Neighborly questions
June 19, 2012 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Neighbor questions-How much is too much?

We moved in our house last year and now have a new neighbor (family) almost a month back. On his first introduction with my husband he mentioned that our porch light at night is too bright for him and my husband agreed to remove it. This leaves our entire house yard in darkness something I am not comfortable as we are on a dead end street.

On a day to day basis we don't have much contact with them and frankly the rest of the family hasn't been too friendly to us. (nothing wrong there, but there have been no attempts at introduction even though we have passed each other)

Trying to figure out what is the fine line between being good neighbors and where do you draw the line, in your experience? Do you feel that you absolutely have to have cordial relationships with your neigbor?
posted by pakora1 to Human Relations (26 answers total)
I don't understand why you would have to remove the bulb altogether. Why not replace it with a lower wattage bulb or turn it off when you go to bed?
posted by violetk at 4:27 PM on June 19, 2012 [24 favorites]

Or put it in an enclosure that is closed to the side that your neighbour is on.
posted by Jairus at 4:29 PM on June 19, 2012 [13 favorites]

I think that you should be considering a dimmer porch light or a porch light with a guard around it so that it doesn't illuminate too far past your porch. I'm not sure why, based on your question, you think that your neighbor is requesting that you have no light whatsoever.

To answer your second question, I treat people like I'd like to be treated. That means accommodating people's request when possible. It also means that I don't go out of my way to talk to people just because they live next door.
posted by saeculorum at 4:29 PM on June 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

On his first introduction with my husband he mentioned that our porch light at night is too bright for him and my husband agreed to remove it.

How about a motion-sensor light instead of one that's on all the time, or no light at all?

Do you feel that you absolutely have to have cordial relationships with your neigbor?

I feel *I* have to be cordial, but I don't have that expectation of everyone else. So with unfriendly neighbors I just wave, say good morning or whatever, and leave it at that.
posted by headnsouth at 4:30 PM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have been your neighbor in this situation! My old bedroom at my parents' house faces a neighbor's backyard, and they almost always keep their ridiculously bright back porch light on, and it shines straight into my bedroom window. It's really annoying. However, I wouldn't demand that the neighbor get rid of the light entirely. A dimmer wattage or motion-sensitive light wouldn't bother me as much/at all. I'd recommend just replacing the light with something dimmer, then next time you see the neighbor say something like, "Hey, we weren't completely comfortable with removing our porch light, but we did replace it with something less bright/a motion-sensitive light. Is that working better for you?"

I don't think you're especially obligated to be anything more than polite to your neighbors. Some people are outgoing and neighborly, some people aren't.
posted by yasaman at 4:45 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

For the specific issue: Yeah, look for a compromise. Dimmer bulb, different placement, something. You feeling safe with adequate lighting is an equally important concern to your neighbor's not liking the bright light, and it doesn't have to be all-or-nothing.

For the more general issue - I have a fraught relationship with my neighbor and it kind of sucks. Most of the time we happily ignore each other, but there is random stuff that occasionally would be useful to discuss (like who actually owns the hedge between our houses that probably one of us should be trimming), and I can't because she hates me with a fiery passion stemming from the Retaining Wall Collapse of Aught Nine.

I'm a private introverted person and I don't want to be buddies with my neighbor or hang out on our porches together or anything. But I am finding that at least keeping things cordial would have been a better idea, if you can do it without making yourself too crazy.
posted by Stacey at 4:49 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just FYI, a motion-sensor bright light is freaking startling, and some of them are triggered by raccoons, etc. I had neighbors with a very bright flood light that on a motion-sensor that shined in my bedroom window (LIKE THE NOONDAY SUN) a couple of residences ago, and the light turning on always startled me awake. It was better when it was on non-stop. Although obviously probably the best answer is re-aiming the light and/or a lower-wattage bulb, just keep in mind that if you guys do go with a motion sensor, the brightness of the bulb can still be a problem.

Has he told you why it's too bright? Does it bother them when they're trying to sleep? Does it prevent their stargazing? Or do they just like it being dark because it feels more secluded to them? Compromises (and my willingness to accommodate them) would vary based on the reasoning.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:08 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get a directional light, so that it's only shining where it needs to shine. Some places are starting to require them anyway, for light pollution reasons. LED ones seem to be good for this for some reason. If you don't want to pay for an LED (though they last a long time! And never overheat!) just get a guard for the light so it's not shining out into space.

I hate hate hate bright lights and yes, the motion sensor ones are awful because of raccoons, cats, and even bats, I think.

It's nice to have a cordial relationship with your neighbors, especially if you're on a dead-end street. Also, what they're asking isn't unreasonable.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:11 PM on June 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

I met my across-the-fence neighbor once, after moving into my house. She took the time to drive all the way around to our side of the block to introduce herself, and then ask that we keep our trees trimmed and vines cut back so that they don't enter her yard. I said I'd consider it, and she cut the conversation short.

I did a little digging around the neighborhood, and found out that there had been a long-standing feud between that woman and the woman I bought the house from; they'd both lived there for decades, and hated each other.

