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Shedding Some Light on Outdoor Fixtures


Question: I would like to add some outdoor security and decorative lights, but I don't want to waste electricity. I am also concerned about "dark sky" problems. What type of lights do you recommend for my home?

Answer: With rolling blackouts and skyrocketing electric bills, wise and efficient use of outdoor lighting is critical. A single 150-watt floodlight can cost $60 per year to operate at night. And with the excessive outdoor light pollution in many areas, the skies are never truly dark any longer.

A combination of shielded efficient HID (high intensity discharge) lights and motion-sensing lights can be effective without creating excessive light pollution. One or two security lights will deter a thief from approaching your home. If a thief approaches anyway, a motion-sensing light may frighten him away.

"High intensity" refers to the types of light fixtures and bulbs but doesn't necessarily mean that HIDs are extremely bright. There are several types commonly used for homes: high-pressure sodium (HPS), metal halide (MH) and mercury vapor (MV). These and fluorescent lights are much cheaper to use than incandescent floodlights.

Shielding refers to directing the light where it is needed instead of indiscriminately flooding an entire area. Many new security lighting fixtures are designed to provide illumination in only certain directions. Select fixtures with electric eyes so that they automatically shut off in the morning.

As an example, several of my neighbor's security floodlights shine in my bedroom window all night long. By using a less bright, shielded light, they could save $50 per year in electric bills and I would get more sound sleep.

In addition to security issues, consider how the lights will brighten outdoor areas used for entertaining. Mercury vapor lights will enhance your landscaping and gardens, and they can produce a realistic moonlight effect.

High-pressure sodium lights are the most efficient. One 35-watt high-pressure sodium bulb provides more light than five standard 40-watt incandescent bulbs combined. Metal halide lights, which are slightly less efficient, produce a cool white light for brilliant blues and greens.

Fiber-optic lighting is effective and easy to install. You just run thin plastic cables (no electric wiring) to various fixtures in your yard. One central lightbulb provides light to all the cables.

Opening the Door to Greater Resale Value

Q: We are planning to sell our house in a year. Though we are making cosmetic and efficiency improvements to it, my real estate agent suggested that we replace 18 hollow interior doors with solid ones. Is this wise?

A: It has been 20 years since I was a licensed real estate agent, but I doubt that you will recover the $1,000-plus in expenses in a higher resale value. Interior doors are not high on most prospective buyers' priorities.

You would get a better return by making some noticeable energy conservation improvements. People are again very interested in utility bills. Also, if their utility bills are lower, they may qualify for a larger loan.

Efficiently Remodeling Master Bathroom

Q: We are planning a full remodeling job of our master bathroom. We want it to be comfortable and contemporary but also energy and water efficient. What products and design concepts should we consider?

A: Bathroom remodeling is one of the most common major home improvement projects. If your budget is limited, just make gradual improvements over several years.

The first item to consider is how to heat your bathroom. A gentle, quiet, yet rapid heating method is best. A combination of various types of radiant heat is the most efficient and comfortable option. These include wall and ceiling heating panels and an electric floor-heating unit.

Most people add a whirlpool or a hydro-massaging, multi-head shower when remodeling. Some five-head showers have a small pump that recirculates the warm water to reduce usage. A low-flow standard shower head is a must. Most new filtering heads remove chlorine and save water too.

Select one of the new super-quiet automatic combination vent fan/lights. These have motion and humidity sensors to make sure that they do not run too long or too little. If you get up often at night, consider a model that also has a built-in night light. Many new models are decorative and ornate.

Install a low-water-usage toilet. One-piece models are most attractive. Pressure-assist designs provide a positive, quick flush but are slightly noisier.


Take an online tour of James Dulley's house; there are nearly 100 pictures with links to the various columns that describe the improvements and products. Go to on the Internet.

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