Knowing the Good from the Bad in Solar Lighting
Using solar landscape lights in your outdoor design scheme is an excellent way to reduce your home's energy consumption. Solar light-emitting diode (LED) lighting is typically made with small solar panels that power one or more 1.2-volt batteries to run the lights at night. But finding high-quality solar-powered LED lighting for outdoor applications such as your patio, yard or porch can be a challenge. Many solar LED lighting fixtures are below-par in terms of their performance and durability, but how do you know what to look for in a quality LED light fixture?
Selecting High-Quality Solar LED Lights
Whether you are looking for solar path lights, solar powered spot lights, solar lamp post lights, solar wall lighting, or solar security lighting, first you should look for high-quality construction in your solar LED light fixtures. Here are some qualities that will indicate durability in your choice for solar outdoor lighting:
- Solid assembly: Lower-priced fixtures may pop together using twist-lock or press-fit assemblies which can become brittle (especially in cold weather), loosen over time, or snap with repeated use. Choose fixtures that are put together using solid screw fittings or ones that have been riveted, soldered, or welded together.
- Good quality batteries: Many out-of-the-box solar lighting fixtures will come with lead acid batteries which are poor at holding a charge and have a limited lifespan. If this is the case, you can purchase the fixture and simply recycle those batteries in favor of something more efficient. Good options include nickel cadmium (NiCd), which is more efficient but much more toxic, and nickel metal hydride (NiMH), which is the best option. NiMHs have superior efficiency and life expectancy and are less toxic than NiCd batteries.
- Connection between lights: If you want truly easy installation, look for models that come with quick-connect wiring systems so that you can connect several lighting fixtures together and then hook them up to a central solar PV panel.
- Ground fixtures: How your solar LED lights are installed into the ground will greatly affect how they wear over time. Poor installation that results in frequent jarring of your solar LED lights might also mean a higher level of wear and tear resulting in damage from physical abuse. To prevent this, look for long and wide spikes when choosing outdoor light fixtures. These will provide secure mooring, even with tall fixtures or in soft soil.
Solar LED lighting will range in price from $10 per fixture to $50 per fixture. Keep in mind that expensive doesn't guarantee higher quality. Look for the above characteristics before you judge a given LED solar light fixture by its price.
Properly Placing Solar LED Light Fixtures
Solar LED lights, while brighter these days than they've ever been, still tend to give off soft illumination. It is not surprising, then, that solar lights for the home garden are most commonly used in landscape design for the purpose of providing ambient lighting. Most people find soft, ambient lighting at night highly desirable for outdoor spaces, making these the perfect solution. And recently, solar lights with stronger illumination have appeared on the market for spot-lighting or task lighting.
It is important that you properly position your solar landscape lights for your home garden to get the most out of them. Where you place your solar garden lights in your outdoor space will have a profound impact on how well they recharge during the day, and by extension, how they light up at night. In other words, how long a solar garden light can shine at night is in direct relation to output charging capacity of the solar panel and the capacity of the rechargeable batteries.
Though most common solar landscape lights will recharge in indirect sunlight, the more sun exposure your little solar panels receive the better. If your solar garden lights come with the miniature solar PV panel installed directly on the fixture, than you will need to ensure that the light fixture is positioned to receive direct sunlight for a good portion of the day. If, however, you have a solar garden light with an external solar panel, then you can position the solar light wherever you like in your landscape design, as long as it is within range of the panel collecting the sun's energy.
And look for the new "solar on demand" feature in some solar lights, which allows you to turn off the solar light remotely. This feature allows you to charge the solar light while you are out and then switch it back on even if it is overcast or at night.
With these tips, you should be able to find and use good quality solar landscape lighting for a variety of outdoor applications with ease and great satisfaction.