I really liked the woman I bought the house from, and found the other woman quite unpleasant considering how the introduction had went, so I didn't make an issue of it -- but I also didn't cut back my trees from overhanging (by law, that's her responsibility, and I can't get into her yard anyway)...although I did cut the vines back, because they were coming from another neighbor's yard and I didn't like them, either.

This apparently wasn't good enough, because several months later, as I was in the tree trimming the branches she came out and shouted at me to keep my trees in my yard, without so much as a howdy-do. I responded that if she didn't like the tree growing into her yard, she could have the branches cut back. She went back into her house with a *hmph.*

I never saw her again, and wasn't the worse for it. A few years later, the house went on the market; I don't know if she moved away or died. I do know, however, that the talk around the neighborhood was "good riddance."

Anyhoo, in your particular case, I'd strongly consider purchasing a light that allows you to focus the light into your own yard, rather than letting it spill into the windows of the neighbor's houses, and running a smaller bulb. That way you get what you want, in a way that gives your neighbor what they want, and everyone can be happy.

Oh, and: on a dead-end street, you're less likely to get bad behavior from others (break-ins and such) because if the police come in, they have nowhere to run. Just something to put your mind a little more at ease. I live somewhere where some houses have two street exits, some have one (cul-de-sacs), and some have as many as five due to an odd street placement. The break-ins and vandalism happen on the houses with four to five exits, consistently; those of us with two or fewer exits don't get any break-ins or vandalism at all.
posted by davejay at 6:15 PM on June 19, 2012

I can't imagine asking a neighbor to change or eliminate their light. If I'm bothered by it, I'll be the one to make a change: curtains or blinds.
posted by primate moon at 6:57 PM on June 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

With the others on why you guys didn't just use a lower watt bulb or motion activated lights.

As for neighbors in general - I personally have formally met maybe 2 neighbors in my adult life. And I've lived in a dozen different places. As horrible as it sounds, I actively ignore my neighbors. I am introverted and shitty at small talk.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:19 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with primate moon, if there's a light outside I don't like, I close the blinds. (Which I do anyhow because why on earth would I like people looking in at me at night?)
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:37 PM on June 19, 2012

I can't imagine asking a neighbor to change or eliminate their light. If I'm bothered by it, I'll be the one to make a change: curtains or blinds.

Really? To me it's not much different from asking someone to turn down their stereo that's blasting. We have to live cheek by jowl- it's reasonable to ask for some accommodation if something's making your life hard.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:38 PM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

You may want to think about how you'll handle it if you get approached again for something by this family.

Your porch light presumably didn't bother the last people who lived in their house, and if your phrasing reflects the way they approached your husband ("he mentioned that our porch light at night is too bright for him"), that seems a little aggressive.

Where would I draw the line? Well, if the neighbor approached me with the understanding that he was making a request rather than giving instructions, and was willing to talk through what the problem was and why replacing the light made the most sense, I'd hear him out.

It may turn out that getting a different bulb for a few dollars would solve the problem for both of you in which case, yeah, it makes sense. But if the alternatives are you taking a few hours of your Saturday to go to the Home Depot, spending 50 bucks on a new light fixture, and then installing it versus him taking a few hours of his Saturday to go to the Home Depot, spending 50 bucks on thick shades, and then installing them, let him be the one to suck it up here.

Obviously you've reached a point where the dark porch is an issue for you. Maybe you can press your neighbor for more info on the nature of the problem and work from there. But you're not asking him to tell you what you should do; you're coming up with a solution to a problem and seeing if it won't be too hard to work his concerns into it. That's how I'd look at it.
posted by alphanerd at 7:40 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

The bright lights my neighbors have used are BRIGHT! They'd require huge blackout shades.

I don't like curtains, though I use them to block out the street lights, which aren't as bright as those bright back porch lights. When there are such an easy and reasonable solutions on the neighbor's part, it's not asking too much to request them.

But then, light pollution is a big issue here. The cities in the SF Bay Area are all switching their lights to directional ones (has anyone noticed how NOT neon-bright the San Mateo bridge looks these days when you fly over it? Yay!) so the onus has begun to fall on the people with the lights more than the other folks. This isn't true in other areas but it's true here, and I'm glad of it.

Your porch light presumably didn't bother the last people who lived in their house,

Think of it in terms of noise in an apartment building. If your walking around is keeping up your downstairs neighbors, it's just good manners for the folks upstairs to put a rug on their hardwood floors and even go shoeless, even if earlier tenants were able to sleep through a revivalist church service. Yes, you don't HAVE to, but it's still the right thing to do.

I would switch my light if it cost $50 and an afternoon. Light is invasive and the old style ones go further than they're needed or wanted. If he still complained after that, he'd be SOL.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:51 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

The suggestion for a lower wattage bulb and to use an enclosure for the light that is closed to the side that your neighbour is on sounds good. In somewhat similar circumstances, we switched to using bug repelling outdoor light bulbs like these.
posted by gudrun at 9:02 PM on June 19, 2012

Why do you need an outside light on at all? What are you doing out there at night? What's the light going to stop?

