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Ask Slashdot: Setting Up Non-Obnoxious Outdoor Lighting? 445

An anonymous reader writes "My neighbor recently complained about my outdoor floodlight shining in her window. While trying to address this problem, I read an essay about the tragedy of light pollution, and started to think that this is a much broader issue. With all the new lighting technologies out there, this may be the right time to rethink lighting — both indoor and outdoor; public and private. I solved my problem by replacing the floodlight with a spotlight, but I also considered installing a colored light. What are some strategies for illuminating what we need to without casting excess light everywhere and inadvertently blinding our neighbors or keeping them awake?"
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Ask Slashdot: Setting Up Non-Obnoxious Outdoor Lighting?

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  • But why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FireFury03 ( 653718 ) <slashdotNO@SPAMnexusuk.org> on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:50AM (#44361535) Homepage

    What do you need a floodlight for?

    IMHO there is way too much lighting - residential areas just plain don't need outdoor lighting at all; what's wrong with just carrying a torch?

    • Re:But why? (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:55AM (#44361615)

      what's wrong with just carrying a torch?

      Too much danger of starting a fire.

    • Re:But why? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Adam Ricketson ( 2821631 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:57AM (#44361645)
      I am the OP: Short answer, my landlord installed the floodlight and the motion detector that runs in. I think she was partly concerned with security, which I don't really think is an issue. Longer answer, my wife has MS which gives her both vision problems and balance problems. She also walks with a cane which would make it hard to carry a torch. I think that a lot of older people have similar issues.
      • Re:But why? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by sjames ( 1099 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @12:07PM (#44361791) Homepage Journal

        Low voltage lighting along the walking path might be an answer then. For most people, that will light the path well enough, but in the worst case you can at least tell where the path is because of the lights at the edge.

      • Re:But why? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by FireFury03 ( 653718 ) <slashdotNO@SPAMnexusuk.org> on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @12:12PM (#44361875) Homepage

        Short answer, my landlord installed the floodlight and the motion detector that runs in. I think she was partly concerned with security, which I don't really think is an issue.

        Its fairly well documented that whilst lighting provides an increased sense of security, it frequently decreases security in real terms by creating deep shadows.

        Longer answer, my wife has MS which gives her both vision problems and balance problems. She also walks with a cane which would make it hard to carry a torch. I think that a lot of older people have similar issues.

        Fair enough - I understand that people with disabilities may need additional lighting, etc. Although I can recommend keeping a head torch handy - the modern LED ones are light, bright, and last a long time. Another possibility is to have a remote controlled light (rather than a motion detector), which would avoid mis-triggering by wildlife.

        My local council made a decision to turn off some of the street lighting between 1am and 5am a few years ago, saving several tens of millions of pounds in energy charges. This was met with lots of complaints along the lines of "this is endangering the elderly and school children!" (who are obviously always walking to and from school at 1 in the morning(!)). Eventually a new council was voted in and undid all that.

      • Re:But why? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by turp182 ( 1020263 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @12:22PM (#44362005) Journal

        A head lamp may be a good solution. They can be worn, obviously, on the head. But they can also work well around the neck. Head is more intuitive and easier to work with, the light goes where you look and doesn't bounce around during movement.

        I camp a lot and no longer bring an area light, everyone gets a head lamp. Keeps the bugs down as well.

        I've shown at least a dozen contractors my headlamp and they are always impressed (as they try to hold a flashlight between a shoulder and the neck).

        I use mine at home a lot, for grilling outside or walking around the house in the dark. Skip rechargeable batteries, they are a pain and their usage time is not impressive.

      • Re:But why? (Score:5, Informative)

        by cusco ( 717999 ) <brian.bixby@gma i l . c om> on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @12:25PM (#44362033)
        My own solution would be to take the flood lights out, and replace them with a screw-in outlet (the kind that people use to run their Christmas lights off the porch light fixture). Run an extension cord from there to your sidewalk or wherever you actually need the light, and plug rope lights or yard lights into it.

        I loathe flood lights, especially motion-activated ones. I walk the dogs at night and hate being blinded by 150 watts of light suddenly blasting into my eyes. They actually reduce security in most cases, since no one is going to even look the general direction of that much light, the shadows they create are essentially impenetrable, and people will automatically assume that the person standing in front of the door actually belongs there.
      • Re:But why? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @12:26PM (#44362041) Journal
        Don't worry old Hairy has you covered, here you go friend. [amazon.com] With this it doesn't matter where your wife is she'll be able to see, indoors, outdoors, no matter where she goes she'll have the path in front of her illuminated.
      • Re:But why? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by gerardrj ( 207690 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @12:32PM (#44362143) Journal

        You should inform your landlord that motion sensor lights, and lights in general, do little to deter crime. When you provide lighting it means the criminal doesn't have to use a suspicious flashlight and draw attention to themselves.

