How Everyone in Charlottesville (and maybe your town) Can Stop Light Pollution

This entry was inspired by Facebook comments written by Jim Duncan, the Charlottesville real estate agent behind the Real Central VA blog, and Waldo Jaquith, who knows a lot about stuff (read this if you need to know). Jim posted about this problem and Waldo made a comment about something we can each do to make it a little better...

A few weeks ago, Jim shared this article which says that 99% of Americans and Europeans live under artificially bright skies (add in the other continents and the number only goes down to 80%). We all know that if you live near a city or large suburban area, your skies are never totally black at night. When you've visited a less-developed area, you've probably done what I have - looked up and thought about how nice it was to see all the stars. This article goes on to talk about how artificially bright skies disrupt migrating birds, our health, and the rain forests (no joke, there's a separate article just about the effect of our light on the rain forests).

Fabio Falchi et al.

When it comes to the birds, city lighting and architecture is causing them to lose their way, often flying into windows. There's an article about how prevalent this is in Washington, DC. One building, which has trees in an atrium that is lit at night, agreed to dim their lights so the birds aren't quite so attracted...but I'm sure there are street lights that illuminate the area a bit, too.

Wouldn't you want to rest there if you were a bird on a long migration trip?
(Bill Couch / Creative Commons)

As far as our health goes, all the artificial light around us affects our sleep cycle. I started wearing a sleep mask when I lived in our downtown condo because the lights in the parking lot were still affecting the bedroom, even with the roman shades down and drapes drawn. I still wear it in our house because we have neighbors who leave flood lights on all night. I sometimes joke that it's like living next to a penitentiary because it is so bright outside. When we move into our back bedroom, we'll be installing a few layers of lined window treatments to block the light out.

There are a few things you can do at home to cut down on light pollution.

1. Replace outdoor lights with "dark skies compliant" fixtures.
I'll be honest and say that I assumed doing this would be hard, but this part is really simple. All you have to do is be aware of the shape of the light. To make things even easier, most of the websites that sell lights have "Dark Skies" sections! The options aren't limited at all.

Generally, you want fixtures that throw their light downward. If the fixture is lighting the area above it, it's probably not dark sky compliant.

Since seeing the graphic below, I've been looking at the lights around me at night and mentally rating them on this scale. I'm happy that the street lights on the Charlottesville Downtown Mall are compliant.


2. Put your lights on timers or install motion sensors.
Motion sensors and timers ensure that the lights are on when someone needs to see, but cuts light pollution when you're asleep.

We switched our garage lights to motion sensors a little over a year ago and I love that the light goes on when I pull in on the driveway. We have a couple more that we should switch over and it's always a pain when we get into bed and realize one of those lights is still on.

3. If you use LEDs, keep them under 3000 Kelvins.
Apparently, blue light is especially bad, so those super bright, flood-style bulbs should be avoided. This is why so many towns have lights that are sort of orange-ish. Those are dark sky compliant.

Whether your style is traditional, transitional, or modern, there are great outdoor lighting fixtures that are dark sky compliant.

Traditional wall lantern via Wayfair

Transitional lantern via Wayfair

Modern lantern via Wayfair

Want to get started? Here are some sources for "Dark Sky Compliant" lighting:


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