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Bright ideas for lighting the porch

Sun., Nov. 7, 2010

The glow of a porch light does more than light up the night, providing safety and security. It’s a decorative element that adds to your home’s look.

And porch lights are evolving to reflect energy efficiency and light pollution concerns.

Here’s what the experts have to say about the latest in porch lights:

Consider alternatives to clear glass. Textured glass, such as seeded, etched or rippled, along with opaque and colored glass, are becoming more popular, says Bob Wilson of Wilson Lighting in Overland Park, Kan.

“Texture adds to the look and feel of the fixture,” he says, and helps camouflage energy-efficient CFL bulbs and reduces glare. Amber light gives a warm glow.

Older eyes become more sensitive, and instead of providing safety, glare from a porch light can be detrimental when trying to navigate steps, says Jeff Dross, senior product manager at Cleveland-based manufacturer Kichler Lighting.

Go for energy efficiency. Easiest to do? Replace your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps.

“CFLs are generally very good until extreme cold hits with temperatures consistently at zero,” Dross says.

He finds exterior lighting a great place to use fluorescents, which offer the most light for your buck.

Keep the skies dark. The dark sky movement started a decade ago in western states to fight light pollution.

“There’s a whole shift in how we light the out of doors,” says Tom Patterson, director of product development at Hinkley Lighting in Cleveland.

Instead of light leaking up and horizontally, the light from porch lights shines down, illuminating where you’re walking. The International Dark Sky Association even gives its seal of approval to lights that pass muster.

“You can do with one-third of wattage used,” Patterson says. “Tie it in with fluorescent, and the fixture is even more efficient while still safe and effective.”

Look for different metals. Porch lights were once polished brass, but that finish fails to weather well in some climates.

Aluminum has become a popular choice, and it can be painted different colors. Dross says he’s seeing more neutral-tone grays.

Other popular metals are nickel and brushed nickel, stainless steel and dark bronze.

Size it up. The scale of the fixture is important, says Shirley Allen, owner of the Light Shop in Kansas City, Mo. “

Don’t under-size. You need a grown-up fixture,” she says.

Here are the rules of thumb: For a single lantern, choose one that’s one-third the door height. For two lanterns, choose fixtures that are around one-fourth the height of the door.

Your lanterns will look about half of their size when viewed from 50 feet away, so what may seem enormous in the showroom will appear just right from the street. Remember, too, that although house size peaked in 2007, interior ceiling heights have increased, adding to the height of the home.

Coupled with an oversized front door, that additional height calls for proportionately larger porch lights, says Dross. Mount the lanterns 66 inches above the door’s threshold.

The LED lowdown: LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, are probably the bulb of the future. While some LED fixtures are available, the price is still prohibitive for many, Dross says.

Because LEDs require special fixtures, the bulb and fixture are thrown away once the bulb burns out (which can take years). Allen worries about the landfill space they’ll use.

Tags: lights, porch

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