Over the last few years, energy legislation coupled with consumers’ growing concerns about conservation and the future of the country’s oil supply have spurred the development of myriad new decorative styles of energy-wise illumination. Similarly, an inundation of community ordinances (predominantly in the Southwest and on the East Coast) regulating outdoor lighting have prompted the industry to take a more critical look at product that seeks to protect urban sprawl’s latest victim: the night sky.
Astronomers were among the first to vocalize concerns about urban glow, the dome of light that spills out into the atmosphere at night over urban areas, obscuring the view of the starlit sky.
In 1988, a pair of astronomers founded the International Dark-Sky Assn. (IDA), an organization dedicated to protecting the heritage of dark skies. Today, the IDA has about 11,000 members in 75 different countries and has positioned itself at the forefront of the movement to draw attention to the light pollution issue and to stop its adverse effects by educating the population about good lighting solutions.
“The movement began when astronomers began seeing the effects of too much light reflecting up into the atmosphere,” says Robert Gent, Vice President of the IDA Board of Directors. “But the issue has grown far beyond light pollution for people who like to look at the stars.”
According to the IDA, wasted light not only destroys the view of the night sky, but it also hinders drivers’ visibility, infringes on neighbors’ private property, wastes energy and causes stress to wildlife. The organization is also exploring medical studies that link light pollution to serious health problems, such as cancer.
As a result of its efforts, the IDA has helped persuade communities to adopt local ordinances regulating the use of nighttime light, including restrictions on the direction of light, as well as on the amount of light that can be emitted per space. As more communities pass similar rulings, the lighting industry is faced with challenges from all directions. Manufacturers must meet the needs of customers by creating decorative outdoor products that adhere to the new standards. In dark-sky areas, showrooms are flooded with demand for product that is both compliant with the codes and aesthetically appealing—inventory that, up to now, has been scarce.
“Builders and contractors have to comply, and we’re losing money in sales because not enough manufacturers have come out with decorative outdoor lighting that’s in line with our local building codes,” says Danny Levkowitz, owner of Sun Lighting in Tucson, AZ. “As a result, our customers are turning to inexpensive ceramic fixtures or non-decorative recessed cans to meet their needs.”
Manufacturers have hinted to Levkowitz that they will have the product he so desperately needs at the January Dallas Market.
“I’m hopeful and enthusiastic about that,” Levkowitz says. “Lighting companies are just beginning to understand the need for these products.”
There are a handful of companies that have recognized the value of the dark-sky-friendly market and who are working on designs that fit the growing demand.
“We’ve had customers who have had concerns [about the dark-sky issue] since the first ordinances began emerging about four years ago,” says Jeffrey R. Dross, Product Manager at Kichler. “We always had some fixtures that just by nature of their original design were dark-sky friendly, so when our customers initially asked, we’d point to those particular products.”
As the requests continued to roll in, Kichler developed dark-sky accessories, hardware made to fit onto existing designs to modify them for dark-sky compliance.
“We slip a thin layer of aluminum behind the glass diffuser, and we’ve painted it white, so it looks like an ordinary outdoor fixture. But at night, none of the light comes through the glass, it only comes out through the bottom of the fixture,” Dross says. “We started by providing this option for three families in our 2006 catalog, and we’ve just added three more families of panels to the line. It’s allowing our customers to transfer about 50 different fixtures into dark-sky-compliant product.”
Hinkley Lighting is also addressing the dark-sky issue by adapting its current product into night-sky-friendly designs.
“We’re really seeing a need for these types of products in open, rural areas out West where people seem to be more aware of the night sky, in university areas where there’s more thought given to the environment and in the Mid-Atlantic states there seems to be a core, as well,” says Rick Wiedemer, President of Hinkley Lighting.
While some companies focus on retrofitting existing lines, still others, such as Minka, see the push for dark-sky products as an opportunity for new innovations in design. After running into the movement in Tucson, AZ, where regulations are particularly strict, Minka designed three new families, which are either fully shielded or have a full cut-off light source, meaning the bulb is hidden completely inside the fixture.
“The demand for these new products is growing dramatically,” says Tim Vislay, Product Manager at the Minka Group. “Our new designs are well-received and not just in dark-sky areas. This has really opened our eyes to the issue.”
Though showrooms struggle with procuring sufficient amounts of compliant product, manufacturers face the challenge of meeting requirements outlined in local laws that often differ. As of now, there are no concrete guidelines for determining what can and cannot be labeled a dark-sky product.
“Originally, it was a grass roots movement, and over the years it’s expanded to the point that there are many different legislations that are all called ‘Dark-Sky,’” Dross says. “It’s difficult for manufacturers to state that they have a compliant fixture because what meets standards in community A might not in community B.”
Currently, the IDA offers its IDA-Approved Dark-Sky Fixture Seal of Approval for commercial lighting applications, but the closest thing to a residential standard are the model dark-sky legislations from different areas of the country, which the organization has posted on its Web site. The models, although helpful in outlining basic requirements, leave ample room for interpretation.
“Someone needs to define what is satisfactory,” Wiedemer says. “But even then, I’m not sure communities will go for it. They are ahead of the game so far in terms of writing their own guidelines.”
In the meantime, showrooms in dark-sky-regulated areas are doing what they can to understand the local laws and educate their customers on the restrictions and the options they offer to address them.
“We give cut sheets to builders with specifications, which include what lumen count the fixture is rated for because we can only have so many lumen per acre,” Levkowitz says. “They need to know what’s been approved, what products will allow them to pass inspections and whether or not they can change things.”
And as awareness grows, showrooms continue to urge manufacturers to develop dark-sky-compliant product.
“I’ve been preaching this concept for three years, and now more and more areas are affected by dark-sky regulations,” Levkowitz says. “The more demand, the more manufacturers will have no choice but to react.”
For more information on the dark-sky issue and to see model dark-sky legislation, visit the IDA Web site at www.darksky.org.