        To take it to the extreme: if lighting prevented crime then NYC and Paris would be the least crime ridden cities in the world.

        Low voltage, perhaps solar/battery powered, lighting in the areas you need it would be best. Point lights, such as spots and floods, are annoying and wasteful as they need to send light from the single point outward across a distance with enough intensity for it to reflect back to your eyes which are dilated to accommodate the very bright light in the foreground which blinds you. Lower wattage lighting distributed around the area you wish to illuminate provides a much more usable light at lower intensity and dispersion levels.
        You'd be VERY surprised what a few strings of LED solar yard lights will to to light up your yard completely, but not annoy your neighbors.

        • Re:But why? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by RenderSeven ( 938535 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @01:11PM (#44362643)
          Actually I was VERY surprised how utterly ineffective LED solar lights were at lighting up my yard, and how much I paid for them.
          • If you are trying to light up the entire yard I agree. But if you are only trying to light up walkways then they work very well.

            • Re:But why? (Score:4, Interesting)

              by RenderSeven ( 938535 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @03:54PM (#44364501)
              They do in some cases. But. Its like the solar panel argument, where the proponent lives in Phoenix, and forget many of us live where the sun is low and clouds are the norm. My walkway is on the north side of the house so they recharge poorly even on a good day, and a 'good day' is only during summer and has no weather. If the walkway light is decorative its not a problem if it doesnt work 5 days out of 7. Or works only 1 hour after dusk. If its functional lighting, it has to work every night, and has to last up to 8 hours. And work in snow. Solar, and a small form factor close to the ground, just doesnt cut it. Low voltage or low level lighting on AC mains, on a post or with enough waste heat to melt snow, is I think necessary. From a power use standpoint these are fairly efficient because they are switched and turned on only when necessary.

              Ive tried many solar units. Even if the mower and the snowblower and the dogs dont get them, the light output is dismal, and the number of charge cycles before you throw away the batteries or the whole unit is small.
        • Motion sensor lights aren't necessarily about lighting up the criminal. They are there to temporarily light up the doorway and walk area so you don't trip, can see your keys, and to assure you that there *ISN'T* someone lurking right by the door to attack you.
      • Rather than one big light (no matter how well targeted), consider a bunch of smaller lights all the way along the path.

        There are various ranges available, most are solar powered LED, some have motion sensors built in. Here are some examples I found on Amazon

        Mini "lamp-post style" [amazon.com]

        Motion sensitive, solar powered. Bigger, and you wouldn't need so many [amazon.com]

        Illuminated road/pathway studs [amazon.com]. They look like cats-eye road studs, and would illuminate the edge of the path.

        There are others that might be more appropriate for

        • Mini "lamp-post style"

          These almost universally suck.
          Any clear/white plastic will yellow, the metal will rust, then the top eventually comes off and it's an eyesore until you remove it in disgust.

          If you're not willing to dig a trench and run wiring to proper outdoor grade lighting, just don't bother.

    • Re:But why? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by avelldiroll ( 813074 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @12:08PM (#44361811)

      All the studies i checked (sorry no ref, that was 15 years ago) on the subject correlated closely drops of burglary with increase of outdoor lightning in the same area.

      But why not explore other sources of lighting? glowing plants [glowingplant.com] for example (they had some success with kickstarter [kickstarter.com] a few months ago)

      • by pla ( 258480 )
        I would buy pallets (as in, the big wooden kind, not the little one-dozen-seedling kind) of those in a frickin' heartbeat...

        Except, at present it looks like complete vaporware. Lots of neat pictures, and you can buy swag with those same pictures on it, but no actual plants.

        If I've missed the link to the real product, please call me a moron and send me to the right spot!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by LoRdTAW ( 99712 )

      Depends on where you live. If you live in a high crime area (a thought that evades many posters as they live in comfy, safe communities) lighting around your home is a necessity. Though, most break ins that occur tend to be during the day time when people are at work, there are still some that occur at night. If you live in a community where break ins are rare or a non-issue then you don't need a blinding spotlight or use a properly tuned motion detector for when you arrive home at night.

      A few yea

  • by PktLoss ( 647983 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:50AM (#44361537) Homepage Journal

    Watch out, they may respond with poisonous gas!

    http://www.27bslash6.com/halogen.html [27bslash6.com]

  • Ground lighting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Your first thought might be "boy this would be easily solved by one massive bright light affixed somewhere high up" but you'd get better results with less neighbor-annoyance (since the light is close to the ground, your fence/the bushes in your front yard will stop it.

