We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

Outdoor Lighting

Ouray County, the pretty little county where we live in western Colorado, has a Dark Skies law. It was passed to preserve our ability to enjoy the stars in all of their twinkling glory. It's a good concept, though the law is a bit more stringent than we would like. It really hampered our outdoor lighting options.

As a kid I enjoyed lying out at night and watching the stars, spotting the different constellations, and wondering what lay beyond the Milky Way. As I grew, so did the light pollution. Now, where we lived in Boulder wasn't so light polluted that we couldn't see the stars -- many a meteor shower was enjoyed in our backyard. Our neighborhood had few street lights so we enjoyed dark-ish skies.

The first time we camped on our land, soon to become our home, we arrived as it was starting to drizzle. But by the time we crawled into bed the overhead skies were twinkling with stars.....and I saw the Milky Way -- even without my contacts -- for the first time in I don't know how long. It was magnificent! (And I make sure I look for it every clear night to this day.) We vowed to preserve the level of darkness required to see the heavens that clearly.

When the yurt went up, so did a lamppost, with 25 watt bulb, so we could find the keyhole at night. Little did we know at the time that generally that kind of lighting fixture wouldn't work because it casts too much light; the 25W bulb is what saved it.

Fortunately the lights that worked for our county's dark sky law were lights we liked. The requirement is that light must be directed down, not being allowed to spread out much. Ideally the glass would also be opaque so that little light would escape outward. It was specific enough our lighting store had specific lighting fixtures available for Ouray County residents.

Outdoor Lighting Fixtures
Allowable Lighting
Lighting fixture allowed with dark-sky laws
Disallowed Lighting
Disallowed lighting fixture for dark-sky law

We chose a wall light with either translucent glass or a cone that directed the light down for the back garage door, patio door, deck, front garage door, and front porch. Then we inserted 40W compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). We had enough light to see, but not so much as to impose on our neighbors (who can't readily even see our house).

As an aside, our electrician was aghast that we'd use CFL bulbs in our outdoor lights. He was adamant they wouldn't work in the winter. Even when we told him we had successfully used them outdoors for years, even in the winter, he shook his head and said we'd be sorry and changing the bulbs that very winter. I have heard others say that CFLs won't work in cold weather, but that old-wives tale is left over from the early days of CFLs when they had magnetic ballasts which don't work well in freezing temperatures. Most CFLs have electronic ballasts today and light even in -20F weather. I'll admit they are dim at first, but they glow up fairly quickly.

Our builder loved recessed lighting fixtures. If he'd had his way, that's probably the only kind of lighting he would have put into our house. For the porch, deck, and carport he wasn't sure we could have the can lights because of the dark sky law. The building department gave him a thumb's up since we effectively had a skirt around those spaces, limiting the amount of light that was cast out from the cans. We added a few to our purchase.

We had wanted to put spot lights up so we could quickly light up the yard in case of intruder -- the four legged kind is what we were most intrigued by. The law said no way, even if they weren't on motion sensors and only manual. Guests and wildlife were expected to traverse the spaces around the house without electric lighting assistance.

What got me was they stopped the law short of saying people had to install some kind of window covering to prevent indoor lights from shining out and lighting the surrounding area, thus impeding twinkling stars from being enjoyed as much. But, they didn't go there.

Because of the dark sky law we haven't installed any landscape lighting since the landscape lights would clearly violate the law. I guess it's a good thing lighting our landscape features isn't a priority for us.

Next question: What about solar lights? We have been of mixed mind through the years. The wattage is low enough the law would allow for them. But we really do like our dark yard, and I felt the darkness was a bit more protection for our mousers. We finally caved when WalMart had a solar light for sale that fit our budget and tastes. I placed them along the path from the house to the yurt so guests wouldn't stumble on the uneven ground. Half of them died before the summer was out, so we kept the working ones marking the critical "corners", and went back to enjoying the almost-absolute darkness.

The greenhouse does have a line of solar lights marking the path from the house to the greenhouse door. In the summer they are totally unnecessary because the fluorescent grow lights shine out, lighting my way. Almost too much! But in the winter, when the shutters have covered the windows, the solar lights are great.

Our outdoor lighting scheme includes wall lights and recessed lighting with CFLs, and solar lights. We feel safe, can find things when we drop them at night, and enjoy star viewing. What more could we want?

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