Gaines Group Architects
timberlake fixture

Can you see the night sky? Full Cut-Off lighting might provide us all with a new view.

Can you see the night sky? Full Cut-Off lighting might provide us all with a new view.

No matter where you live in the United States, you probably have not seen a sky without some glow from natural lights. Even in our National Forests here on the east coast we are seeing sky glow from surrounding city lights. This has changed our circadian circuitry, impacted our hormone levels, and could potentially be making us more susceptible to cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

Dark Sky Map

James Madison University Class

I was recently invited to speak to a class of students at James Madison University about how architects use site lighting in their designs. The idea of presenting in a class investigating “dark skies” led by Shanil Virani and Paul Bogard was intimidating to say the least. These two leaders in the country on the topic of dark skies are walking these students through a process of discovery – how can we provide safe, efficient, healthy, lighting while preserving our night sky? I am looking forward to the conclusions they develop.

municipal building

There are many reasons to use artificial lighting at night.

  • Accessibility
  • Advertisement
  • Landscape and Architectural accents
  • Safety

The biggest reason that I have heard that we need more light at night is for safety. However, simply providing more light does not make you safer. You can see in this picture that has a wall pack for lighting, plenty of lighting, that more lighting is not the answer. You cannot see if there is someone standing under the light fixture or not. The light is blinding your approach to the building.

wall pack

Old world fixtures influence modern aesthetics

Many of our modern-day fixtures are designed to look like fixtures that used to be lit by candle. These fixtures, where you see the bulb, allow light to go in all directions instead of just the direction you need the light for safety and accessibility. The idea of directional lighting, light that is directed in a particular direction, is called full cut-off lighting. These lights protect the night sky. More than that, they make accessibility easier by lighting the pathway and increase safety by directing light down out of your eyes. We can design better exterior lighting solutions. The technology available has evolved over the last 15 years and now many choices for aesthetically pleasing fixtures are available in the full cut-off option. The challenge is replacing all the many existing fixtures that don’t meet the standard for full cut-off lighting and of course changing habits of designers that are used to selecting options that are harmful to our night skies and our safety.

timberlake lighting timberlake at night timberlake fixture

Need a little more space? Finish your basement.

Need a little more space? Finish your basement, but have a solid plan in place first. Here are 10 things to consider:

  1. Figure out the code requirements that might impact your home. You have to meet egress, ventilation, heating and cooling, electrical, and permit requirements. DSC08432
  2. One of the biggest mistakes people make when finishing a basement is not taking measures to keep it dry. If your basement walls have any signs of moisture at all (and even if they dont) you should leave an air cavity behind the finished walls. This will allow space for the wall to dry out if water gets into the wall system.
  3. When building a wall in the basement you need to install a seal sealer under the pressure treated wood plate in order to reduce the chance of mold growth or water issues.
  4. The rim board is a huge air leak in most homes. Seal it with open cell spray foam. You should also insulate the walls to R-19 in the basement. This will make the space more comfortable and probably cut your energy usage
  5. Pick your ceiling type with thoughts of future renovations. If you will need to get to plumbing that is above head, leave an access. If there are a lot of access point, perhaps you want to consider an acoustic ceiling (I really don’t like this option).
  6. A basement can be a dark spot in the house without proper lighting. Spend the money to get the appropriate number of lights installed with a nice color spectrum. After all you want to use the space don’t you. If at all possible, get natural light into the space through windows or if it is a walk out basement doors. If there is a bedroom, this is a code requirement.  Mt Crawford Basement Renovation
  7. If your house was not originally designed to have a finished basement, you need to get a qualified HVAC technician to look at your system. It is important to make sure the system can handle the additional finished space, remove unwanted humidity, and provide the appropriate amount of ventilation.
  8. Test materials that might contain asbestos or lead. Removing these items can have serious health consequences to your family. You need to take specific cautions when working with these materials.
  9. There is nothing worse than finishing a basement for your home theater space / sports hangout / man cave / gym to find out you cannot turn the television or music up after 9pm because it is below your kid’s bedroom. Make sure you add sound insulation measures into the design to create the kind of space you want and don’t create problems with the existing spaces in your homeUntitled_HDR2
  10. If you are adding a bathroom in the basement – first make sure your septic system will allow for it (gravity and size), next make sure you can provide the needed ventilation, and then figure out how to connect it to the existing plumbing system. It is not complicated to get it right, but it does take some planning.