    Sure it's more work and admittedly can be a pain to wire your yard (if you go that route, there are solar powered designs out there) but it looks a hell of a lot more attractive than floodlights.

  • by Xicor ( 2738029 )
    use smaller LED lights possitioned around where you need lit. you can get waterproof ones and run them on the outside of your driveways and whatnot
  • by g01d4 ( 888748 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:51AM (#44361549)
    The http://www.darksky.org/ [darksky.org] has several resources. Better yet, become a member.
  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:51AM (#44361551)

    why else would you shine a floodlight into a woman's window?

  • by knarf ( 34928 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:51AM (#44361563) Homepage

    The simple solution to this problem is to only use lighting when it is really needed, ie. when there is a human within range who wants to have some extra light. As soon as the human is gone, switch of the light. Use a motion sensor adjusted to human-sized objects so it does not trigger every time the neighbour's cat comes wandering by. Aim it so it does not get triggered by passers-by who have no intention of entering the designated area.

    Night time is supposed to be dark. Make it so. Turn it off!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I did this in my back yard. 10 "old" 60W Edison bulbs with nice large filaments, strung up between two corners of the roof line, and a dimmer switch rated for 1000W.

    It's quite nice and it's no brighter than you need it to be.

  • My father in-law has a large backyard. To keep the light where he wants it he by using rope lighting. For the flood prone areas he'll use clear plastic tubes on some custom made stakes to elevate the lights and keep rope straight. The stakes aren't 3d printed. They're just rob iron bent into the shapes wanted and painted black to stop the rust.
  • Do what makes the difference between amateur event lighting designers at crappy small festivals and professional high-quality lighting designers. Crappy ones will point bright lights into people's faces and it hurts. Good designers will put up white fabric and sails everywhere and point lights into the sails and sometimes up into the sky.

    While it might not be exactly applicable to your backyard lighting application, it's something to think about.
  • by morari ( 1080535 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:54AM (#44361589) Journal

    Wouldn't know, I don't have any neighbors within viewing distance. With that comes a beautiful view of the night sky. Get out of the suburbs and live a little! ;)

  • by Optimal Cynic ( 2886377 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:56AM (#44361633)
    It's all relative - replace your light with a carbon-arc searchlight, the sort they used to light up bombers during the War. After a couple of weeks of that making her bedroom look like a film set, she'll be thrilled when you put the original one back. Alternatively, put the light on a strobe circuit. Then you can claim with perfect accuracy that you have reduced the light output to half of what it was previously, and as a bonus her room will look really cool.
  • Goggles (Score:5, Funny)

    by pr0nbot ( 313417 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:56AM (#44361639)

    Surely this is the excuse you've been waiting for to buy night vision goggles?

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:56AM (#44361643) Homepage Journal

    ...hundreds of them. Keep you occasionally illuminated and entertained at the same time.

  • by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:57AM (#44361651)

    Google "dramatic outdoor lighting". With a little work, and not too much expense, you can add some nice lighting to your property that will give you more security without irritating your neighbors. It will also enhance the look of your home. I wish more people would do this instead of installing glaring flood lights that come on every time the wind changes direction.

  • Astronomy Guy Here (Score:5, Informative)

    by hodet ( 620484 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:58AM (#44361665)
    As a long time stargazer I can sympathize with your neighbor and its pretty much the reason I moved out to the country. Floodlights are the worst, they illuminate every which way. Good lighting uses something to shield the light from going up and sideways and focuses the beam down toward the ground. We installed pot lights outside and use colored lights in them that are softer but are still plenty bright enough to see if you go outside. Also, there is no substitute for simply turning them off when you are in the house, although that is easy for me to say where I live. In the city some see them as a deterrent to people sneaking around their yard. You could always put your lights on a motion sensor as well I guess. You can google for outdoor residential lighting that minimizes light pollution. Check out a few astronomy forums, there are plenty of militant anti-light folks there that could advise you as well.
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:58AM (#44361677) Homepage

    Use lenses and reflectors to make sure the light does not go anywhere but where you want it to. Very easy to do, but not the cheapest thing to do. Most people care about cheap not correct.

    Once you stop being cheap and design your outdoor lighting correctly, all these problems go away.

  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @12:01PM (#44361715) Homepage Journal

    Light fixtures that shine the light where you want it (typically down) and block it from shining where it's not needed. Many communities that have building codes are requiring these where people can still see the stars at night.

    They can be used in combination with motion sensors or stand-alone.

    But if you live in one of those communities where everybody has a spotlight on the front of their McMansion to show the stone façade work off to passers-by ... well, some things just can't be fixed.

