkways feel tough to navigate even when porch lights and lamp posts are on, consider incorporating path lighting — either 18-inch-tall posts or fixtures recessed into the pathway or its environs — to help you get safely in and out of the house. Remember that a little light goes a long way outdoors; 40-watt-equivalent bulbs typically work best. Anything brighter can actually make it harder to see.
Layer your light. A room needs a mix of light sources at different levels to create a warm glow and ensure you can see what you’re doing. These layers include ambient illumination from decorative fixtures such as a chandelier, pendants, or flush-mounts, as well as accent and task lighting — typically some combination of recessed or track fixtures, sconces, under-cabinet units, cove lights, and table or floor lamps. At this time of year, you may need to beef up your task lighting, bringing in an extra reading lamp or adding a fixture in a spot where you sew or do puzzles. When only one light source is used, as is sometimes the case with recessed fixtures, you get pockets of light and darkness that make the area difficult to navigate — and impossible to read in.
Assess lampshades. Consider swapping dark fabric shades, or older white ones that have yellowed, for crisp new ivory or white shades to bring more ambient illumination into your rooms. If you favor colored-glass shades, you may want to supplement with an extra fixture to brighten up your space. Clear-glass shades, meantime, can allow too much light to escape, causing glare and making a room feel shadowy, if not paired with proper bulbs — no more than 40-watt-equivalents on a dimmer are best.
Turn up the temp. Light bulb boxes indicate a color temperature, labeled K for Kelvin temperature. In general, but particularly at this time of year, opt for bulbs with a 2700K or 3,000K rating, which provide a universally flattering, warm-white light. Anything higher is going to have a cooler, bluish-white cast that can make your home feel as chilly as a feebly lit landscape on a winter’s day.
Q: What are “dark sky friendly” exterior fixtures?
A: Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Outdoor lamps are there to illuminate the darkness, helping us move around safely. But in so doing, many also allow light to escape into the night sky, a phenomenon known as light pollution that masks our view of the stars. In fact, an international group of scientists recently determined that the Milky Way is invisible to more than one-third of the world’s population, including nearly 80 percent of North Americans. Light pollution also contributes to energy waste, disrupts many ecological processes, particularly for nocturnal animals, and can have a negative impact on human health, interrupting sleep and causing headaches, stress, and anxiety.
In 2008, Bar Harbor — home to Acadia National Park, one of the most blissfully dark places on the eastern seaboard — passed an ordinance regulating outdoor lighting on all new construction in town. To comply, fixtures over 1,800 lumens must be “dark sky friendly” — i.e., have casings or canopies that shield the bulbs, preventing them from being seen from above. Other cities and towns, including Portland, have their own ordinance requirements for lighting; check with your municipality to find out what the rules are.
No matter where you live, I recommend choosing warm (no more than 3,000 Kelvin), dimmable LED downlights, like those described above, to curb light pollution, reduce glare, and create a soothing — versus blinding — outdoor environment. Remember also that you don’t need many fixtures to make an impact outside; learn about my less-is-more approach to landscape lighting here.
As for dark sky-compliant fixtures, these picks will adequately illuminate your home and yard and facilitate stargazing.
A: I suggest following a less is more approach. You don’t want your yard to be lit up like a theme park, and I promise your neighbors don’t either. Too much exterior light can be blinding, uses unnecessary electricity, and contributes to the brightening of the night sky, making it difficult to see stars and disrupting animal habitats. Instead, focus on installing fixtures where you need them — near a patio or path, for example — and accentuating a few special features in the landscape. In addition to making your yard feel inviting when you’re outdoors, these pockets of illumination give you something to gaze out at (other than a black window) when you’re inside your home at night.
I recommend down lighting, also known as moonlighting, as an environmentally friendly means of landscape lighting. You can place downlights, which have a cylindrical casing around the bulb to eliminate glare, high up on tree trunks and aim them at a walkway, seating area, or the tree’s own foliage for a moonlit effect. Path lights — typically 18- to 24-inch posts topped with canopies that direct light downward — are a good choice for highlighting plantings in a garden. Modern versions, such as those shown above, are also available. Place path fixtures about 20 feet apart to create glowing areas that draw the eye from one plant to the next versus a single blast of illumination. Avoid stationing these lights at regular intervals along a path, which conjures a landing strip, and using them on lawns, where they are vulnerable to lawnmowers and weed wackers.
Opt for solid brass or copper fixtures, which hold up well in Maine weather and can withstand the occasional ding from a power tool, and use 20-watt equivalent LED bulbs. These last up to 20 years in a landscape setting (compared with six months to a year for halogen bulbs), a lifespan you’ll be especially thankful for if your fixtures are in a tree.
Your outdoor lighting fixtures are one of the first thing people notice when they look at your house. The fixtures set the tone and say a lot about the home owners. There are many, many different types, styles, sizes and quality levels of exterior lights so you should learn some of the basics before buying.
Hubbardton Forge Exterior Fixture (I have several of these on my house)
Size – This is an important consideration that many buyers overlook in their purchasing decision. A fixture on display in a lighting store may look large in the store but when mounted on the side of a house may look really too small. So before buying a fixture I recommend that you make a model of the fixture by cutting out a piece of paper or cardboard the size of the fixture and pinning it to your house. Then go down the driveway to the street and look at your house from a distance. How does the fixture look? Too big, too small or just right? Glare – My biggest gripe with most exterior lighting is the amount of glare it produces. A prime example are the flood lights that many people mount to the garage that come on when somebody drives into the yard. How does that help you see anything! The glare of the lights blinds you so you can not see anything until your pupils dilate again. You do not need much light outside when it is dark; it is the contrast produced by a little light that helps you see, think of the moon. (Also, the neighbors might not like the light pollution produced by glarey exterior fixtures). So I recommend you buy fixtures that do not produce glare and use frosted light bulbs.
Quality – There is no question that good quality is more expensive than poor quality, but good quality is
Dark Sky Fixture
usually a better value and it shows! If you plan to live in your house for a while buy a better fixture once rather than a cheap fixture twice or three times, especially if you live in a harsh climate, like almost everywhere. Salt air, ice, wind, excessive sun and heat are all tough on an exterior fixture. Better quality is usually noticeable also. Dark Sky – These fixtures are being mandated in a lot of communities for good reason, they contain the light and prevent it from spilling over and causing light pollution. This is especially important in sensitive areas where the night sky is still visible. They provide security and safety and do not allow light to escape into the night sky. I am a big advocate for dark sky fixtures for lots of reasons, no light pollution and no glare to name two. Style – Style is purely a matter of personal taste. Styles range from Colonial America to Mission to Ultra Modern and everything in between. Chose what you feel looks good on your house. It is your house after all. There are all sorts of different finishes available too. So, for example, you can see the same fixture in a dark brass, raw copper, antique brass, green verdigris, raw brass or mission brown finish. They all might look great, but pick the one that you think will look best on your house. Exterior lighting is important for safety and security, and it also enhances the appearance of you house. Visit an independent lighting showroom for the best quality and design options. Visit us at www.fogglighting.com and like us on Face Book. Be sure to download the UL app, “LightSmart” from the app store for all kinds of useful information about lighting.