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Outside Light Guide

There were some break-ins in my neighborhood this past year, so I want to install outdoor security lighting that can also be used when entertaining. What are my options and which are most efficient?—Ann J.

Installing outdoor lighting is one way to reduce the chance of nighttime break-ins. Talk with your local police department about what types and the amount of lighting they recommend for your home. Based on crime statistics for your area, the police can also recommend on-times for your security lights. The less time they are on, the less electricity you pay for.

Keep in mind that outdoor lighting should be used in moderation. It consumes a lot of electricity.

When comparing lights and determining how many you need, compare light output lumens ratings. This is listed on the packaging. The wattage refers to how much electricity a bulb uses, not its light output. The actual light intensity on your house or the ground is rated in lux (lumens per square meter).

The keys to efficient outdoor lighting are selecting the proper type of bulb, light fixture design, and shortest on-time period. Using just two 150-watt floodlights at night can increase your electric bills by up to $100 per year.

In areas where you don’t need the lighting for entertaining, install motion-sensing fixtures or add-on motion-sensing switches. You can find these at most home center stores. Motion-sensing lights greatly reduce the amount of on-time and increase bulb life. Since the light is not on when intruders arrive, they won’t know to avoid the light until it switches on from their movement. Getting caught in the light will generally frighten a would-be intruder. Better-quality models provide for adjustable distance sensitivity and on-times.

As you would do indoors, use fluorescent tubes and CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) for outdoor lighting. Some may not operate well at very cold temperatures, so check with the lighting manufacturer before selecting them for cold climates. Fluorescent lights are four times more energy efficient than standard incandescent bulbs and last 10 times longer. The light quality from the newer CFLs is similar to standard incandescent bulbs, and CFLs are now available as floodlights. For whiter light, select full-spectrum CFLs.

If you find a problem with CFLs outdoors during the winter, use halogen bulbs. Although these are not as efficient as CFLs, they are still 15 percent more efficient than standard incandescent bulbs. Halogen bulbs produce a very white light that is excellent for entertaining. Halogen bulbs can get very hot, so pay attention to the maximum wattage allowed for each light fixture.

Although they are substantially more expensive to install, LPS (low-pressure sodium) outdoor lighting fixtures are very energy efficient. These are the type of fixtures used in most commercial parking lots. They use less than 15 percent as much electricity as incandescent bulbs. The drawbacks are they take a short time to heat up to full brightness and the light is a monochromatic yellow.

Some of the newest fixtures use clusters of white LEDs (light-emitting diodes, often used to light the numbers for digital clocks in electric appliances). These are solid-state devices, not actual bulbs, that produce a white/bluish light. LEDs are extremely efficient and last almost forever, up to 100,000 hours. The brightness of the light output is limited, so they are best for a specific small area. They are often installed in groups to light a larger area.

The following companies offer efficient outdoor lighting: Adjusta-Post, (800) 321-2132,; Energy Focus, (800) 327-7877,; Hadco, (800) 331-4185,; Idaho Wood, (800) 635-1100,; and Kim Lighting, (626) 968-5666,

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