  • Be coherent (Score:4, Funny)

    by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @12:03PM (#44361739) Homepage Journal
    Using a laser you will light exactly the point you need
  • The real problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kimvette ( 919543 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @12:11PM (#44361865) Homepage Journal

    The real problem with outdoor lighting is that fixtures are installed incorrectly probably 99% of the time. is there ANY reason that >50% of the light escaping the fixture should be going skyward? Aim the things properly and > 90% of the light pollution problem will go away (what remains is incidental reflection from the ground or scattering by water vapor). I have been in well-lighted gated communities where careful design went into outdoor lighting, and despite the ground being well lit, you still get a great view of the sky.

    I am finishing a move to Lee, NH and in my backyard I can see the Milky Way very clearly, and for the first time I can actually spot the Andromeda Galaxy clearly without resorted to averted viewing.

    Near me I have two NASCAR tracks and one drag track nearby (Lee Speedway, Star Speedway, and one New England Dragway). Lee Speedway is a short jog through the woods and Friday nights, sky viewing is crap; driving by I checked out the lights, and they're aimed at about a 30 angle, throwing 70%+ of the light up to the sky. I don't mind the noise at all from the track, but the light pollution is very annoying, because when those stupid lights are on I can't see much more in the sky than I can see in Boston. The problem can be solved very easily by aiming the lights correctly. It would still create a light dome from reflected and refracted light, but it would be very minimal.

    Most of the problem is due to installer incompetence. There is no reason - no need for these lights to not be aimed properly. In fact, IMHO, it should be part of NEC to require outdoor lighting to be aimed as well as wired and sealed properly.

  • by Simon Brooke ( 45012 ) <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @12:13PM (#44361889) Homepage Journal

    I live in a wood in Scotland three miles from the nearest streetlight, half a mile from the nearest other house. I don't have any exterior lights, because I don't need them. There's no more than two nights a year when it's murky enough - usually because of fog - to need a torch. The human eye is extremely good at adapting to low light, if you give yourself a couple of minutes to adjust. And out of doors, on planet Earth, it is literally never dark.

    Starlight is a free natural service offered you by the planet which doesn't run up your energy bill or cause light pollution. Use it.

  • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @01:01PM (#44362535) Journal

    First off, practically all outdoor lighting SHOULD be low-pressure sodium. It's the most efficient you can get, it has a narrow spectrum that won't affect astronomy, and the amber tint doesn't harm your night vision nearly as much as white light.

    Secondly, as other have said, aim it all properly. You want to light up your walkway, fine, focus on that area with the minimum light you need, and keep the rest dark if possible. With lights always installed above your head, omnidirectionality doesn't make any sense, as about 80% of that light will be shining off into the sky where it's useless and causes that light pollution.

  • by torklugnutz ( 212328 ) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @05:00PM (#44365187) Homepage

    I live in a 1960's ranch house. I used LED motion lights in my back yard and LED rope lights under the eaves of my house up front. The City of Las Vegas recently replaced the HPS lights with LED, so the amount of light pollution hitting my yard is now negligible. By hiding the LED's behind the eaves, they are not visible from most viewing angles. The soft yellow glow from my walls is enough to light up my yard, but not enough to attract bugs. The light washing down onto the windows of the house is enough to produce a pleasing night light inside, and the glowing walls outside make it harder to tell which rooms have lights on inside. I had to run about 150' of the lights. Very satisfied. I got them at Costco.

    I also purchased LED motion lights. These were a little obnoxious and directional, so I pointed them up into the eaves to bounce and soften the light. Much less annoying for the neighbor who's bedroom window my lights hit.

  • Begin with passive infrared (PIR) sensors and when they is triggered, enable your narrowly-focused pulsed-infrared laser illumination system so your cameras can get a high res look at what triggered the PIR. Your image recognizer will then compare with previous captures to determine whether the movement was caused by a squirrel, blowing leaves, or a band of Ninjas. If it is Ninjas, turn on the tri-color visible laser illumination system. Use an intensity capable of seeing or burning through the black Ninja clothing so that a good color photograph can be captured and sent to your local rent-a-cop or SWAT team. [slashdot.org] Optional spectrometer will log the absorption lines of the vaporized Ninja clothing to see if they show any traces of drugs or explosives. Your visible-light lasers will be polarized and pulsed in a pseudo-random NRZ pattern so that the synchronized Kerr cells in your own bedroom window can keep out the glare while allowing you to enjoy the beauty of a starry night sky. The visible laser wavelengths will be selected so that a multi-layer interference filter can be installed on each of your neighbor's windows in order to block the light.

"It takes all sorts of in & out-door schooling to get adapted to my kind of fooling" - R. Frost