Shining the Spotlight on Light Trespass

Electrical contractors have many tools to address and overcome the obstacle of light trespass that accompanies many construction projects. The trespass, or spillover, of commercial illumination into residential areas has spurred light manufacturers and landscape artists to find ways to redirect the harsh glare of this prevailing problem.

One ironic aspect of light trespass is that most of what people consider trespass light really isn’t light trespass as much as it is glare. During the late ’60s and early ’70s, the electrical industry introduced technology that offered a very low power consumption but with a high light output. The benefit of this was that people could get light on areas where they had none; however, the downside to it was that the light sources tended to be very bright and expensive.

In the last five years, codes and ordinances enacted by many municipalities and governmental approval zoning boards have become very stringent and technical concerning the type of lighting used for commercial installation. The codes and restrictions mandated on projects are having such an impact on the industry that different manufacturers are developing specific products to eliminate trespass lighting, as well as to meet the requirements being enforced in many metropolitan areas.

Lighting products currently being used by electrical contractors employ a combination of visoring, fixture placement and landscape shielding, and the product options are as varied as the specific sites of placement.

Steve Siems, vice president of Florida Electric Service, an electrical contractor located in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said, “Lights being designed by companies like GE aim at limiting the amount of light spill. The products use outside shields, forward-throw reflectors, and generally control which direction the light shines from. For sports field lighting, another product uses visoring and not necessarily light beam control; but basically, it blocks the view of the reflector from the off-site person’s view.”

Architects are also making the most use of the surrounding landscape to help with light trespass. Siems added, “There’s many ways to design around the light uses, such as landscape uppers and berming, which both contain the lighting on the property from getting out into the residential neighborhood.”

However, the use of berming (the building up of a mound of dirt and adding landscaping at the top of the mound, which ultimately provides a light barrier between the source and the property line) can become very complicated. Berming typically extends waiting time for plan approval, with plan reviews becoming extremely expensive, requiring many submittals and sometimes taking many months before a final approval is given. Although it is a viable option for blocking overflow lighting, certain contractors assert that it is less costly and time-consuming to simply purchase lighting products that re-focus the direction of the light itself.

In attempts to re-direct light trespass in both commercial and residential settings, contractors are often faced with life safety issues. For example, well-lit entranceways and walkways for after-hour stadium employees or residents who come home after dark, suggest the dichotomy of providing enough lighting for pedestrian safe passage, while still limiting the offense to people in surrounding areas.

As the industry acknowledges issues such as light trespass and continues its attempts to work with new products to make light overspill less offensive, manifold benefits may become a commonplace occurrence.

Siems pointed out, “You can do some things now with lighting that you couldn’t do five years ago, and some of the codes were written almost eight years ago, so those codes don’t allow for some lighting issues without modification. What we have to do is simply direct the light to be less offensive, and there is a big push in the industry to accomplish just that. But there is only so much you can do, because you are in a true catch-22 situation—you want to have illumination, but at the same time, you don’t want it to go anywhere except where you are pointing it.”

The issue of light trespass is on the design tables of industry leaders, who hope to eliminate the problem with their respective products. Because the light trespass issue keeps evolving, electrical professionals continue to not only address the problem, but also to try to eliminate it.

While companies focus on energy efficiency and lower-wattage lamps in their designs, the bottom line seems to be that once a company finds a way around the problem, thus proving it can be first, then that product may be chosen for its solution. This affords the company an advantage over its competition, which for some, can be the real key to basking in the glow of success. EC

SILVA, a Hollywood, Fla.-based freelance writer, can be reached via e-mail at

About the Author

Brenda Silva

Freelance Writer
Brenda Silva, a Hollywood, Fla.-based freelance writer, can be reached via e-mail at .

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