Forget the light completely. Get a better lock and go to bed.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:23 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get a very dim, low wattage bulb for the porch. Think, "romantic lighting."

Get a super bright motion detector light and install that nearby or alongside your other light. A good electrician will know what to do here. In terms of Home Safety, the motion detector light is a blessing.

Additionally, solar yard stake-type lamps can gently illuminate the walkways, etc. This will be useful, but also deter bad intentions.

You're pretty safe because you live on a dead-end street - my family ALWAYS buys houses on dead-end streets for this reason.

That said, taking out your porch lighting entirely is ridiculous!
posted by jbenben at 10:11 PM on June 19, 2012

Try a yellow or amber light. I have yellow bug lights in my back yard that the neighbors are okay with.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:13 PM on June 19, 2012

The neighbors across from my parents used to have what we jokingly referred to as the Gestapo Interrogation Light that came on every time something moved or they let the dog out. It was hideous, huge, bright, and pointed dead out--not at the grass/ground.

Would you consider using little landscape lights to gently illuminate your yard? Before my parents invested in a ceiling fan with low-watt LED lights for their back porch that's what they used to see what the dog was doing when it was dark out.
posted by xyzzy at 10:15 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think lights just make it easier for bad guys to see what they're doing. Turn off the light and let them trip.
posted by sageleaf at 10:30 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Re: "How much is too much?"

This lightbulb issue is not "too much". It sounds like you're grumbling behind closed doors about how unfriendly your neighbors are, but I don't see any evidence that you've approached them, tried to introduce yourselves, or been particularly friendly neighbors aside from removing the light bulb when you thought that was what they wanted you to do. Perhaps they are wondering why you guys are so cold and unfriendly to them and whether you are still holding a grudge over that silly little lightbulb incident...
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:57 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe I've lived in the big nasty city for too long, but uh, I don't really understand why they can't put curtains up. It's nice of you to try to find a solution- so yeah, grab a dimmer bulb or something.

On a day to day basis we don't have much contact with them and frankly the rest of the family hasn't been too friendly to us. (nothing wrong there, but there have been no attempts at introduction even though we have passed each other)

It takes two to tango, darling. If they aren't introducing themselves- it's up to you to do it. After picking up a nice, lower wattage bulb, try bringing over a plate of brownies. You can take the opportunity to properly welcome them to the neighborhood, and let them know you're talking steps to fulfill your need for safety as well as being aware of their sensitivity to the bright lights.

ANYWAY- nothing beats the safety that comes with neighbors who give a hoot if you are getting robbed. If anything you should make an attempt to be friendly so they know enough about you to be able to tell if it's your brother-in-law in your backyard or a dude casing the place.
posted by Blisterlips at 6:20 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

ANYWAY- nothing beats the safety that comes with neighbors who give a hoot if you are getting robbed

Yes, I have a neighbour on one side who is nosy and always around and a bit of a pain in the arse frankly, but when we're away she keeps an eye on the house, takes in the mail, is a curtain-peeker when anyone approaches, all that good stuff. That's valuable to us. I don't need to be best friends with my neighbours but having the sort of cordial relationship where (on an irregular basis) we can borrow tools from each other, sign for packages, work with each other in replacing fences, things like that saves us all hassle, time and in some cases expense. That's not trivial to me. Plus smiles and small talk are better than cold nods when you inevitably run into each other. I live in urban Toronto and our entire properties are small, 25x100 or so, though. Fully six gardens back onto my own. I might feel different if I had a massive garden and never saw anyone.

In my experience sometimes the "little things" like the lightbulb (and I agree with others, those can definitely interrupt sleep and be amazingly sharp at the right angle through a window) can really aggravate. I have two neighbours whose dogs relieve themselves at the rear of their gardens, a few feet from where we sit out on patio furniture every night, and I have to discuss the stink with them however awkward I feel. I mean, chances are you will have your own issue like this or favour you need from your neighbour at some point and when you do you will be glad you put a screen on the lightbulb or left a light on inside instead of out. Good luck whatever you decide!
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:50 AM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is some evidence that too much artificial light ay negatively impact the health of various living things- including people. I got new neighbors recently and they started using a very bright light that the previous neighbors had never used. I left them a note asking them if they could please not use it after 10 because it shines right into my bedroom- through the curtains- and I get up very early to work. They very kindly not only changed the bulb, but put a better shade on it.

I don't like to have to use complete light-blocking curtains, I like being able to see a bit of sky and trees when I lie in bed. I like being awakened by the early morning light instead of an alarm clock. (I live at a latitude where the seasonal variation of dawn is not very pronounced.)
posted by mareli at 8:27 AM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the responses. I think the next step is to get a motion sensor/dimmer light. And you are right, one of my concern is that this is the first request when someone has barely introduced themselves, wondering what will be next. I do think that this was an aggressive request and we should not have complied with it completely. A compromise would have been good.
posted by pakora1 at 8:29 AM on June 20, 2012

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