Are Low Energy Lights an Invitation for Crime?

The light is on and someone’s home. This was once a sure signal for would-be criminals who might be deterred from a brightly lit space in the days of mindless energy use. Crime experts have warned us that a dimly lit residence sends the message the owner is on vacation. While most crimes occur in daylight during the summer months when people aren’t home, those desperate to break in at night can find harbor in a dark front lawn with dense bushes – a frequent hiding space for intruders hoping to remain inconspicuous until getting in and out with stolen valuables.

But in these days of doing our part to curb phantom energy waste by switching off and unplugging, we are left wondering if going dark is dangerous. A growing number of cities have been cutting back on street light usage to save on the electric bills and energy use.

Lights out San Francisco, an eco advocacy group campaigning for energy awareness, has targeted downtown buildings – urging owners to switch off non essential lights and appliances every night to make the city the first dark skyline in the country. It was estimated that as much as 15 percent of energy consumed on an average Saturday night can be spared by turning out lights for just one hour. You can imagine the savings from a blackout every night.

While the goal can spell a greener planet, the notion doesn’t sit well with all homeowners, including women living alone who have relied on street lights, as well as their own lamps and ceiling lights to provide an added sense of security. Even if it is simply the flickering lights of the holiday tree, the warm glow seen through the window can make us feel we aren’t really alone. So what’s the happy medium?

According to self-proclaimed crime doctor – Chris E. Mcgoey – there are steps we can take to light up more efficiently and guard our homes with other measures that don’t require draining resources. In terms of the lighting, which he deems necessary for both the interior and exterior of a home, he highly recommends buying inexpensive light timers and using them daily – establishing a routine neighbors can observe and detect when something is off. He tells us the exteriors should provide 100-feet of visibility to your pathway and door.

“Typically, you want to use light-timers near the front and back windows with the curtains closed,” he says. “The patter of lights turning on and off should simulate actual occupancy. It’s also comforting not to have to enter a dark residence when you return home. The same light timers can be used to turn on radios or television sets to further enhance the illusion of occupancy. ”

He also advised lighting the exterior and perimeter of your home, using timers to show the appearance of occupancy at all times, including common area lighting on apartment buildings using timers or photo-cells to shut off at dawn. He adds that security lights with infra-red motion sensors are cheap and serve as a good alternative to an exterior porch light or side door light.

Beyond the lighting, here are other security precautions you can take allowing you to be a good green citizen who feels protected:

1. Improve doors and locks, including securing the garage door (a favorite point of entry); According to Consumer Reports, nearly two-thirds of burglaries involve forced entry, so why make it easy? Install solid metal doors at all entrances with heavy duty knobs with deadbolt locks with a dead lock mechanism to prevent slipping with a shim or credit card. Use a heavy-duty, four screw strike plate and a wide-angle peephole.

2. Sliding Glass Doors require Secondary Blocking Device: These doors are vulnerable but can be secured with a wooden dowel or stick inserted into the track to block movement. During the winter, nailing these doors shut can also be effective.

3. Close Windows and Install Anti-Lift devices: Open windows seen from the street are also inviting to burglars looking for a way in. Use secondary blocking devices on these as well, ones that comply with fire codes (i.e. screws halfway into the upper track).

4. A good alarm system property installed and maintained: These systems deter crime, according to a study from Rutgers University. Make sure response calls are up to date.

5. Be a good neighbor and stay vigilant for others: The National Crime Prevention Council urges us to get to know our neighbors, even in these days of disconnect with humans while we stay connected to our computers. Bring back those block parties, work together on improvements, form a caring community in your cul-de-sac. Call your neighbors if you see something suspicious or hear of any thefts in the neighborhood. Offer to collect someone’s mail if they are away or to help in other reciprocal ways. In other words, the old fashioned methods of making our homes safe still work the best as we work together to spare dwindling resources.

Images: Darkpatador; Treevillage; Jdigger; Axelharmann; jepoirrier

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.