By sunset, most of us are putting away our garden tools. You can’t really weed or harvest or hoe in the dark, unless you have outdoor lighting. But good outdoor lighting can be pricey, and you often need a licensed electrician to install a system in your landscape.
Solar lights can be a great alternative. They’re available in a variety of prices and styles, and most are easy to stake into the ground along a driveway or path, hang from tree branches, or attach to existing structures, like deck posts.
These kind of lights work by absorbing sunlight in photovoltaic cells. The cells then charge batteries that power up LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, when it gets dark.
Because they used conventional bulbs, the first solar lights were somewhat dim. But today, most feature super-bright LEDs that don’t produce as much heat as traditional bulbs. Today’s units also have more efficient batteries, so they work even in the winter, when the days are short. And because solar lights don’t require as much electricity as traditional types, they’re cheaper to operate.
When you’re ready to brighten your landscape, use our tips to help you find the right lights for your needs:
1.First, decide how much light you want. If you need only a soft glow, accent lights will do the trick. You’ll find models with amber, soft white, or super-bright LEDS; some even appear to flicker like candles. Accent lights provide the least amount of light in the solar lighting category, but are often the least expensive, too.
Look for solar-powered planters, cubes, orbs, lanterns, and fiber optic strands; strings of solar-powered lights; floating solar pool lights; and even decorative lights that look like fireflies, morning glories, and more. Some change colors.
2.If you need to mark a path, driveway, or other area, look for solar path lights. They’re typically sold in sets of 4, 6 or more units. Some can be staked into the ground, while others use mounting brackets or hooks, so you can hang them. In terms of price and illumination, they’re in the middle of the solar powered range.
3.Want to highlight a special feature, like a tree or sculpture in your garden? Try a solar spotlight, sometimes called a solar task light. Most spots are only about as bright as a 40-watt incandescent bulb, so you may need more than one. Some are available with motion sensors that save power when it’s not needed, so you can also use them near doors and other entranceways.
Options to look for when buying solar-powered lights:
Do the lights have plastic or glass panels, shades, or other parts? Many solar lights come with plastic, but high-grade glass panels won’t crack or turn cloudy.
If you live in a region with a lot of cloudy days, or you have a shady yard, you can still use solar lights, although they perform best when they get 8 or more hours of sun each day. For better results, consider a remote photovoltaic panel that you can install on your roof or put in a sunny spot. You’ll need to wire it panel to the lights you use around your yard.
Another option: look for solar lights with advanced circuitry. This kind of technology is designed to help them store up a charge even when the sky is overcast.
Before you buy, read about the solar lights you’re considering to see how long the batteries hold a charge. Top-line batteries, or so-called “next generation batteries,” can hold up to 2 ½ times the charge as older types.
Look to see if the solar lights have reflectors. Many have plastic reflectors that let some of the stored light escape.
Read the packaging to see many LEDs are in each unit. Some solar lights have 4 to 6 LEDs in each head, while others many have 16. The more LEDs, the brighter the glow.
Think about how long you want your solar lights to last. Models that have batteries sealed in silicone, or one-piece “all-weather” housing that resists moisture, may be more costly up front, but you won’t have to replace them as often.
Want to save the electrical charge in your batteries, so you can use your solar lights only when you really need them? Look for models with on and off switches. Some may have timers you can set.
How to choose the best outdoor solar lights for your garden?
What type of outdoor lights should I buy?
Wall-mounted lamps: Great for illuminating a specific spot such as a seating area or flower bed. They tend to run off an interior or exterior mains supply. Best to go for a fixture with an anti-rust coating.
Security lights: Designed to deter intruders and help you move around safely in the dark. Most are fitted with a PIR (passive infrared sensor) that’s activated when motion is detected and is a great energy-saving feature. Some lights allow you to programme how long the light stays on for and at what distance the sensor detects movement.
Spike lamps: An easy way to light up paths, borders and edges. Most commonly solar-powered so you can just push them in the ground without having to deal with any wiring. If you’re looking for a brighter effect, consider a mains-powered spike light.
Lanterns: An atmospheric and portable option that adds a warm glow to wherever you choose to plonk it. Typically battery or solar-powered.
String lights: Versatile and very easy to install. Can be draped over balcony railings and fences, wrapped around columns and trees and used to define borders and edges. Use hooks or staples to attach to surfaces. They can run from a mains supply, but opt for a battery or solar-powered set if you want to avoid wiring.
What kind of power supply do I need?
If you don’t have an external electrical socket you can run outdoor lighting from an internal power source. You’ll need to make sure that the circuit is protected by an RCD (a residual current device, designed to break currents when necessary to prevent electric shocks) and that it can cope with the additional load you’re putting on it. If you’re fitting a single security light, installation can be fairly straightforward, but if you’re adding a number of lights, it’s advisable to run a new supply from a fuse board. If in any doubt, seek guidance from a qualified electrician. Or, if you’d rather not go down the electric route, consider a battery or solar-powered option instead.
What to consider when choosing solar garden lights for your exterior lighting needs.
Decide if you need decorative accent, path or task solar lights.
Find out whether the battery needs full sunlight to charge. Some lights charge with partial sun and work great under trees or in areas with low sunlight. This type of solar light can also be charged on a cloudy day.
Consider the operating time. Usually solar lights perform year round and even charge the battery to provide operation during long winter nights. Some solar lights shine for several days before needing to recharge.
Check the type of light bulb the solar light uses. LED lights offer the brightest and most efficient light when it comes to efficiency, size, price and energy usage. Some accent solar lights use amber LED lights to create a softer glow.
Compare extra items like timers or an on-off switch to the cost. Colored lenses change the look of the solar lights without compromising the brightness. Some solar lights mount to your house, hang from trees or can be mounted to your patio rail.