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Last One Out of the Basement Turn off the Lights - Please!

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2019 UPDATE: With super-efficient LED light bulbs, you may think it is not as important as it used to be to turn off the lights, but I say, it is still a good idea, read on at my attempt at energy conservation and humor.

Turn off the light sign - like an old friend.

Turn off the light sign - like an old friend.


Help me by answering the poll "Electricity Wars" at the end of this article.


It's What My Dad Said

Did you grow up in a house where it was mandatory to turn out the lights when you left a room? Did they have those little signs next to the light switch at your elementary school? Every generation has a good reason to turn off the lights.

  • Depression / WWII era folks did if for the good of the country - it was patriotic.
  • In the 70's we did it to save money and if there was energy savings, that was a bonus.
  • Now we do it primarily to save energy and in the process, save the planet and if we save money, that is a bonus.

So why won't my kids TURN OFF THE LIGHTS! A recent scenario at my house. It is 10:30 at night, everyone has gone off to bed but me. I am perched in the living room dozing-off in front of the TV. Suddenly, I awake and head into the kitchen. I might be off to forage for a late night snack but on my way I notice something disturbing. No one is around but me and yet, ALL OF THE LIGHTS ARE ON!

There are lights on in the kitchen, the spare room, the downstairs bathroom, the mud room and dining room. Instinctively, I look toward the basement door. It is shut, perhaps, I think, the lights are off in the basement. Slowly, I open the door to reveal: THE LIGHTS ARE ON IN THE BASEMENT! I head back toward the front of the house and peer up the stairs - angry, disgusted and ready to roar at someone. What do I see, yes, the upstairs hall and bathroom lights are also on.

I take a breath, everyone is sleeping, calm down . . . I will not disturb their slumber . . . and so I go around the house, turning off all of the lights.

My God, can someone please turn out the lights!

My God, can someone please turn out the lights!

The War is Raging

A war is now waging in my household. It is a war between those who turn off the lights and those who don’t. A war between the energy savers and the energy waisters. I wage this war against those who will waste my money by burning needless energy. As the war heats up, there is an attack by my 8th grader and my counteroffensive is launched.

It is 10:30 at night, everyone has gone to bed but me (sound familiar?). This time, most of the downstairs lights are off. I have already made the rounds and scouted the battlefield, all is quite. 10:35 pm, a teenager comes down the stairs and heads toward the kitchen. He returns moments later and back up the stairs he goes. Things seem ok, there is no sign of any blatant over-illumination in the dining room or kitchen areas. A few moments later, at 10:40 pm, I head to the kitchen myself. As I approach, I notice something suspicious; a door is ajar. It is the basement door and the lights are on! The battle is afoot; the trap was set and sprung! A head to the stair and call up to my son. In a tone that is part astonishment, part resignment and part disgust, I mutter, “Did you just go down in the basement?” His reply. “Yes.” I then proceeded to bark my orders at him, “You left the lights on; get down here and turn them off.” He grumbles and I make the demand, “NOW!”

There is nothing worse for a lazy teenager then to have to tramp down two flights of stairs and through numerous rooms for no apparent reason than to turn off some lights. 10:37 pm, reluctantly, down he comes, still grumbling and down he goes again into the basement. Off go the lights and back up the stairs he rises. He has that look – half smirk and have despair and maintains his constant stream of grumbling.

As he passes me, I utter the now famous phase “if you’d turn off the lights when you leave the room, then you wouldn't have to come back down here and do it all over again.”

One last gasp of grumble and off he goes, back up to his room. I find a satisfied smile has appeared on my mug . . . this battle is won but the war will go on.

Do your duty pilgrim - turn off the lights and save American lives!

Do your duty pilgrim - turn off the lights and save American lives!

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Know Thy Enemy

The enemy will not go down easily. They employ an endless barrage of tactics and counter-measures to foil me. The 8th grader is aloof, he forgets things and seem utterly helpless in the face of life's many slings and arrows. How can he be expected to turn off the lights when he cannot remember anything that happened more than five seconds ago? He employs a myriad of battle gear: ear buds in his ears so he cannot hear, a glazed look in his eyes so he cannot see, an air of bewilderment surrounds him like a cloaking device.

The 6th grader is cunning and devious. He flaunts light switch etiquette just to aggravate me. For him it is like a red-hot poker to my eye. He does it for spite. He is a fast talker. He changes the subject and bores me with some silly story from his past life in the 3rd or 4th grade. He uses drama and intrigue to try to confuse and disorient me.

The 2nd grader plays a game. He is too young to understand. What is a light switch? What is a electricity? He employs his freckles and little puppy dog eyes to distract me from the task at hand, "Daddy, I am only in the 2nd Grade. I am just a little boy. I'm thirsty." They are relentless. They are vicious. They torment me at every turn but I slog on. Perseverance is my motto, stubbornness my crutch, a lower electric bill is my reward.

They are meticulous in their bad attitude and shrewd in their tactics. No quarter is given, no pause in the action, they do not relent in their illumination of rooms. But I hold one advantage over them that they cannot deny. That being the power of the purse. For electricity also flows through their laptop computers, their TV screens and their X-Boxes. They need to charge their phones! That flow of energy is in my hands, those circuits are my domain, those electrical outlets are the property of me. Without those to power their fun, they become feeble, depressed, bored and lost. They are no longer cool. For them, it is the ultimate in agony.

Broken Light Bulb - a Metaphor for the Light Bulb Wars?

Broken Light Bulb - a Metaphor for the Light Bulb Wars?

No Help from the Other Half

I fight this war alone, I have no allies, only foes. My wife is no help what-so-ever. She turns on lights all over the house and often leaves them on long after she is gone. In the dead of night, you could perform delicate brain surgery in rooms she has frequented. I don’t understand it; I know, in childhood, her parents told her to turn off the lights as much as mine told me. I know she attended schools with signs on the light switch the read, "LAST ONE OUT TURN OFF THE LIGHTS." Yet, she will not conform. Perhaps she was never the last one out of the room? She too flaunts light switch etiquette and electrical frugality as much as the children.

So I must fight this good fight alone, armed only with my stern warnings, rampant scoldings, frequent threats of the “full metal jacket” Xbox obliteration, computer confiscation, TV restrictions and dead cell phone batteries. It will be an up-hill battle, a hard fought war. When I am not around, I am sure that the lights blaze with contempt and when I am home, I must maintain a constant vigil and be alert at all times. Still, I will fight on to the end, in the living room, in the bathroom, in the spare room, in the basement; I shall never surrender. Someday, maybe not tomorrow or next week or even next year, but someday, I will prevail. And on that day, when I see boy turn off the lights as he is leaving a room, I will know that it was all worth it. On that day, I will get down on my knees and weep and then, I will get up and leave the room (after I turn off the lights).

Oh! and did I mention the problem of leaving the refrigerator door open? . . . don't get me started!


Poll - Who Else Fights this War?


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Bruce (author) from Chicago, Illinois on November 29, 2012:

carolina muscle,

Thanks for the comment - I make light of it but, as you say, it is important.

carolina muscle from Charlotte, North Carolina on November 29, 2012:

great post, and an important idea !!!

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