Technology as Servant
Light. We tend not to think too much about it. . . until the lights go out. But exposure to light has a number of powerful effects on our health and wellness. Proper lighting helps us to relax, starting processes that aid the mind and body in preparation for sleep. Proper lighting helps regulate and keep in sync various hormonal and other body cycles on a daily basis, affecting sleep, mood, digestion and many other processes.
Proper lighting in the correct spectrum has been shown to have a significant impact on our emotional wellness, especially during the winter; so much so that people can now get a prescription for light to help alleviate seasonal light deficiencies.
Real light, like real food, is true medicine. So how do we make modern advancements in lighting our loyal servant?
First and foremost, nothing can replace exposure to real, natural sunlight in the outdoors, just as no supplement can replace real food. Our bodies were made for exposure to real light. Real light causes our body to synthesize the ever-soimportant vitamin D. Real light is cleansing, helping cleanse us of harmful pathogens on our clothing, skin and entire body.
People should strive every day to enjoy direct, unimpeded exposure to real sunlight. In the summer, depending on various factors, an individual may need to be careful to avoid over exposure and sunburn, especially during the heat of the day. In the late fall through early spring, because the sun is much weaker in the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, greater exposure is necessary and less caution required.
Next in importance to outdoor sun exposure is the endeavor to bring as much natural light into our indoor life as possible. Modern advances in window treatments and home design make getting more light into our living and working spaces a much easier task. When building, renting, buying or remodeling a home or office space, the amount and quality of natural light the structure allows into the living and working spaces should be carefully examined and given high priority.
Homes should be oriented and sited for maximum natural light potential and passive solar gain. Interior floor plans should take into account how to best make use of incoming light as well, especially to avoid creating cave-like spaces (except for sleep, where creating a room that naturally stays cool and very dark in our artificial-light-polluted world is a blessing!).
When building or remodeling a home, don’t neglect small design changes—skylights, bay windows and the like—that can substantially improve the mood and healthfulness of your house!
If someone wanted to go without electricity or was forced to do so for a period of time, there are a host of traditional lighting methods available: candles, lanterns, glass fronted wood stoves and others. But these methods are not without drawbacks.
The two major concerns to keep in mind are indoor air pollution and the risk of house fire, with minor concerns regarding the quantity and quality of the light.
INDOOR AIR POLLUTION
Candles and other open flame lighting methods create soot (or, for those using wood stoves, creosote), a byproduct of the incomplete combustion of the fuel source along with carbon monoxide and other possible pollutants.
Some oils and oil blends burn more cleanly than others. Note that incense, potpourri and similar items have the same concerns. The brighter the candle, the worse the problem: darker, bluish flames are a sign of cleaner burning and more complete combustion, but also give a less usable and enjoyable light.
Some sources of fuel and scent contain or create toxic byproducts when burned. Beeswax and soy candles are the cleanest, producing little to none of these byproducts if burned properly, so choose unscented candles or at least those scented with only pure natural sources of fragrance, such as essential oils, and without too strong a scent.
Avoid paraffin candles. Also, watch the wicks. Many candles, especially those produced in China, have wicks that contain lead and other contaminants, putting off small amounts into the air and home environment every time they are burned.
RISK OF FIRE
Almost any traditional method of heat and light brings with it the risk of fire. Exercise prudence and caution when using any combustionbased light and heat sources, indoors or out. Keep flammable objects and materials at a safe distance; don’t leave candles and other fire-based lights or cooking tools unattended, and place them on stable and safe surfaces.
BE IN THE LIGHT
One other concern about combustion based light sources is the nature and quality of the light. While it is enjoyable to sit and watch a fire in my wood stove in the soft late autumn evenings, chatting with family or friends, it is not conducive to reading or other sorts of work. To achieve sufficient light for even basic tasks often requires a large number of light sources, thereby increasing the problems outlined above. Lanterns of similar lighting options outshine candles in this regard. If you are planning to use such things for creating an environment enjoyable to read and work in, it pays to invest some time in finding the best models and designs currently available.
This is not to say that people should not have or use older lighting methods, just that we need to recognize their limitations and the blessings and dangers that both traditional and modern lighting create.
