Lighting for Outdoors

Ouray County, the pretty little county that we call home in the western part of Colorado is home to the Dark Skies law. The law was passed to protect our right to experience starry skies in all their dazzling splendor. It’s a good idea however, the law is stricter than we’d prefer. It has really limited our options for outdoor solar street lights.

As a kid , I enjoyed sleeping in my bed at night looking up at the stars, noticing the different constellations and wondering what was behind that Milky Way. As I grew older, also did the light pollution. The area we lived in within Boulder was not so dark that we couldn’t even see the stars. Many meteor showers were visible from our back yard. Our neighborhood was not dotted with streetlights, so we could enjoy the dark skies.

Our first night we stayed on our property, which was soon to be the home of our family, we arrived just as it began to rain. When we slept, the sky above was glistening filled with starry night skies and I was able to see the Milky Way — even without my contacts at first in don’t even know how long. It was amazing! (And I will keep an eye out for it each clear night until today.) We pledged to keep the amount of darkness required to see the sky clearly.

As the yurt grew it was also a lamppost that was fitted with a 25-watt bulb, so that we could see the keyhole even in the dark. We didn’t realize that at the time the type of light fixture isn’t effective because it emits too much light. The 25W bulb was what kept it going.

Fortunately , the lights that performed to fulfill our county’s dark sky law were lights that we liked. The law requires that light be directed downwards, and not be permitted to spread too widely. Ideally , the glass should be transparent so that only a small amount of light can escape outward. The glass was targeted enough that our lighting store had lighting fixtures that were available to Ouray County residents.

We picked a wall light that has transparent glass, or cone to direct the light downwards for the garage door in the back and patio door, the deck as well as the front garage door and the front porch. We then installed the 40W Compact Fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). We were able to be able to see but not so bright that it impacted our neighbors (who aren’t able to view our home).

In addition the electrician was horrified that we’d used CFL bulbs for our outdoor lighting. He was insistent that they shouldn’t perform in winter months. When we explained to him that we’d utilized them outdoors for years even in the winter, he just shook his head and told us we’d regret it and change bulbs in the winter of that year. I’ve heard other people comment that CFLs aren’t suitable for cold temperatures, but this old wives’ tale has been left from the beginning of CFLs that were equipped with magnetic ballasts, which didn’t perform well in frigid temperatures. The majority of CFLs are equipped with electronic ballasts and are light even in temperatures of -20F. They’re not exactly bright initially but they will light up pretty quickly.

Our builder was a fan of recessed lighting fixtures. If he had his way it’s likely the only lighting he’d have installed in our home. For the deck, porch and carport, He wasn’t certain that we would be able to have can lights due to the law of dark skies. The department of building approved of the porch, deck, and carport as we were able to effectively line of light around these areas and were able to limit how much light shed by the cans. We also added a few cans to our order.

We’d always planned to put some spot lights on the ground so that we could light the yard in the event of any intruders — the four-legged variety is the one we were fascinated by. The law stated that there was no way to put them up, even if they were not connected to motion sensors, and were only manually operated. Wildlife and guests were required to walk surrounding the house, without assistance from electric lighting.

What really struck me was that they cut the law, but didn’t say individuals must put up an appropriate window shade to stop indoor light from shining through and lighting the area around it which would prevent sparkling stars from being as enjoyable. However they didn’t even bother.

Due to the dark-sky law, we’ve decided to not install any lighting for our landscape since lighting of the landscape would be in violation of the law. It’s probably good that illumination of the landscape isn’t the top priority for us.

Next question: What about solar lights? We’ve had a mixed thoughts throughout the years. The wattage isn’t too high that to allow the law to allow. However, we really enjoy our dark garden and I believed that the darkness offered better for the mouse. We finally gave in when WalMart had a solar lamp available that was within our budget and taste. I put them along the pathway from the home to the yurt, so that guests would not fall over the uneven terrain. The majority of them perished before summer ended We made sure to mark the crucial “corners”, and went back to enjoying the near-complete darkness.

The greenhouse has the solar lights that mark the way between the house and the door of the greenhouse. In the summer , they’re not needed since fluorescent lights in the greenhouse shine and illuminate my path. A little too many! However, in winter in the winter, when the shutters have been put up over the windows, solar light fixtures are fantastic.

Our lighting plan for outdoor use includes wall lights as well as the recessed lighting that includes CFLs and solar lighting.