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Adding outdoor lighting

Dear Jim: I want to add outdoor security lighting at my home. I want to do it in the most efficient manner and don't want to add significantly to night light pollution. What do you recommend?

-- Paul

Dear Paul: Before you consider adding outdoor lighting, first make other security improvements to your home. These security improvements include making sure your window latches lock securely, installing new bump-resistance door deadbolts and installing a monitored alarm system.

Even with adequate outdoor lighting at your home, if a thief can get a door or window open in less than a minute, the lighting likely will not deter him. Imagine if you saw a person at a front door and they could open it in 30 seconds, you would just assume they had a key and belonged there.

Once you have made the security improvements and you feel the perimeter of your home is relatively secure, start to plan your security lighting. Do an outdoor walk-around inspection of your house at night to see where some security lighting might be required. Often there is enough brightness from a neighbor's outdoor lighting to make a suspect area at your home safe.

Since outdoor lighting uses a tremendous amount of electricity, prioritize the areas where you think lighting might be needed. Installing just two 150-watt security lights and keeping them on all night can increase your electric bills by more than $100 per year. When you include light fixture, installation and bulb replacement expenses, the overall cost is substantial.

It is important to use the fewest and least brightness needed to minimize nighttime light pollution. Bright lights create a problem for wildlife and can be annoying to neighbors. There is an excessively bright floodlight at a doctor's office 300 yards from my house which shines in my bedroom window. If you install a floodlight, mount a directional light shield over it.

Wherever there is access to the sun, install solar-powered motion-sensing floodlights. These operate for free and you can install them yourself. If the light senses someone and comes on, they assume you heard them and turned on the light. A light coming on is also more effective at catching a neighbor's attention when you are not home.

If you install standard 120-volt lighting, use efficient CFL's (compact fluorescent lights) wherever possible. These use only one-quarter as much electricity as standard incandescent bulbs and last many times longer.

Another super-efficient option is using LED (light emitting diode) outdoor lighting. Its light output is limited and it is directional so it is best to light a specific door or dark spot. To light a larger area, LPS (low-pressure sodium) fixtures are very efficient. The light quality is monochromatic (yellowish) and the fixture itself is fairly expensive.

The following companies offer efficient outdoor lighting: Energy Focus, (800) 327-7877, www.energyfocusinc.com; Hadco, (800) 331-4185, www.hadcolighting.com; Idaho Wood, (800) 635-1100, www.idahowood.com; Kim Lighting, (626) 968-5666, www.kimlighting.com: and Wave Lighting, (877) 870-9283, www.wavelightingusa.com.

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