Copyright 2001, White Publishing, Inc.

Rocky Hill LIFE JAN 02

Cliff Haas wants to illuminate everyone about the glaring errors that cause light pollution

by Doug Maine

 Cliff Haas has seen the light -- too much light, in fact.

He's come to the conclusion that the lights we install in parking lots, along roadways and outside our homes and businesses, intended to help us see better when it's dark, often do just the opposite, obstructing vision and blotting the stars out of the night sky.

An engineering consultant who has worked in civil, architectural and environmental engineering, the Pratt Street resident is a crusader against light pollution and the creator of an extensive web site devoted to the topic.  (

"My first word was light, and I pointed to a light switch on the wall as a baby," said Mr. Haas, who grew up in Middletown and has lived in town for 21 years. Now 48, his passion for light remains undimmed.

The problem, he said, is that too much artificially generated light is carelessly cast every which-way into the sky, not directed down at the area it's supposed to help us see.  Just as we put lampshades over our indoor lights, he advocates shielding outdoor fixtures to direct light where people need to see and keep its glare from overpowering our eyes.

That glare makes it harder for us to see anything else, whether it's a pedestrian walking along the side of the road, a meteor shower or a stranger watching your house from the shadows of your backyard.

Bright light can also confuse nearby plants and disrupt their normal seasonal cycles; the same holds true for humans when light from a nearby service station invades their bedrooms, disrupting sleep and throwing their bodies out of kilter.

Mr. Haas serves as light pollution awareness chairman for the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford and is also affiliated with the International Dark-Sky Association. He has successfully advocated for new laws to curb light pollution and advised communities all over North America that are drafting light pollution ordinances.

He's tested shielding devices for lighting manufacturers and developed his own easy-to-make devices to retrofit porch and floodlights, which he invites people to copy off his web site.

For people who aren't sure if light pollution is a problem where they are, Mr. Haas said, "If the clouds glow pink over the night sky in inclement weather," there's a problem.

Lost sight of things

Mr. Haas recalls that when he first moved to town, he could see the Milky Way cutting the sky from horizon to horizon. Now, he can see only 45 of the 2,600-plus stars that should be visible on a clear night.

He's not alone in his concerns. NASA's web site notes that if current trends continue, the entire globe will be wrapped in a glowing envelope.  "City dwellers have already lost most of the constellations, the planet Saturn and a host of medium magnitude stars. They can forget about observing most meteor showers, too, or faint displays of Northern Lights.

"It's a big loss. Young sky watchers grow up to be philosophers, scientists, poets, explorers and schoolteachers. But kids aren't likely to watch - or be inspired by - a blank sky," according to the NASA report.

Beyond the benefits to astronomy, Mr. Haas believes there are compelling economic and public health and safety reasons for switching to shielded, or full-cutoff (FCO), lighting that illuminates the desired area but not beyond.

"The prime directive of any light is to enhance our vision," but he said, most outdoor lights don't achieve that simple goal.  Unshielded lighting not only wipes out the stars in the night sky, but also causes what many motorists experience as night blindness.

Because the eye adjusts to the brightest available light - the glaring, unshielded light source - it becomes that much more difficult to see the area that needs illuminating.

A bright, unshielded light "tricks your eye into not being able to see objects that aren't illuminated," he said. From the standpoint of security, that makes it easier for someone with bad intentions to hide in the shadows.

These photos of Cliff Haas' porch light show the benefits of shielding a source of light. At left is the unshielded light, in which the light itself is the brightest object. Then, at right, with a simple shield eliminating the glare, the driveway and steps become more visible.

Mr. Haas corrected the problem on his own porch light by modifying a plain old pineapple juice can into a simple shield.  The result, he said, was 130 percent as much light on the ground.  In fact, the shield produced so much light that he had to paint the inside black. "This allowed me to reduce my wattage by 30 percent," he said.

In before and after photos of the porch, posted on the web site, the porch stairs and surrounding ground appear to be much brighter with the shield in place. Without it, the brightest spot is the light itself.

Similar results have been achieved on a much larger scale, he said, citing a Texas oil refinery that installed FCO lighting and found that it could reduce wattage without any perceptible loss in visibility, saving $172,000 in annual electricity bills.

However, unlike the porch light, in which he could simply replace a 60-watt bulb with a 40-watt bulb, changing to lower wattage lighting at the refinery or in street lighting does requires the installation of new fixtures.

Then there's roadway lighting, estimated to cause 35 to 50 percent of the artificial sky glow that hangs over populated regions, according to Sky and Telescope magazine.

The changeover to FCO lighting has begun in Connecticut, thanks to a law long sought by Mr. Haas and other light pollution activists.  Effective this Oct. 1, all new and replacement streetlights on both state and local roads must have shielded fixtures.

A fully shielded light has been installed on the Silas Deane Highway in front of the Puritan children's furniture store, and Mr. Haas compared its performance with that of an older semi-cutoff light nearby, setting his light meter in the middle of the road's northbound right lane beneath each light.

The result?  The shielded light came out on top with 5.46 foot-candles of light, compared to 3.58 foot-candles from the old light.

Branford and Tolland also have light pollution ordinances. Tolland has banned unshielded floodlights, which almost always encroach on other people's property, Mr. Haas said, a phenomenon known as "light trespass."

Ordinances are helpful, he believes, because they remove subjectivity and take pressure off planners and zoning commissioners who usually don't have much expertise concerning lighting.

Products are available, he said, including the "Glare Buster," an outdoor wall light in which a four-watt fluorescent bulb can be used with the same effect as a 100-watt incandescent bulb.  It also has an optional infrared motion sensor, which he said provides the best security because it calls attention to the area when it comes on.

