The Phases of Outdoor Lighting

September 26, 2018

If you looked outside during the evening on September 24th, the sky may have looked oddly bright. That’s because there was a full moon. However, it wasn’t just any full moon, but instead a rather special one: the Harvest Moon.

Due to orbital patterns, the moon typically rises around 50 minutes later each day; however, for days after the Harvest Moon, the moon rises at nearly the same time – right after sunset – for several consecutive days. So why is this special occurrence referred to as the Harvest Moon? Its name, which dates back to the 18th century, was earned because this moon provided more light to farmers during a time of year when hours of sunlight were diminishing, in turn extending the amount of time that could be spent outdoors reaping the fall harvest.

Today, as a result of inventions in outdoor lighting, our time spent outside is not as dependent on patterns of natural light. Let’s take a look at how outdoor lighting has evolved since the 18th century, plus pick up some tips from the Sponsors of Mass Save® – including Cape Light Compact, Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil – for efficiently and responsibly illuminating outdoor spaces around your home.

From Starlight to ENERGY STAR®

It wasn’t until the late 1700s that artificial outdoor lighting first appeared, originating with gas lamps. And it wasn’t until nearly a century later, in the late 1800s, that electric lighting made its debut. Thanks largely to Thomas Edison, incandescent bulbs soon began lighting the city streets. It was only in the 1900s that fluorescent bulbs appeared and, later in the 20th century, the first LED bulbs. Today, in the 21st century, LED bulbs are commonly used to light outdoor spaces across homes, businesses, and communities.

Since their invention in the mid-1900s, LED technology has continued to progress. Here are three main ways in which LED bulbs have improved:

  1. They’ve become longer-lasting and more efficient. Today’s ENERGY STAR® certified LEDs can last more than 20 years, meaning you won’t have to deal with replacing burnt-out bulbs located in hard-to-reach places. Longer-lasting LEDs also mean less time and money spent purchasing new bulbs and fewer bulbs ending up in landfills. In addition, these bulbs use up to 90% less energy than their incandescent counterparts. Less energy means more savings in both dollars and kilowatt-hours!

  2. They can withstand even the harshest New England weather. LED bulbs that are designed for outdoor use will be labeled as “wet-rated” or “damp-rated” on the package. While the wet-rated LEDs can be used in fixtures fully exposed to the elements, such as those often found along decks, walkways, or driveways, the damp-rated LEDs are best for bulbs that won’t receive such direct exposure, such as covered porch or patio lights. These attributes help make LEDs the best choice for seasonal New England.

  3. They come in a variety of shapes and styles. Today we rely on outdoor lighting for everything from providing safety, by lighting up walkways and porches, to adding comfort and functionality, by illuminating spaces for entertaining like grilling patios and decks. Fortunately, outdoor LEDs now come in a variety of styles, color temperatures, and brightness levels, making it easier to find a bulb that matches your outdoor lighting needs – not only for these unseasonably warm September evenings, but all year long. Whether you’re looking for a candle LED bulb for your outdoor lantern, a bright reflector bulb to light up your driveway, or a recessed bulb to brighten your entryway, you can be sure to find an ENERGY STAR certified LED that does the job. Plus, the Sponsors of Mass Save provide discounts on these bulbs, which you can find at local retailers across the state.

Preventing Outdoor Light Pollution

While relying on artificial outdoor lighting has added safety and convenience to our lives, it has also created a new challenge: outdoor light pollution. This phenomenon results from lights that are excessively bright or are spilling onto areas where the light is not required. Because animals (including humans!) depend on the natural patterns of light and dark to regulate important processes, such as sleep, it’s important to minimize this light pollution.

While the best way to do so is to use outdoor lighting only when needed, another way to do so is to use motion detectors and timers to ensure lights are not left on when not in use. Many outdoor LED fixtures come with motion sensors, as well as daylight sensors – meaning they’ll turn off automatically when sunlight provides ample light.

This means that – although our decision to spend time outdoors at night no longer depends on the orbit of the moon – it’s still worth relying on natural light when possible and turning to energy-efficient, high performance LEDs when supplemental light is needed. So, if on September 24th you were fortunate enough to witness the Harvest Moon, we hope you were able to take a moment to enjoy the arrival of autumn under just the moonlight.

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