UPGRADE TECHNOLOGICALLY: LEDs
As I discussed in a previous article, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are a dangerous choice for electrical lighting. So to what can people turn?
LEDs (light emitting diodes) are the next option, offering superior light quality, longevity and durability. While some researchers have raised concerns about the lead and other materials used in LEDs, these concerns appear exaggerated.1 The amount of lead and other heavy metals used in LEDs is quite tiny and the metals are encased in extremely difficult-to-break hard plastic shells, not in delicate and fragile glass bulbs. If you manage to break an LED, you should still employ safe cleanup procedures, being especially careful of red and other similarly colored bulbs, which generally contain the most lead, arsenic and other heavy metals.
The life of an LED is extremely long, greatly reducing the environmental impact (and unlike CFLs, their rated life and real life are genuinely very similar).
Proper disposal of any bulb or electronic device is a must, not just LEDs! The computer the scientist uses to research his critique of LEDs often contains significantly more chemicals and heavy metals than the LED lights that will in most cases rarely come into direct contact with one’s body. Remember that computers, cell phones, iPods, iPads, and a hundred other gadgets contain significant amounts of the same compounds.
This is not to say that LEDs cannot be made safer or be improved upon, just like a wide range of other electronics, and thankfully such improvements are already starting to appear. But compared to CFLs or any other lighting options currently on the market, they are significantly superior in terms of light quality, longevity, safety and environmental impact, especially in hot climates.
The main drawback to LEDs currently is cost. They are three to five times more expensive than CFLs, though they continue to drop in price rapidly as consumers realize the dangers, dismal performance and deceit surrounding CFLs. Shopping sales (such as Newegg, where I purchased the ones I tested heavily before writing this article) can result in significant savings.
Sadly, while many power companies give away free CFLs, I have yet to see any LED giveaways, but perhaps with customer input and pressure this will change.
LET THE SUN SHINE IN!
I hope that this article will persuade readers to make creative efforts to maximize natural light in their homes and daily routines, while reducing dependence upon electrical light. If you are remodeling, make your plans with natural light in mind. Indeed, make bringing natural light into your home a high priority via large, well-oriented windows, skylights, open floor plans, and proper colors can all significantly reduce your needs for electrical or combustion-based lighting.
1. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=led-lightbulb-concerns While there are many articles on LEDs and their heavy metal content, every single article I have reviewed goes back to a single study done in Irvine, California.
ADDITIONAL BENEFITS OF INCANDESCENT LIGHTING
For those who frown upon incandescent light bulbs because of their greater energy usage, a few facts should be considered before you switch over to other options.
1. In the winter, the extra energy that incandescent bulbs use is turned directly into heat and the heat is generally located just where it is needed; that is, where people congregate. Thus, in cooler seasons and climates they actually serve as a very effective method of zone heating/space heating. According to a study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “The heat of incandescent lights—more than 341 Btu per bulb per hour—can help to warm a room. Therefore, if the cost of electricity is low relative to the cost of home heating fuel, there may be an economic case for changing to incandescent bulbs in colder seasons.”2
2. In the summer, lights are used far less because of the longer days and brighter natural light, thus mitigating and minimizing the need for and heat creation of interior lighting, especially among people who heed nature’s wisdom and go to sleep when it is dark!
Unsurprisingly, pro-CFL studies and literature overlook this more complex and less favorable picture of energy use, light quality, pollution creation, lifespan, disposal, and efficiency versus incandescent bulbs.
DESIGN IDEAS TO INCLUDE MORE NATURAL LIGHT
1. Fewer walls: the more open a house, the more light naturally enters into the living spaces.
3. Light colored paint: paint choice can go a long way towards naturally brightening and enhancing natural light once it enters a living space. A single window in a dark-colored room creates a cave, but in a bright room creates an outdoorsy feel.
4. Don’t obstruct your windows.
5. Make sure your curtains can be drawn back fully to allow maximal light to enter rooms.
Be sure to avoid CFLs. There is still time to stock up on the old-style incandescent bulbs, or choose LEDs over CFLs. Finally, expose yourself to natural light as much as possible. Cook beyond your kitchen. Garden. Take your lunch break outside when weather permits. Always seek to be in the light; your body and soul will thank you for it!
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2013.