Solar lights can decorate and illuminate your garden year-round. If you are upgrading your garden lights or want to install new ones solar lighting is the way to go because not only they require no wiring and have no running costs but also they've gone a long way in recent years to favorably compete with grid-based lights in terms of brightness and longevity. Solar garden lights come in various shapes and purposes. Some of them look like a vintage lamp post while others barely look out of the ground. Some lights provide only accent lighting while others emit bright light for illuminating pathways, for example. The choice of a solar light for your garden depends on the effect you want to get. What's common among all the solar lights is the operation principle...
How Do Solar Garden Lights Work?
The solar garden lights, as the majority of other solar light types, operate on the following principle: the sun hits on the solar (PV) panel's surface. PV panel converts the light's energy into DC (Direct Current) and charges the internal batteries. Some people ask 'Well, why do we need batteries if it is solar?' The reason we need batteries is to store the energy for using it later at night when the sun is not available. So, batteries get charged every day to power up the lights on the following night. The best part is that the process is automatic. Just turn on the light and set it to the desired mode. The built-in photoelement detects when it's dark and turns the lights on. The lights will automatically go off at dawn or when the batteries are drained.
Solar Light Types
Solar Tiki Torches
Do you want to create an exotic Carribean atmosphere in your garden? If you answered yes then solar-powered tiki torches are right for you. They resemble real torches with flickering flames but are made of heavy-duty plastic sometimes with a bamboo-colored finish and LED lights inside flicker like a flame. You can't even tell it's not a real flame at a distance!
Solar lanterns can give that magical touch to your garden. You can hang them from the trees, fences, pergolas or just put on the ground. Depending on the mood you want to create in your garden, you may want to buy metal & glass antique-looking solar lanterns that give a flickering light imitating a candle or smaller plastic lanterns that are indistinguishable from fireflies at a distance.
Solar spotlights project a concentrated light on a specific point. In a garden setting, you can use a solar spotlight to uplight a tree or point it to a sign you want to be visible at night. Options with colorful, rotating rainbow spotlights are available if you want to bring about a festive atmosphere in your garden.
In contrast with spotlights, floodlights emit a more scattered but, nevertheless, a bright light so they can illuminate a wide area in your garden.
Solar In-ground Lights
These are small, disk-shaped lights that stick into the ground either flush with its level or a bit higher. Several of solar in-ground lights can be placed alongside both sides of a walkway in your garden to illuminate the path.
Solar String Lights
This is a string of LED lights with a head wire connecting to a solar panel. The panel either sticks into the ground with a spike or attaches to a nearby roof or a tube with clamps. You can wrap a tree in your garden with a string light or decorate a shrub, bush, pergola, gazebo with it. You'd get a wonderful effect when it's dark. Solar string lights usually have many lighting modes like twinkling, fading, flashing and so on. There's a manufacturer who even offers a remote control for changing between the modes and turning on/off the lights.
The Light Color
The most common colors of outdoor LED lights are soft white, warm white and cool white. The light's color temperature is measured in Kelvins (K). The lower the number the warmer the color, reaching to orange at its lowest end. The warm white (yellowish) spectrum is 2700K - 3000K. The upper part of the spectrum 5000K - 6500K is the called cool white (bluish) or daylight white.
Light brightness is measured in Lumens (Lm). The bigger this number the brighter the light is. Generally, the cooler colors seem brighter but if the cool and warm colors have the same number of Lumens than they are equally bright.
More common type of finish for outdoor solar lights is plastic sometimes labeled as ABS - Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene - a durable type of plastic with an impervious surface. A more durable alternative to ABS plastic is the metallic finish. Metallic solar lights have more pleasing aesthetics and a solid look but a metal casing drives up the costs.
Solar outdoor lights need to be waterproof for a sustained operation. When choosing a solar garden light it is important to pay attention to the waterproof ratings usually marked as "IP6x", x taking values of 4 - 7. "6" means protected from total dust ingress. The 2nd digit pertains to protection from liquids. You can commonly see this rating listed in the specification list. Here's what those ratings mean.
- IP64 - Protected from water spray from any direction
- IP65 - Protected from low-pressure water jets from any direction
- IP66 - Protected from high-pressure water jets from any direction
- IP67 - Protected from immersion between 5.9" (15 cm) and 39.4" (1 m) in depth
The Solar Panel
The solar panel is, obviously, an indispensable part of a solar garden light. In relation to the light itself, the PV panel can be
- Integrated into the light's cap. In this case, the light must be set up to face the sun with its top.
- attached on a swivel. Most solar spotlights use this configuration where the panel can rotate up to 180 degrees to face the sun independent of the spotlight itself.
- connected with a wire. In this configuration, the solar panel is completely separate from the solar light connected with it by a wire. The advantage of this design is that the light can be placed wherever it makes the most sense in the garden, even in a shaded area or under a roof. Meanwhile, the panel can be placed on the sunniest spot in the garden and connected to the light with a long enough wire.
The battery is the second most important component in a solar lighting system. Its capacity is measured in milli-Ampers-hour (mAh). Depending on the power draw of the LED beads 600 mAh battery may be enough for your application but generally, the more capacity a battery has the longer lighting time it allows if fully charged. Another important factor to look at is whether the rechargeable battery is replaceable or not. If it's replaceable then it's a good idea to replace it once a year or so but make sure it's a standard battery otherwise you'll have to order one from your light's supplier.
Q: My solar garden light doesn't work. What should I do?
A: First, make sure you have turned the light on and put its solar panel facing the sun for at least 5 hours (the more the better) during 1 - 2 days. Put it aside from other light sources because it needs to be in dark to kick in. If the problem persists please contact the manufacturer.
Q: Do the lights turn off automatically when the sun comes up?
A: Most outdoor solar lights are equipped with a photo-element which automatically turns on the lights at dusk and off in the morning.
Q: How do you replace a broken plastic stake?
A: First contact the manufacturer, they may offer a free replacement. Otherwise, go to your local hardware store and buy a metal stake from the gardening section. Take the broken stake with you to make sure you buy one with a matching diameter.
Q: My solar light started to last shorter at nights. What's the reason?
A: It is, possibly, not getting adequate sunshine during the day. Please turn it off for 3 - 5 sunny days to boost the batteries.