Light Blight

That’s the side of my house that faces the gas station. The strip of shadow is where the fence ends. Those windows belong to my (former) bedroom, the dining room below, and the kitchen (with the back door). It’s not shown but the french door to my back porch behind the kitchen is also well lit. It looks like this every single night.

I took these photos with my camera on a basic setting. I haven’t tinkered with them to lighten them. The camera makes computerized adjustments.

This is what it looks like from the street. There’s a streetlight a little ways down, towards Hamilton Rd. It’s bright enough with just that. One photo is lighter than it looks in real life, the other is darker. Imagine something in between:



That would be a reasonable amount of light to be directed at the side of my house. The difference is obvious.

Because the gas station is on the most elevated portion of the street, and the way that the canopy and pumps are arranged, the headlights from a large truck or SUV that pull in from Hamilton Rd sweep across four of the houses across the street, right at the level of their living room windows. I am confused why my neighbours are not furious about this. This is a completely predictable outcome ! This is an issue about the elevation of the gas station property, but also the PLANNED direction for gas station customers. The pumps and canopy could have been oriented  perpendicular to this street. That way the canopy would have completely sheltered customers as they walked from the pump to the convenience store, and headlights would not affect any residential properties. This is a couple of  houses right across the street when the headlights sweep across:


This is what it looks like inside my former bedroom at night. This is facing the gas station. My half curtains are semi-opaque:


Viewed from the hall:


With the windows at my back facing the hall:


In the hall and stairwell. The light shines through the doorway and transom and illuminates the far side of the house ! From dusk until dawn.


This is excessive and unnecessary. Other municipalities actually have laws which address light pollution and light infiltration. Not London, Ontario, though !

Click to access nuisancelighting2013.pdf

Toronto has a very comprehensive document about effective lighting in an urban context:

Click to access 8ff6-city-planning-bird-effective-lighting.pdf

Did you know that the light from bright LEDS can cause negative effects on humans, including permanent retinal damage ? And endocrine disruption ? And serious negative effects on wildlife ?

Many businesses (and people) believe that bright lighting prevents crime. There have been studies which contradict this. One even found that criminals PREFERRED bright locations, as it helped them to see what to steal, and it made THEM feel safer !

Click to access LightingForSafetyAndSecurity.pdf

Obviously the Dark Sky Society has an agenda – less light pollution. Here’s more information about lighting, safety and crime:

Lighting, Crime and Safety

Here’s an interesting study about service station lighting that shows that reduced and shielded lighting for gas stations actually increased sales at those stations:

Service Station Lighting

Click to access canopy.pdf

My neighbour’s excessive lighting actually makes my property less safe. The glare from the EXTREMELY BRIGHT lights over the tire compressor make it impossible to see details in my front and back yard. If this lighting was replaced with a lower, shielded task lighting, none would infiltrate my property. Tire compressor users would also probably have a better time seeing what they are doing. As it is the light is above and behind the compressor – making the instructions for use harder to read. That light is much brighter than at my doctor’s exam room – yet no surgery of any kind is performed by the tire compressor. The lighting could also be motion sensitive – so it would only come on when in use.

It all brings me back to questions about why this is exempt from City Planning and bylaw enforcement ? It is excruciating to look at and serves little positive purpose.

Gas Infiltration Questions

The infiltration of gasoline vapours into my house is happening even when I have all the doors and windows closed.

How is the gas vapour getting INTO my house ?

There are storm windows on most of the windows – mostly vintage aluminum triple track ones with screens, but I have a couple of antique wood ones, too.

The doors on the house are the original wood doors, with the exception of the door on the back porch, with the vintage aluminum storm door. Oh, and the wood storm door on the kitchen is a replacement, that has a tempered glass insert.

I have door sweeps on all the exterior doors, except the back porch. I also have a door sweep on the door that leads to the back porch from the kitchen, and both foyer doors. Both foyer doors are original to the house and fit properly in their jambs.

I have weather stripping on the kitchen door and the front door.

The vintage aluminum storm windows are attached with screws and a horrid amount of caulk. This led to irreparable damage on several window sills as there wasn’t any place for condensation to go but down. The rotten window sills have been replaced.

I had a blower test done before I had the new furnace installed, then again after so I could qualify for the rebate. It showed a few places where there was some air leakage around a few windows, even the ones with glued on storm windows. I replaced the broken basement window, sealed up the terrible powder room fan vent hole and caulked along the baseboards on exterior walls.

There are no obvious gaping holes on my house. There’s a little missing mortar here and there, minor.

The front door is slightly smaller than the jamb. Any door has to be or it will not open or close properly. London is very humid so a wood door in a wood jamb that fits tightly in the winter might not close at all in summer. A door is usually about 1/4″ (7mm) narrower in with than the opening, and about 1/2″ shorter..

The sash windows have to be slightly smaller so they can open and close as well. There is no significant rot on any of the wood sash window frames, and they are all still seated properly. A couple of panes have small cracks but the glass is not loose or missing. I have replaced most of the damaged glazing putty on the ground floor windows. I have curtains or blinds on most of my windows which help with privacy and retaining heat.

Houses that are sealed too tightly have indoor air quality problems.

