Dark Sky Lighting Becoming More Popular
April 4, 2012 - 4:02pm

The movement to reduce unsightly and potentially dangerous light pollution in the night sky has been a concern for folks on the East and West coasts for years. Ecologists and concerned community members blame the glaring effects of illumination for causing stress to wildlife, specifically sea turtles, that breed along the coastlines.

“If you say ‘dark sky,’ I think that’s [a foreign term] to most people,” says Dana Pritchard, a partner at Charleston Lighting and Interiors in Charleston, SC. “But if you tell them you’re protecting the turtles, they’re receptive to that.”

Of course, the plight of the sea turtles is more of a concern for people living in coastal South Carolina than in Kansas. But, due to other effects of improperly shielded lighting, such as wasted energy, infringement on neighbors’ property and a destroyed view of the night sky, the campaign against urban glow has begun to work its way inland—albeit slowly.

The International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to perserving the nighttime environment, is urging lighting showrooms to take proactive measures to put a stop to the pervasive problem. The challenge, according to Peter Strasser, Technical Adviser to the International Dark-Sky Association, is that both retailers and consumers are confused because of what they see and don’t see on the market.            

“Here I am in Tucson,” Strasser says. “You go to Home Depot or Lowe’s, and they carry these ‘glare bombs,’ as we call them. They’re dusk-to-dawn things, which are not permitted in [our area,] but they sell them [anyway].”

Even though the dark-sky issue is increasingly on people’s radars, there isn’t a set of standards governing product design. Dark-sky codes and regulations differ from city to city, and in some cases, from neighborhood to neighborhood. International Dark-Sky Association does have a seal of approval, which it awards to lighting manufacturers’ products that meet its standards, and the organization offers a list of approved products on its Web site (www.darksky.org). Unfortunately, despite the efforts of the International Dark-Sky Association, few lighting showrooms have heard of the organization.                        

“Quite honestly, [dark-sky-friendly product] is new,” Strasser says. “Until six months ago, there wasn’t much offered.”

As local ordinances and even some homeowners’ associations drive demand for nighttime-friendly illumination, the movement’s numbers are growing. Manufacturers, including Thomas Lighting, Hubbardton Forge and Minka, have recently introduced dark-sky outdoor lines in which the light source is completely shielded, reducing glare. Lighting showrooms are also jumping on board, sourcing and marketing their night-sky-friendly offerings in a serious way.

“Our outside salespeople are always dealing with builders, and the builders are limited as to how many lumens per square foot they’re allowed to have and how many [lights] have to be covered,” says Ralph Ormsby, Vice President of Sales at Sun Lighting in Tucson, AZ. “We’re close to the Kitt Peak National Observatory, and we also have the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and our local airport, [so glare is a serious problem.]”

To showcase its dark-sky product, Sun Lighting installed a special display featuring its six lines of dark-sky-approved fixtures. Such products also appear in the company’s advertising efforts. For the most part, however, building awareness comes down to educating your salesforce, as well as your customers, and it grows by word-of-mouth.

“The builder is telling designers and homeowners to go to Sun Lighting and look at the dark-sky section,” Orsmby says. “We take them right to it when they come in.”

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