Feature Article - September 2007
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Let There Be Dark

How Smart Lighting Design Increases Security, Performance and Night-Time Aesthetics

By Emily Tipping



Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Sports fields present a unique situation. Lots of light is needed, and because of that, many cite sports and other outdoor recreation facilities as having a major impact on not only the night sky, but on neighbors of the facility as well. According to the IDA, "Lighted sports facilities are the most commonly mentioned systems when people discuss light pollution in the nighttime environment." And many planned facilities get held up by angry neighbors who want to ensure that the impact of sports field lighting doesn't end up keeping them up at night—literally.

The IDA recommends taking several steps to help minimize the impact your sports lighting has off-site. Mounting luminaires at proper heights is one major consideration. While many believe that lower mounting heights are better, the IDA states that in reality, lowering the mounting height has exactly the opposite of its intended effect. "The lower the mounting height, the higher the aiming angle and the more light that is delivered off-site."

Hiring a professional to plan your facility's lighting is the key to ensuring you get a well-lit facility with minimal impact on the neighborhood. Inside the facility, you need to consider your goals. What types of sports will be played there? What does that mean in terms of the lighting needed? For sports like baseball and football, you need to ensure that players won't look up into the glare of the lights and lose track of the ball. But you also need to consider how the environment within your facility contributes to the contrast of the ball, the players and the background. "Good design takes into consideration direct and reflected glare, color rendering and color contrast," reports the IDA.

Traditional lighting used for sports facilities includes high-intensity discharge (HID) and fluorescent. Both of these types of lighting come with benefits and drawbacks. HID lamps, which are usually metal halide or high-pressure sodium, have long lives and are effective, but there is a time delay when you turn them on, and the light builds up slowly. Fluorescent lamps are also long-lived and effective, and also provide good color rendering and low brightness. However, the IDA says, their length gives poorer optical control and they are temperature-sensitive.

New advances from several manufacturers of luminaires for sports applications have led to well-shielded—sometimes even fully-shielded—sports lighting. These designs have a major impact on reducing the spill of light off-site and can at least reduce—and sometimes even eliminate—light lost to the sky.

Once lights are installed, proper management will help further reduce the impact of this type of facility on the neighborhood.

In Leon County, Fla., for example, the parks and recreation department recently added field lighting to its softball fields at Canopy Oaks Park. The new lighting system was designed to be environmentally friendly, as well as sensitive to the surrounding neighborhood.

The lights are controlled through a computer system, and turn off no later than 10 p.m. at night. When no events are scheduled, the lights are not turned on at all. The light is aimed downward onto the field, reducing spill into the surrounding area, and energy savings are realized through the system's environmentally friendly design.