Oftentimes I am asked by clients to design a landscape lighting plan that includes illuminating their flagpole. It seems most people know that their flag must be lit if it is to be flown at night, but are not sure of the rules. The rules for American flag lighting etiquette tips include:
According to the U.S. Flag Code, Section 6a: “It is universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.”
The Code itself doesn’t indicate what “properly” means. However, “The American Legion interprets ‘proper illumination’ as a light specifically placed to illuminate the flag (preferred) or having a light source sufficient to illuminate the flag so it is recognizable as such by the casual observer.”
Unfortunately, I have seen “Old Glory” flown after dark with no lighting far too often. I have also come across some interesting makeshift solutions, such as holiday-type temporary flood lights with extension cords running across walkways causing a trip hazard and house-mounted flood fixtures redirected toward the flagpole, causing undesirable glare.
Flagpoles are now available with integrated lighting fixtures, but most installed poles are not. If you have a pole without lighting, or have not previously run electric to the area, and you want to fly the Stars and Stripes around the clock, you have options.
In most residential applications freestanding flagpoles are between twenty and thirty feet tall. Many are located in the turf area of the front yard or have been incorporated into a small planting bed. With this location in mind, there are really only two placement options for lighting fixtures; at the base of the pole directed straight up or tucked off to the sides aimed diagonally.
When considering where to place the fixtures, keep in mind that the flag needs to be illuminated regardless of wind strength and direction. If your flag is five feet wide, lighting must cover the area of a ten-foot diameter circle, with the pole being the center. Also, as with any illuminated subject, consider the main vantage point. From where will the “casual observer” see your flag?
When designing any lighting system, beam spread, distance and power are the characteristics we use to determine the proper lamp choice. Outdoor LED directional fixtures are today’s choice for lighting the American flag after dark. Not only do they provide the bright light required by the flag code, they use less than half the wattage of halogen for greater energy cost savings, especially important when they will be powered from dusk ‘til dawn.
If your flagpole is situated directly in the turf, recessed below-grade fixtures will allow easy lawn care and remain mostly invisible during daylight. If the pole is ‘planted’ within a mulched bed, stake-mounted above ground fixtures should be employed. Either way, fixtures should be placed two to three feet away from the pole. Using more than one luminaire will provide better coverage and a more pleasing effect.
Finally, control systems are relatively simple. Whether you use line voltage or low voltage powered by a transformer, your flagpole lighting should run from dusk until dawn. This is easily accomplished by employing a photo sensor or a self-adjusting astronomical timer. If your intention is to truly follow flag etiquette, no further controls are necessary.
When you fly the Stars and Stripes this Memorial Day be sure to remember and give thanks to all those who gave their lives serving our country in the armed forces.