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Earth Sense: Energy-efficient lighting requires prior homework
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Even the most energy-conscious homeowners may want some security lighting in the front and backyard. There’s no need to turn the place into a football field. But the walkway to the house is safer when one can see it at night and avoid tripping over the kid’s tricycle.

In the backyard, a fallen tree branch can mess up your night when it presents an unseen trip hazard.

In the 1980s, outdoor lighting was usually a 60-watt bulb in some socket attached to the house wall. We often forgot to turn it off in the morning, so it burned continuously.

In the ’90s, it was fashionable to have rectangular 300-watt halogen floodlights with motion detectors. Those were troublesome in multiple ways. Even after endless fiddling with the sensitivity settings, mine would still light up for every rabbit crossing the yard.

Many times every night, the bedroom curtains would suddenly glow, indicating that a big surge of electricity had rushed into the halogen floodlight and was using a good amount of power to illuminate the rabbit.

Progress came in the early 2000s with sodium vapor lights. Their tinny aluminum cups and plastic shades weren’t very attractive, but power consumption was down to 65 watts. Instead of the on-and-off annoyance of a motion detector, the sodium lights had a dusk-to-dawn sensor.

It worked fine for a couple of years. Then the bulb would quit, and after that, the light detector developed a serious habit of keeping the fixture lit during the day.

My best, most recent experience has been with the usual “carriage” type light fixtures that accept a common light bulb with a standard U.S. E26 thread. To ensure that they are only lit at night, I added an aftermarket dusk-to-dawn sensor to each, wired to code and contained in a small outdoor type electrical box.

Those little red sensors, available at hardware stores along with approved nylon boxes, have been dependable. After discarding all the power-hungry incandescent and halogen bulbs, and also the compact fluorescent lamp (spiral) bulbs with their mercury hazard, LEDs now illuminate the roaming rabbits. Each bulb uses only 10 watts, with astonishing brightness.

Homeowners are allowed to do their own wiring work, but familiarity with the National Electrical Code is important to avoid fire and shock hazards. Don’t let helpful friends rig something up unless they are licensed electricians.

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