Public Outdoor Lighting Needs a Major Overhaul

Tine Thevenin
International DarkSky Assocation

Few of us give much thought to outdoor lighting because it is all around us: on our streets and parking lots, barn yards and buildings. We feel safer with lights and have come to depend on them. Outdoor lights give us a feeling of security against personal attack and vandalism. They provide visibility so that we can see where we are walking, find our car in the parking lot, find the entrance to the building, and illuminate nighttime activities. As the population expands, so does outdoor lighting.

However, the problems with typical outdoor lighting are numerous:

  • Decreased visibility, confusion and blinding because of glare
  • Wasted energy
  • Unwelcome light shining in our homes
  • Global pollution from wasted energy
  • Reduction in the number of stars we see

The solution: Quality lights and fixtures. The benefits of quality outdoor lighting:

  • Greater visibility and security: With reduced glare our eyes adjust to the light of the whole area, not only the brightly lit area. Therefore visibility in shadows increases.
  • Reduced vandalism: Vandals want and need light to work their destruction.
  • Money saved: It is estimated that the U.S. wastes $2 billion annually in lighting the sky with unshielded and excessive outdoor lights. Lower wattage bulbs can be used with full cut-off fixtures which are designed with a reflective surface behind the bulb. Savings can be as great as 30-45%.
  • Safer driving: Public hazards are created by glaring, high-wattage lights along roadways and in business parking lots.
  • Reduction of dangerous pollutants that add to climate change, crop reduction, fish kills, and health problems such as respiratory ailments.
  • Restful sleep: Artificial night lights may contribute to sleep problems and other health problems.
  • Community image is enhanced: Less visual clutter.
  • Environmentally friendly to wildlife: Shielding, reducing or eliminating night lights reduce tragedies of wildlife fatally attracted to artificial lights, such as migrating birds and moths.
Read Up

Outdoor Lighting Manual: Publication #DG 95-308, May 1996, Order: 301-490-2188

Lighting for Exterior Environments: #RP-33-99, Order: 212-248-5000 ext.112


Act Locally
Minnesota International Dark Sky Association
Tine Thevenin
RR4 Box 82B
Lake City, MN

International Dark Sky Association

Outdoor Lighting Association

What You Can Do

Reduce glare, light trespass & sky glow by:

* Replacing fixtures with full cut-off caps (contact International DarkSky website for more information)
* Shining spot lights down
* Retrofit uplighting: Illuminate flags with a narrow beam. Consider not lighting trees. Use downlighting on billboards
* Highlight special features on a building rather than the whole building

Reduce Energy:

* Turn off outdoor lights when they’re not needed
* Retrofit lights with motion detectors, timers or a switch
* Replace existing bulbs with lower wattage and energy saving bulbs

The Bigger Picture:

* Contact your utility company: Request a full cut-off fixture over existing outdoor pole lights. Request also a lower wattage bulb, preferably a High Pressure or Low Pressure sodium bulb.
* Contact your city and request a full cut-off light fixture on the street light by your house.
* Urge the city to install full cut-off light fixtures on new outdoor lights and retrofit old lights as needed with quality fixtures.
* Urge your local government to implement an outdoor lighting ordinance (Contact IDA for more information).

Outdoor Lighting

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