Monday, March 14, 2016

Light Pollution

     We have considerate neighbors—as a rule. They're quiet with no blaring TVs or stereos, or noisy cars, etc. and they generally keep their conversations at moderate levels. But one area where they're deficient is in their use of outdoor lights at night.
     Ample studies suggest that a good night's rest depends in part on quality of darkness, in general the darker the better. Our neighborhood was dark when we first moved in about six years ago. We had to stumble around when we awoke in the middle of nights to use the restroom. Then one house after another added or turned on outdoor lights, whether in the garage, porch, or driveway—I take it for security reasons because rumors spread of nearby break-ins and a book I read long ago said that if you don't mind the cost of electricity, keep outdoor floodlights on all night because that deters potential prowlers who don't want to be seen.
     I understand the concern of owners not wanting their cars or unsecured outdoor belongings stolen or even possible break-ins at night. But they should be considerate about it. They shouldn't use omnidirectional lights that shine in all directions or unidirectional floodlamps directed outward from their premises and leave it to neighbors to somehow block light from their bedrooms at night the best they can because realistically, it's impossible to do a thorough job of it without also blocking out ventilation. For whatever allows fresh air in also allows light to seep in, through, or around curtains, blinds, or even black-out drapes (like those found in hotels). And no one should be forced to suffer stuffy rooms (in essence rooms with boarded up windows) to create a nice lightless bedroom environment. (For the simplest demonstration of how difficult it is to seal out light, turn on the overhead light in a room. Step outside the house at night and if the room is not utterly dark, then light from the outside can just as easily seep in.)
     For security-conscious owners, the solution's simple: use motion detectors that turn on lights only when someone approaches and turns off automatically in a couple minutes or so. My landlord has one of these floodlamps right outside our bedroom. It has worked perfectly and the light has never been a problem for us, only triggering inappropriately on rare occasion due to a lizard or large insect on or by the sensor or high winds that cause it to vibrate.
     Or, shield all omnidirectional lights from casting direct light toward neighbors' premises. A simple sheet of cardboard, tin, or sturdy aluminum would do. I saw this done at a parking garage attached to our old apartment. The garage's pay-booth was located next to a bright hanging light bulb and a 6 inch square piece of cardboard was taped onto the hanging fixture a few inches from the bulb to shield the bulb's light from casting directly into the booth—it must have been bothering at least one of the attendants, its glare was so harsh.
     Or, point all unidirectional lights such as floodlamps directly toward the owner's house/property. This could be done by mounting on poles or a wall at the owner's property line and pointing inward. Many commercial businesses in industrial areas utilize this or similar types of strategic lighting techniques.
     In short, neighbors (or on-premises tenants) shouldn't have to suffer for the apprehensions of owners. It's like the old car alarm syndrome when those things used to go off all-too-often due to sensors set too sensitively that you'd hear them blaring whenever the wind picked up or a truck rumbled by. (Thank God we don't have that problem in our neighborhood.)
     I feel for my kids in particular since their bedrooms are far from dark as there's now a street light on all night on that side of the house. On the plus side, their side gets the best ventilation.  On the minus side, the drapes we put up (just bedsheets and beach towels) just don't seal out the light very well. The drapes they had did a slightly better job, but they got old, torn, and ratty, so we took them down. Since we rent, I don't feel like redoing the drapes on our own, or complain to the landlord who might raise rent even higher next contract year. Of course the kids don't seem to mind, but having grown up in Hilo, I know the beauty of pure darkness and still enjoy it and feel so well rested whenever we go back for visits. Shouldn't anyone who desires such darkness be allowed the option by considerate neighbors?

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