Depending on the wind speed and direction a room might be cozy or drafty.

Gasoline vapours are entering my house because they are vapours. They are forced in and through minute openings around the doors and windows by the wind direction. This is not an error or deficit in my house’s construction.

Gasoline vapours are entering my house because of the vents made for vapour release, from the underground storage tank, which are in a dangerous and inappropriate location.

I could remove all my original windows and doors and replace them with inferior modern garbage doors and windows. Maybe even frames and jambs, too. I would still suffer from the infiltration of gasoline vapours because the vent is situated too close to any doors and windows, in violation of TSSA’s own guidelines.

Perhaps if my house was a windowless extra thick-walled industrial building, situated as far back as possible on the lot, with the front door situated on the south wall, also near the back of the lot, then the gasoline vapours would not enter the building ?


Better Design

People don’t seem to understand what a designer does. When you say “designer” most people think of a flamboyant character, like John Galliano (above), dressed thusly.

Most design work is invisible. The chair you are sitting in was designed by someone, with basic universal principles of how high the seat is, how deep the seat is, the height of the back rest, and whether the chair has three, four or five legs (or even more. Maybe you have Really Special Chairs).

City planning is a type of design work. Roads have to be a certain width for a variety of reasons, the height of curbs is noted, crosswalks are placed according to rules and decisions that someone made.

Corporate entities use many designers – from their logo to their website to their storefront to their headquarters. Someone (well – lots of people. Graphic designers don’t usually do architecture and interior designers probably don’t do web design) made decisions about how a space would function, how brand identity would affect consumer preferences, and the font in their advertising.

Good design makes a thing functional. It makes towns and cities pleasant to live in and easy to get around. It makes a building retain its value and be useful for decades or centuries. Good design isn’t confusing or hard to use.

Let’s look at a couple of local gas stations that I think have pretty good design.

The first one is at Hamilton Rd. and Highbury. This site is the complete inverse of my location. The adjacent houses are on a much higher elevation than the station, which is situated approximately 3 meters below the highest point:


This (above) is looking at the station on Highbury, facing west, near the intersection of Hamilton Road. The canopy is large, and connects to the Circle K store, which offers weather protection for gas and convenience store customers. There are raised curbs with small shrubs for landscaping.

This (below) is looking at the other part of the station, by Hamilton Road, facing north. Raised curbs and landscaping direct traffic flow. The dumpsters are enclosed by a fence like structure. The vents for the underground storage tanks are placed near the middle of the lot, to help the fumes dissipate with traffic airflow. There are very large trees planted around the border, which helps to beautify and delineate the lot. By the carwash is a masonry fence as tall as the roof of the carwash. This helps to absorb sound and vibration. The lights for the parking and drive-through area are shielded so the light is concentrated directly downwards. The house directly next door is on a much higher elevation. There is a very tall wood fence, with some type of vine planted next to it:


This (below) is the view from the street, with the garage and driveway of the house that is next to the station, pictured in the center of the photo above. The very large trees help to create a feeling of privacy and separation, and the tall, continuous fence at the top of the land elevation  help to conceal the station. From the photos it appears that the chances of light spill-over into this home are slim. This is a result of considered and thoughtful planning and design.


This (below) is what an aerial view of the site looks like:

Screen Shot 2019-02-07 at 9.34.33 PM.png

Greenspace is around the station on four sides. On the Highbury Road side (bottom of the image) tall trees are densely planted between the car wash building and the neighbouring house. The trees would help to absorb sound from the carwash. There is also a tall wood fence on that side. Traffic is guided through the various parts of the station through the use of raised curbs and landscaping. This corner has a fair amount of pedestrian traffic (a bus stop on Hamilton Rd and a bus stop on Highbury). The raised curbs with landscaping make this safer for pedestrians. There are clear sightlines for drivers at all entrance and exit points. The size of the buildings, canopy, road and parking areas are appropriate in scale for the site. Nothing feels cramped or lost. Do I think these buildings are beautiful ? No. But overall this station looks very functional and considered.

Here’s a station at Clarke and Trafalgar (below):


This is on a smaller lot. The houses next door seem to be on a slightly higher elevation. The underground gasoline storage vents are visible in the image above, close to the gas price sign. They are as far away as possible from neighbouring homes. This station is completely surrounded by a very tall masonry fence, which may be taller than the 7′ city bylaw. There are raised curbs and some landscaping.The lighting is downward directed, and is located where necessary. There is a clear entrance and exit for the carwash at the back of the lot.


This canopy (below) is  connected to the convenience store, and the placement makes good use of the relatively tight space. Large evergreens are planted on the landscaping perimeter.


Large trees are planted next to the solid masonry fence(below). It appears the adjacent property owner has connected their tall wood fence to the station’s fence:


An aerial view of this station shows how it was planned. The flow of traffic for users was considered, there is greenspace and raised curbs on all four sides of the lot. The dumpsters are concealed by a fence-like structure. There is a sidewalk that leads to the convenience store. It appears that some large trees are planted adjacent to the carwash, while others seem to be on that home’s lot. The buildings are utilitarian but functional. It does not seem that the light from the canopy, or other lighting on this site would affect the house on either side. This is good design, in my opinion.