"A light source that is on all night long isn't going to attract attention," and it allows potential criminals the opportunity to assess the risk of breaking into a home.

Mr. Haas himself has developed a design for a simple shield for a regular PAR floodlight that anyone can make from a piece of 8-inch rolled aluminum and a five-inch hose clamp, materials that cost less than $3.  The pattern for the shield is on the web site and can be downloaded by anyone at no charge.  He said many of his neighbors are installing the shields. "People, when they notice it, ask questions and they want it for their house."

He added, "good lighting is not rocket science.  It's something that everybody can participate in."  Fixing the light on his own porch took less than two minutes; he can see his own property, but not his neighbors'.  "It's a win-win situation for everybody," he said.

Light trespass on the home front

Despite all of Mr. Haas's efforts, he said he himself is a victim of light trespass. Just beyond the fence at the edge of his backyard is the south parking lot for Ames Department Stores corporate headquarters, illuminated by unshielded lights mounted on poles.

"I've spoken to them several times in the past- They have adjusted their lighting," turning it off at 1 a.m., he said. But having them on even that late, when nobody is working, "they're really not improving the safety for anybody."

Because the lights are so bright, Mr. Haas can't see where he's walking in his own backyard. "It's kind of like going on a path in the woods and shining a light in your face instead of on the path," he said.

"That precludes your ability to leave your bedroom windows open at night, especially in the summertime. You could read a newspaper in the bedroom without a light on inside," he said.

He said he has talked with Ames officials about working with them to design a shield for the lights, but "they have yet to take me up on that offer."

When light shines into a home's bedroom windows, it may deprive the residents of a good night's sleep.  This can have serious health consequences because it disrupts the natural hormone production that people require.

"Research in this area is indicating more links to some very interesting medical questions about how natural circadian rhythms, when disrupted, can increase the risk of certain types of cancer," Mr. Haas writes on his web site.

On a brief tour to view examples of good and bad lighting, he noted that Ames has installed FCO lighting in the parking lot it constructed more recently on the north side of its headquarters building.

Officials at the company could not be reached at press time.

Serious offenders

So if Mr. Haas, NASA and others believe light pollution is a bad thing, who's in favor of it? "The opposition only comes from people that haven't taken the time to understand the concept."

Some business owners think shielded lights will reduce their visibility, but he said that by reducing the glare, people can see the business better, electricity costs are reduced and security isn't sacrificed.

Electric utilities, which sell the electricity that powers lighting during off-peak hours, may also oppose the shielded lighting.

According to a report in the Dec. 1 Record-Journal newspaper in Meriden, Connecticut Light & Power sent letters to area towns telling them that shielded lighting would reduce the effective level of visibility.

The utility also provided sample letters that towns could use to request waivers exempting them from complying with the new law.

In his own estimation, Mr. Haas said that some of the worst light-pollution offenders are gas stations. The problem is unshielded lights on poles and so-called "Scottsdale" fixtures that protrude unnecessarily from the underside of the canopies where people fill their gas tanks.

While a full moon typically produces 1/100 foot-candles of light, he said many gas stations are 10,000 times brighter, putting out 100 foot-candles, though the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) recommends no more than 20. That's a lot of money being wasted, he said. "Myself, when I first researched this, I didn't believe it."

On a tour of area outdoor lighting, he observed that the recently renovated Citgo station on Main Street now lights neighboring homes from basement to rooftop.  

"You can't see pedestrians walking in the roadway, it's so bright," he said. Across the street at a Texaco station, he said there was still visible glare, but the lighting was much less obtrusive and offensive.

In the parking lot of McDonald's, he said the restaurant has good full-cutoff lights, but they're mounted on an angle, so the light shines in people's faces.

At the corner of Parsonage Street, he said the Valley Brook Professional Building had good, shielded lighting. Other examples of effective shielded lighting were at the Department of Transportation building on Cromwell Avenue and the Marriott.

Fighting the odds

Mr. Haas said he puts in about 60 hours per week on the light pollution, beyond his own regular work responsibilities.  He is currently working with towns in Colorado and the Canadian province of British Columbia.

Despite an engineering background, he's had to educate himself in illumination engineering.  He is a member of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) and relies on the organization's handbook and recommended practices.  "These guys are the world-renowned experts in the field."

Unfortunately, he said, most designers don't understand how light works, and few assess what the ambient light is in a location beforehand, so they err on the side of extra light.

Like many baby boomers, Mr. Haas said that as he passed 40, he began to be bothered more by glare, especially when driving in inclement weather.  He sometimes drives with his sun visor down at night and often can see better on unlit road.

"Most people would blame their own physical condition of night blindness- It has very much to do with the quality of light."

On a satellite photo showing the extent of light pollution on the planet, Cliff Haas points towards
Connecicut, one of the most brightly lit spots on earth.

Pointing to a satellite photo of the planet that isolated electric light, he noted that, "with the exception of Japan, this is one of the most light-polluted places in the world."

Is this a winnable battle?

"When you consider the number of lights that get installed every day the situation is getting worse every year," he said.

If it's any consolation, he also knows that less light - and even no light - can work. Mr. Haas recalled a visit he and his wife Julie made to an Arizona observatory that prohibits motorists from using their headlights within a three-mile radius.

Once their eyes adjusted, "we noticed that we were able to see with only starlight," he said.  After a half-hour, even his white sneakers seemed to glow like a beacon. RHL

Return to the Light Pollution Awareness Website