Energy Adviser: Light outside of home for security

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As the fall days grow shorter, nighttime home security and safety may be creeping up the list of home improvement priorities.

“Eliminating the shadows around your home can make it less attractive to crooks or pests, and safer for you,” said Mike Wallace, energy counselor for Clark Public Utilities. “When lights brighten the darkened areas, intruders approach a house more cautiously.”

While readily available timers, photo cells, and sensors all can illuminate areas around your home, it’s important to “think like a thief” when investing in security lighting, Wallace said. Timers need seasonal adjustments as days shorten in the fall or lengthen in the spring. Without adjustments, they turn on too early or too late. Photo cells will turn lights on and off at dawn or dusk and can remain on all night. They’re just a little too predictable sometimes.

Both solutions lack the shock of a sudden flood of light. Motion sensors that catch movement and can suddenly pop on when there’s an intruder, or heat sensors that pick up body temperature can also flip lights on quickly. Intruders who find themselves abruptly spotlighted often retreat into the shadows or leave the area altogether. Most motion and heat sensor lights can be adjusted so they don’t switch on every time a bunny or possum wanders by.

“Light-emitting diode bulbs pair better with sensors because they come on and go off instantly,” Wallace said. “CFLs take longer to reach full brightness. Also, LEDs have long lives, you won’t change them often, which is especially helpful when fixtures are installed in harder-to-reach places.”

Wallace contrasts security lighting and landscape lighting because they’re often confused. Landscape lighting highlights greenery or some feature of a home without the intent to startle a trespasser. “Landscape lights can be on all night,” he said. “Security lights shock the intruder when he suddenly finds himself brightly lit up.” Using LEDs in both cases, however, will decrease the energy costs of outside lighting and reduce maintenance costs.

Any areas around a home with dense shrubbery or bordered by a wooded area offer potential hiding places. “Light ’em up,” Wallace suggests. “Prevent hidden approaches and make it harder for someone to cross from an unlit area to your house without being visible.”

If there’s no electrical outlet nearby, you can still brighten an area. Most box stores sell battery-operated lights at about $30 and up that may work for you. Keep in mind that the back of a house is more favorable for a criminal and more vulnerable for you. For security, shine lights from all sides of your home. You can also light up the front door and any exits with motion sensor lights, which provide convenience and safety as you come and go, as well as being a deterrent for prowlers.

Low-voltage floodlights can be easily installed by a homeowner. However, if you own a larger property and want high-voltage floodlights, it’s a good idea to work with a qualified electrician.

When thinking of lighting for security, consider the inside of your home also, especially when traveling for long periods of time. Timers can be used to make it appear that someone is home by turning on lights as well as TVs or audio systems at seemingly random times.

For those who like to keep an eye on things, security cameras that link to a smartphone can help with feelings of safety. Although easily installed, they need to be placed where they are inconspicuous, and up high enough that criminals cannot knock them down. “Outside lighting discourages would-be prowlers,” said Wallace. “Combining it with a camera gives an opportunity to capture an intruder’s face if something unfortunate does occur.”

Like any home improvement project, getting started can be the biggest challenge. Wallace recommends starting small and adding a motion sensor to your back door or garage light, then go from there.


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.