Driftless Dark Skies: One Home at a Time

Amber Westerman

A few years ago, I began attending star, moon and sun-gazing events with our local astronomy club. Here I was, in my 50’s, only able to identify Orion and the Big Dipper. As I studied sky charts and followed along as members outlined shapes with their laser pointers, I gradually added more: the Seven Sisters, Cassiopeia and (my favorite) the Dolphin — so small and so dim it takes patience and a crisp sky to find it. One kind member encouraged me by saying, “Just think, Amber, every night you can look up and see all your old friends.” Yes, the constellations are now my “besties.” 

As a building designer and contractor, I’m in the habit of scrutinizing architectural details. As a newly minted stargazer, I began to see bad examples of lights that washed out the sky and lights that left me squinting and half blinded. This past year, I’ve been building Spring Green’s first net-zero energy home. Choosing energy-efficient, dark sky friendly lighting was high on my list of must-haves. All bulbs are LED. They’re cheap to run, and they’re cheap to buy. The bulb that lights my driveway cost just 25 cents and is rated to last 35,000 hours. Instead of leaving them on all evening, set them on a timer or motion sensor. 

A personal pet peeve are LED bulbs that cast an eerie unnatural brightness. It’s the same “blue light” our phone screens give off that we know disrupts our circadian rhythms and is harmful to human and animal health. And blue light contributes more to light pollution than other types. It doesn’t have to be this way. The newest generation of LED’s are better quality and come in a wider range of shapes, brightness and color. Look for “warm white” bulbs in the 2700-3000 Kelvin range. 

Look for fixtures that cast light downward instead of upward or outward. To light the driveway and the path from car to front door, I chose simple cone-shaped sconces that place a beam of light right where it’s needed. The manufacturer calls them “dark-sky friendly” because they reduce glare and light trespass. You can find fixtures with a “Seal of Approval” and everything you need to know about good lighting from the International Dark-Sky Association (darksky.org) or just use common sense. Take a few easy steps today to reduce light pollution and keep the Driftless a dark-sky haven. 

This month’s guest star is Amber Westerman. She owns Poem Homes, a design/build company dedicated to reducing resource use in new home construction and showing how living in a smaller, more modest home makes way for a more satisfying life. Stop by and have a look at her net-zero energy project and dark sky lighting at 770 N. Westmor St., Spring Green, May 10th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Follow her construction blog at poemhomes.org and on Facebook.