Dark Sky Lighting – What it Is and How it Benefits Wildlife and Humans


Dark sky lighting, or outdoor lighting minimizing the excessive glare and up-lighting associated with conventional light fixtures, is revolutionizing the way we think about how we light the night sky. It turns out that there are some significant advantages of choosing outdoor lighting that will improve the nighttime surroundings, including benefits for the environment, home energy consumption, the night sky itself, all animals whether nocturnal or not. Dark sky compliant lighting can enhance your home’s beauty and security, while contributing to lessening and maybe someday eliminating light pollution.

Dark sky lighting equals better nighttime viewing

dark sky lighting - US at night from space The most obvious improvement won by installing Dark Sky lighting is to the night sky vista. Astronomers, both professional and amateur stargazers, are concerned about light pollution and are working to turn down the glare that’s blocking their view of the starry skies above. It’s become a serious enough issue to warrant the creation of the International Dark Sky Association which works to reduce the adverse effects of light pollution around the world.

You see, the more light we shine up into the sky, the harder it is to see the stars and other astronomical phenomenon. Although much of the light we shine upwards gets sent into space, some of it is reflected back down to earth due to dust and water droplets in our atmosphere. That’s why astronomers throw their telescopes in the back of their vehicles and head out of town when they want to get a good look at something in the heavens.

Before the invention of electric lights, night-light pollution was minimal, giving ancient sky-gazers a clear, undiminished view of the evening constellations. Today, however, it’s a different story. To get an idea of the magnitude of the problem, consider the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale which measures the visibility of the stars. It tells us how well we’ll be able to see when we lift our eyes skyward—the lower the Class rating on the nine-point scale the more we can see.

Unfortunately, today’s American cities are blanketed with light pollution, placing the average city somewhere between 5 and 7 on the scale. If this trend continues, soon we many no longer be able to admire the beauty of the night skies around us at all.

This is where Dark Sky Compliant lighting comes in. Rather than shining light into your neighbor’s windows or out randomly into the sky, Dark Sky light fixtures focus light directly onto the ground instead of spraying it up and all around.

Dark sky lighting equals help for night travelers

But those studying the stars aren’t the only ones to suffer under the glare of artificial light. Wildlife of all types have been shown to be negatively affected by overbearing nighttime lights—birds, insects, mammals, and even sea creatures endure hardships when we’re wasteful with our outdoor illumination. There are several reasons for these troubling problems:

  • dark sky lighting - Crescent moon and starsBirds have been known to become confused by building lights—they confuse them with the moon. They fly toward the lights as they would fly toward the moon in the wild, which often leads them to collide into buildings.
  • A variety of sea turtle species lay their eggs in coastal sands, but have been known to avoid beaches that are well-lit. This could be contributing the sharp decline in turtle populations around the world.
  • Night-flying bats that hunt insects around lights may make themselves vulnerable to predators like owls by hovering in open spaces away from the protection of vegetation.
  • Artificial outdoor lighting have been shown to discourage mammals from taking their normal migratory routes, which can result in problems in finding food and heading to mating grounds.
  • Frogs have difficulty foraging, reproducing, and conducting regular social activities in highly-illuminated areas.
  • Insects like moths and fireflies may also suffer, since artificial lights have been shown to disrupt their natural mating, feeding, nocturnal vision, and other highly-evolved instincts that protect them and encourage their survival.

These are just some of the examples of how wildlife are negatively affected by wasteful, misdirected lighting, and as we continue to encroach on wild spaces, these problems will intensify. Naturally, we all want to preserve the earth’s wild creatures. Dark Sky lighting is one way we can help.

Dark sky lighting equals heightened home security

Most home owners will also be interested to know that Dark Sky Compliant lighting can enhance their home’s security. Perhaps you’re like most people, assuming that it’s best to over-illuminate in order to see potential threats to you and your family’s safety, but you’d be wrong.

Consider that although our cities are brighter than they’ve ever been, crime rates are higher, too. Interestingly, most home break-ins occur during the day when the sun’s at its brightest. Studies have been done to prove that more light doesn’t equal better crime-prevention. In fact, lighting can be beneficial for perpetrators of violent acts.

