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In many cities around the world the night sky isn’t what it used to be. The stars are still there, of course. Residents just can’t see them beyond the artificial light that brightens our world at night.
Even in Huntsville, some residents see fewer stars than others. The Town of Huntsville is working to change that.
A new Outdoor Lighting Bylaw, passed by Town Council in January 2016, requires that all new developments and outdoor fixtures immediately comply with the bylaw. Property owners have 10 years to upgrade existing lighting so that it is in compliance.
“We want to preserve the viewing of the stars,” says Councillor Bob Stone. “It’s one of the major reasons why tourists visit Huntsville. (The bylaw) is also about being a good neighbour – we all know people who have lights that are too bright. Our objective is to address these issues.”
The intent of the bylaw is for lighting to only illuminate what it’s intended to. “Unless you are standing under the fixture, you shouldn’t see the lightbulb,” explains Stone.
The need for sensitive lighting was identified as part of Huntsville’s Official Plan in 2006.
Sensitive lighting which is oriented downward, is low wattage, energy efficient, and minimizes glare will be encouraged, throughout the Town, in order to prevent conflicts with abutting uses and preserve privacy, prevent impacts on wildlife and hazards to navigation, preserve the night sky… The view of the nighttime sky is important to tourism and worth preserving for future generations.
Town of Huntsville Official Plan, 2006
What is light pollution and why does it matter?
We do need some light at night, however, “much outdoor lighting used at night is inefficient, overly bright, poorly targeted, improperly shielded, and, in many cases, completely unnecessary,” says the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). “This light, and the electricity used to create it, is being wasted by spilling it into the sky, rather than focusing it on to the actual objects and areas that people want illuminated.”
People often think of streetlights when they think light pollution, but they’re not the only culprit. Exterior lights on buildings and overspill from interior lights, advertising, illuminated parking lots and commercial properties, factories, sports venues and even the lights in your garden or on your dock all contribute to light pollution.
The IDA identifies four primary effects of light pollution:
- Increasing energy consumption from fixtures that emit too much light or shine when and where light is not needed.
(What you can do: turn off outdoor lights at night or be sure they focus only where they are needed; only use indoor lights at night in rooms where there is activity.)
- Disrupting the ecosystem and wildlife by making night appear more like the day.
(What you can do: turn off outdoor lights at night or be sure they focus only where they are needed.)
- Harming human health by disrupting our natural circadian rhythm; blue light is noted as particularly harmful.
(What you can do: Install warm-temperature LED lighting in your home or cottage and download colour temperature apps for your tablets and smartphones. You’ll find the IDA’s suggestions here.)
- Affecting crime and safety by increasing the depth of shadows and making properties easier to see at night for those with criminal intent, and increasing glare which can have a blinding effect.
(What you can do: Ensure that your outdoor lighting is truly necessary and then make sure it shines only where you need it to.)
What does the new bylaw mean for you?
All property owners have until January 2026, preferably sooner, to replace existing light fixtures with ones that comply with the bylaw. Below are some of the highlights that you should be aware of.
If your outdoor fixtures are unshielded, they need to be replaced with full cut-off fixtures – ones that prevent stray light from escaping because the light source is recessed or shielded – and they need to be aimed down and arranged to minimize light trespass onto neighbouring properties.
Open water lights cannot be white or red – yellow or amber is encouraged – and must be less than 13 watts compact fluorescent lighting, 60 watts incandescent lighting or 10 watts LED lighting. They need to be used only to illuminate the surface of the weakened ice and be housed in a full cut-off fixture to prevent glare and light trespass across the waterway. Flashing or intermittent lights are prohibited.
But what about your annual Christmas light display, you ask? Temporary decoration lights to a maximum of 20 watts of LED lighting or 100 watts incandescent lighting are exempt from the bylaw.
What you can expect from the Town
The Town of Huntsville will be rolling out information for residents and businesses this fall to let everyone know what they can do to ensure their existing fixtures are in compliance with the bylaw within the next 10 years.
Stone acknowledges that 10 years is a long time.
(The compliance period) was discussed at council and some wanted a shorter amount of time, but this gives everyone lots of time. Rather than enforcing the bylaw on existing fixtures immediately, we want to educate people and encourage them to change them on their own for all the right reasons.
Councillor Bob Stone
The Town of Huntsville has begun making changes at the municipal level already. Last year, it began replacing most of the streetlights in town with LED lights that comply with dark sky recommendations.
“We still have work to do on our own buildings, though,” says Stone. “We’ll be doing that over the next few years.”
You can read the Town’s Outdoor Lighting Bylaw here (PDF).
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