Q: You've written a lot about energy-efficient lights, and we appreciate that, but as senior citizens we find that most lighting in our house just isn't bright enough for us. Any hints on what we might do to fix up the lighting in our house?
A: Actually, there's a great Web site that is specifically designed to help older adults work with the lighting in their home to see better.
The Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has a site at www.lrc.rpi.edu/programs/lightHealth/AARP/senior/index.asp called "Lighting the Way: A Key to Independence," that gives tips on where to put lighting fixtures, how to get rid of glare, choosing light bulbs and even working with light in every room of the house, all aimed at helping older adults see things better in their homes.
I think a lot of their advice is good for anyone, regardless of age. For example, to cut down on glare, you should avoid a direct view of light bulbs, use blinds, shades or curtains to reduce the brightness of windows, and be careful of shiny surfaces that can reflect light into your eyes. Task lighting requires that you put light over your shoulder or close to the task, slightly forward, to reduce shadows cast by your hand. You also can see yourself better in a mirror when the light fixtures are on both sides of the mirror at about eye level, minimizing shadows.
The site also includes a list of light bulb and fixture manufacturers, with their phone numbers and Web sites.
Q: It's a little below zero right now as I look out into our backyard, and I can feel the howling wind battering our home. Someone told me we needed better landscaping to help reduce these winds, but I don't know what to do. Any suggestions?
A: Yep. As you're learning first-hand, part of making a home more comfortable - and thus helping reduce your energy bills - is to landscape properly for your climate. I've seen estimates that the right kind of landscaping can block the wind and shade the home enough to lower your heating and cooling costs by as much as 30 percent. Now's a good time to start thinking about landscaping changes you might make in the spring.
In your case, you'll need to plant some windbreaks to help keep you warmer next winter. The big thing the windbreaks will do is lower the wind chill getting to your home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, windbreaks such as dense evergreen trees and shrubs can reduce wind speed for a distance of as much as 30 times the height of the trees.
Trees and shrubs with low crowns work best at blocking wind close to the ground. Plant them together to cut down on wind from ground level to the treetops. You also can put the landscaping around fences or walls to further lift winds over the house.
Generally, windbreaks work best on the north or northwest side of the home, while open spaces on the south will let you enjoy the winter sun.
Another suggestion is to put bushes, vines and shrubs next to your home to create dead air spaces, helping to insulate the home in both winter and summer. Be sure to leave some space between the landscaping and the walls of the home.
No matter where you live, landscaping can help affect your energy costs as it improves the value of your home.