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How to Reduce Light Pollution in Your Own Backyard

By Falon Mihalic, Houzz

Lights in the landscape create light pollution that adversely affects nocturnal animals and migratory birds. Many animals rely on darkness as part of their habitat and behavior, and lights at night can disrupt their natural cycles. A concept called dark sky lighting is a movement to reduce light pollution produced by cities in order to protect wildlife and to create more visible stars in the night sky. You can play a part in reducing light pollution by using recommended fixtures for wildlife friendliness and designing your lighting with care.

Landscape Lighting 1
Turnquist Design, original photo on Houzz

1. Cast light downward.

A major culprit of light pollution is lights that are unnecessarily pointed upward — called uplighting — to illuminate trees and buildings. This sends light pollution directly into trees and sky.

A more efficient and environmentally sensitive way to light the landscape is with downlighting. Downlights cast light from above to below. In the image here, light fixtures are positioned in the roof overhang and cast light down onto the building’s facade.

Landscape Lighting 2
CWB Architects, original photo on Houzz

2. Use fixtures that are designed to decrease light pollution.

This image shows another type of downlight fixture. The light is spread onto the wall and patio below. Additionally, these lights are well-placed because they are under the porch overhang, which helps prevent more light from escaping into the sky.

Fixtures with hoods and shields help to direct light onto the surfaces where it’s needed and to eliminate light from being cast where it’s not necessary.

Landscape Lighting 3
MGA Renovations, original photo on Houzz

3. Reduce glare.

Glare is simply light that is too bright or strong to be visually pleasing. Glare is caused by high-voltage lights, improperly angled lights and lights without shields. All of these can be addressed by using lights with lower voltage and intensity, angling lights downward instead of out into a person’s eye level and shielding lights to have a more focused light cast.

Related: Give Your Porch a Warm, Welcoming Glow

Landscape Lighting 4
Paul English Landscaping, original photo on Houzz

4. Eliminate wasteful lights.

Spotlights and uplights are some of the most harmful light sources around the home because they are often high-glare, intense lights that cast a very broad light. Look at your current lights to see if they can be changed to more wildlife-friendly fixtures or eliminated altogether. In the image here, an outdoor deck area is subtly lighted with just a few downcast fixtures onto the garden beds and garden walls.

Landscape Lighting 5
Daniel Marshall Architect, original photo on Houzz

5. Light selectively.

Be mindful of how you are lighting your landscape. Light with intention by selecting only the most important parts of the landscape to illuminate. Take it a step further by having those lights set on a timer or motion sensor so that they are only on when needed.

Landscape Lighting 6
Nick Leith-Smith Architecture + Design, original photo on Houzz

6. Use warm light hues.

Opt for warm-colored lights instead of cool colors. Warm light tones in the pink-orange spectrum are better for nocturnal animals than lights in the cool or blue tone. Warm lights, as opposed to cool ones, also help to decrease sky glow — an effect seen in cities where the halo of light from the urban area prevents us from seeing any stars. Low-pressure sodium lights are the best to use for sensitive areas with sea turtles or other wildlife that are easily disrupted by light pollution. 

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