So, why doesn’t lighting strengthen your home’s security? It has to do more with the quality of light than the actual amount of light. Here’s why:

  • Excessive light often results in unnecessary glare. If you’ve ever experienced the shock of an over-illuminated space, you’re familiar with the discomfort and disorientation that accompanies being struck in the eye with wasted lighting. Glare can distract you and may degrade the overall visibility of your home’s outdoor space.
  • Criminals use the cover of darkness to scope out their potential targets. Uneven lighting provides the perfect combination of shadows and light for surveillance by providing pockets of unlit areas where intruders can hide. Dark Sky lighting can help you provide a uniform amount of light throughout your yard without spilling light onto your neighbor’s deck or bedroom window.

Of course, we’d never suggest that you shouldn’t have adequate nighttime illumination, but we do want to drive home the point that wasteful light only proves to hike up your energy bill and annoy your neighbors, and it may contribute to the possibility of a future crime occurring in your neighborhood. Choosing strategically-placed, focused lighting like that which can be provided by Dark Sky fixtures is one way to enhance the feeling of safety within your own space.

Dark sky lighting equals reduced energy consumption

What’s more, anyone can achieve significant energy savings with efficient outdoor lighting. Dark Sky lighting is particularly helpful in this area since it focuses light where it’s required rather than wasting energy to shine where light it is not needed. By focusing the light downward in specific areas instead of indiscriminately into outer space, Dark Sky lighting ensures you get concentrated illumination only where necessary.

Another energy saving feature available with many Dark Sky lighting fixtures are timers, both simple and complex. The most basic timer will turn your outdoor lights on and off at the same time every day, or on a 7-day sequence. More advanced fixtures have photo sensors that measure ambient lighting, making sure your outdoor lights only come on when sunlight is low.

Motion sensors are another great way to cut energy consumption. Many Dark Sky lights have the option of being controlled by motion sensors that measure movement in the area, turning lights on when someone draws near, and then letting the light switch off after a specified period of time.

The good news is that reduced energy consumption will also shrink your carbon footprint and help to keep noxious fumes from coal plants (our main source of electricity) out of our atmosphere. And it’ll increase our country’s security as it reduces our dependence on foreign oil supplies.

Dark sky lighting equals lower electric bills

Of course, any time you can save energy, you’ll be cutting your power bill, too. Did you know that nationwide, it is estimated that we waste $1.5 billion worth of light every year! This is due to the huge quantities of light that we send upwards where it’s not needed. Take, for example, the city of San Diego. They recently retrofitted their outdoor light fixtures with full cut-off lighting, and although it took them three years to make back the money they spent on the job (a short return on investment, really), they’re now saving $3 million every year in energy costs.

Now, we realize that you’re not spending billions or even millions on lighting, but just remember that unnecessary light is a drain on your pocketbook, too, even if a smaller drain than that experienced by cities and countries. By using specifically-focused, full cut-off outdoor lighting fixtures, the number of lights you require decreases and so do your energy bills.

So, instead of scattering your yard with loads of lighting fixtures, you can cut back on the number you need throughout the space. And more than likely, because of the ability of these fixtures to focus your lighting downward, you’ll need smaller bulbs, too. All of this adds up to lower energy bills and savings in your pocket that increase every year, especially as energy prices rise with each passing month.

Finding the perfect Dark Sky Lighting fixtures for your home

Dark Sky Compliant light fixtures send light where it needs to be and minimize secondary illumination. As we’ve shown, choosing fixtures that work for you by saving electricity and reducing extraneous glare and light pollution will help you to decreased your energy bills, make are night skies a little darker, while protecting wildlife from unnecessary light clutter and pollution.

Otherwise, there are several key features built into night-friendly fixtures you can look for. In a nutshell, you’ll want to check for the following distinctive dark sky features.

  1. Most fixtures are made with solid, opaque top- and side-covers which ensure light is not sent skyward or sideways.
  2. Some Dark Sky fixtures use a reflector located in the inside top of the casing that reflects light downward.
  3. Flat- rather than rounded-lenses at the fixture’s base help to reduce glare and light spillage.

If you’ve already purchased outdoor lighting and don’t relish the thought of replacing every fixture on your home’s exterior, you may want to consider retrofitting with light shields. These cylindrical enclosures cover the top and sides of your fixture to cut up-lighting. They come in a variety of shapes and colors, and can usually be matched nicely to your existing fixtures to provide a seamless look to your home’s exterior.