In the 1880s, Austrian chemist and engineer Carl Auer von Welsbach invented the gas mantle. It is a mesh fabric bag infused with a chemical and metal solution that generates a bright white light when heated by a gas flame. The technology greatly improved gas lighting. Soon lamps using gas mantles filled streets and homes in North America and Europe for much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
That same technology, perfected over more than 100 years, remains one of two technologies for outdoor natural gas lamps on the market today.
A Primary Light Source
Lamps using a gas mantle, also called a Welsbach mantle, are sometimes used as a primary outdoor lighting source. A single gas mantle generates the same amount of light as a 50-watt electric bulb, but uses the energy of a pilot light.
“They are similar to what you see in a Coleman camping lantern,”said Patrick Jardini, head of business development, American Gas Lamp Works, LLC. “They produce a solid white light, like a light bulb. The mantles are a concentrated ignition that provides a good amount of light in the surrounding area.”
The mantles do require some routine maintenance, Jardini said. The open flames need to be relit from time to time. Mantles should also be changed about once a year or any time they are no longer fully intact. About twice a year, homeowners should clean the glass and remove any debris to enhance airflow around the mantles.
Homeowners who want outdoor lighting to set a mood rather than to create a primary light source may be more interested in lamps using open flame technology.
Maintenance-free, open flame technology is used primarily for ambient lighting to create a feeling or particular look for a home. Lamps using open flame illumination offer the warm, flickering light of an open flame. This provides a dramatic ambiance to outdoor settings, entrances and walkways.
“They produce a flickering flame, like a candle, inside the lantern and don’t throw much light, so they provide more beauty than functionality,” he said.
Adjusting the gas valve of the lamp controls the size and shape of the flame. Open flame burners burn around the clock if desired, but can be turned off and manually relit.
The Finishing Touch
Regardless of the technology used, gas-fueled lights and tiki torches add the finishing touches to outdoor living spaces.
“The latest direction of our industry is moving toward is complete outdoor spaces: patios, pools, fire pits and beyond,” Jardini said.
A recent Houzz Landscaping trends study found that 56 percent of homeowners are making updates to improve their backyard for entertaining. The National Association of Realtors reports this move adds significant value to a home.
From casual tiki torches to elegant brass or copper lamps, natural gas lighting complements many outdoor spaces. Lights are mounted on exterior walls, porch ceilings or on lamp posts. Sensors and timers help reduce fuel use by ensuring that lights are only on when needed.
The use of outdoor gas lamps requires access to a natural gas line. Because gas lines are most easily installed during the early stages of construction or renovation, it’s important to get specifications from your gas and fixture suppliers as early in the planning process as possible, Jardini said.
“Sometimes customers are leery of installing gas lamps, due to being unfamiliar with the technology. Gas lamps are safe and approved for outdoor use when installed per manufacturer’s recommendations and local and national fuel gas codes,” he said.
A local gas specialist, plumber or HVAC provider provides information and installation of a natural gas line and fixture while ensuring adherence to local and national fuel gas codes and manufacturer’s recommendations.
Set the Standard with Lighting
Outdoor lamps create warm and inviting living spaces. When fueled by natural gas, outdoor lighting provides a cost-effective, environmentally friendly and reliable light source. Light is available even during a power outage. And, natural gas lighting does not tend to attract insects.
“However, the real benefit is the feeling it gives our clients,” Jardini said. “We consider our lamps a luxurious accessory for the home. It’s refined, distinct and custom tailored for the client. Just as a diamond necklace conveys style and garners attention to the wearer, gas lamps provide the same for homes by creating a cozy and warm environment.”
Lighting the Way was written by Tonya McMurray for Natural Living, a publication distributed by Southeast Gas and published by Energy Solutions Center.