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Outdoor lighting is an important safety feature for your home or workplace. Well-lit properties are less likely to be burglarized. They are also unlikely to be the scene for accidents caused by dark pathways, where people might easily trip and fall. Outdoor lighting can also beautify a home, thus increasing its value.
Compact fluorescent lights are the perfect choice for outdoor lighting. Not only can they save you money, they are also energy efficient. Compact fluorescents have to be changed infrequently, which makes them a good choice for places where changing a bulb might be difficult. One note of caution - if you live in a cold climate, be sure to buy a compact fluorescent lamp with a cold-weather ballast.
Devices such as timers or photocells can be used to turn lights on and off at appropriate times. To save energy and money, don't burn lights all night long, except in areas with actual all-night use or with extreme security concerns. For most security purposes, motion-sensors can detect intruders and turn on lights when needed.
Special outdoor lighting fixtures can help to beautify your home or business. Illuminate pathways with small ground level moon lamps, or light your front steps or entry way with post lanterns.
When planning outdoor home lighting, make sure whatever outdoor lighting you choose doesn't light up your neighbor's yard as well as your own. Be considerate and ensure that your lights stay on your property. Good low-glare options are linear "tube lights" and fiber-optics. These lights can light the way for pedestrians without illuminating an entire area. Cut-off fixtures, shades, or highly focused low-voltage lamps are also useful in avoiding spillover.
Just as fluorescent lighting has improved in recent years, great advances have been made in high-intensity discharge - or HID - lighting. Primarily used outdoors and for large areas like streets or parking lots, there are three kinds of HID lights: mercury vapor, high-pressure sodium, and metal halide. All require ballasts, much like fluorescent lighting.
All take several minutes to warm up, so they are better suited to areas in which lights stay on for long periods of time.
Mercury vapor lights have been the most common type of HID, but the newer, more efficient high-pressure sodium and metal halide lamps are quickly replacing them.
High-pressure sodium lights produce the most light - the most lumens - per watt, although the light has a yellowish tinge. Metal halide lights are less efficient but produce a whiter, more natural light.
You can also use solar energy to power outdoor lighting. During daylight hours, a photovoltaic (PV) panel generates electricity that is stored in a battery in most of the low-power light fixtures.
These lights can be turned on manually, they can equipped with light-sensing controls that turn them on automatically at dusk, or they can be activated by motion-detectors. Most of the lower-priced models on the market do not produce a great deal of light - they're definitely not reading lamps - but they are very useful to light paths and steps around the yard.
Using PV-powered outdoor lights is an attractive alternative if your site is over 200 yards from the utility grid, or if you don't want to run a power line through a site. PV power is low-maintenance and very reliable, and installation is often as easy as pushing a stake on which the fixture is mounted into the ground.
Larger, brighter PV lights are also available, but these may require additional light panels. Often these additional panels can blend attractively with your home's architecture.
You can cut your home and workplace lighting costs by simply turning off lights when you don't need them. Remembering to do that, however, is often easier said than done.
Fortunately there are a number of simple, inexpensive lighting controls - both automatic and manual - that will turn lights on and off, helping you to reduce your energy costs.
A simple automatic timer can control when and how long a light stays on. It can be located at a light switch, at the wall plug or in a light socket. A timer will turn lights on and off on at prearranged times. This can prevent inadvertently leaving lights on all night, for example, and a timer can turn on a light before you get home in the evening. By automatically turning lights on and off for you, timers can give your home the appearance of being occupied - a valuable safety precaution when you're away.
Photosensors measure light levels and turn on lights when it gets dark. These are particularly effective with lights that stay on all night - outdoor security lights or even small night-lights inside. If you only wanted a light to stay on from dusk until, say, 10 p.m., however, a timer would be a better choice.
Motion detectors or occupancy sensors can identify when someone - or something, like a pet - is moving about in a room. These switches will turn lights on when someone enters and will turn them off when movement hasn't been detected for a while. They are an excellent way to save energy in rooms where lights are frequently left on. They are also popular outside, for walkways or security lights.
Dimmers allow you to manually adjust the intensity of light in a room. Because most lights use less electricity at lower settings, you don't need to pay for more light than you need, and you can change the mood of a room with a simple adjustment. Dimmers can be used with incandescent lights, including low-voltage systems, but only with new-screw-based dimmable fluorescent bulbs. Other fluorescent lights must have their own dimmable ballasts.
Switches should be installed in several locations if an area has more than one entrance. A switch at each end of a hallway or at the top and bottom of a stairway, for example, means that you can turn a light on and off as needed. You're much less likely to just leave it on.
Rooms where you have several kinds of lights -overhead and counter lights in a kitchen, for example - should have separate switches for the various types. And a three-level switch on table and floor lamps is an easy way to use one fixture for several lighting needs, even as you cut down on your electricity needs.
Beware that some screw-base compact fluorescent light bulbs cannot be used with timers or with motion detectors. Check manufacturer's recommendations.