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Lisa Heschong, a California architect with the Heschong Mahone Group, which specializes in research on building performance, doesn’t think much of firelight: “The use of fire for lighting, while romantic, is extraordinarily inefficient, energy intensive, and potentially polluting. Indoor combustion is one of the main sources of indoor air pollution, especially in the third world.” Cities like Sacramento, California, even limit wood-burning fireplaces to keep skies clearer. “In our climate,” Heschong explains, ”the presence of smoke in the winter increases the prevalence of soot, thereby reducing daylight.”

burning wax candle

But what about the romance loophole? Photographer Bill Wadman loves the flame’s amber hue for exactly that reason: “Firelight is extremely warm in color, shifted very much toward orange, so it gives some of the same advantages that the ‘magic hour’ does just after sunset. I think it’s ingrained in us to equate this warm color and the warmth of the fire itself with the concept of home and security. And because of the way skin reflects light, warmer light tends to be more flattering and diminish flaws in portraits. Pleasing, yes, but accurate? Not a chance.” Which works just fine for romance.

Get a little color in your cheeks—these lights burn hot

  • use of fire and energy in the home

    Fire in the Home 101

    Taming fire was humankind’s first and most critical step toward its mastery of the material world. About 400,000 years ago, our ancestors learned to harness the flame, setting us on the course that would lead from the stone hearths those early humans built to the modern high-efficiency catalytic woodstoves we use today. More important, though, was the capacity to selectively apply heat, a transformative power that allows us to turn dirt into metal, cold into warmth, dark into light.

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