A must-have for any size landscape, outdoor lighting offers safety for exterior doors, stairs, and walkways, and can be a nice accent for hardscaping and plants. But not too long ago, gardeners were restricted to hardwired systems for landscape lighting. Today's solar landscape lighting designs are a reliable option for many homeowners looking to save energy and go green outdoors. Here's what you need to know about outdoor solar lights, plus expert tips for a well-lit landscape.
Thanks to solar technology, you can drop lights into almost any sunny garden spot without worrying about wiring or finding the nearest plug, making them ideal for path and accent lighting. Solar landscape lighting generates and stores its own power during the day and uses it at night by activating solar cells that convert sunlight directly into electricity. The solar cells are generally wired to a battery that powers a light (in many cases, a highly efficient light-emitting diode, or LED, bulb). Newer panels collect more solar energy with fewer solar cells, which is one reason solar landscape lighting has gotten less expensive.
Solar landscape lighting is sold at local and big-box home improvement centers, and it's a flexible, convenient option for a range of outdoor lighting needs. Some types of solar landscape lighting are intended to work as a set along a pathway, while others can be used as stand-alone versions scattered throughout the garden or in hard-to-reach spots, such as on top of a fence post. There are large and small solar landscape lighting types, too.
To make batteries last longer into the evening, solar landscape lighting is designed to shine less brightly than conventional models. Thus, most units won't match the output of traditional low-voltage lights. But solar landscape lighting earns high marks for energy conservation. As long as the sun comes up in the morning, the lights will shine at night without raising your electric bill. However, the strength of the lights depends on how much sunlight you receive. So on winter or overcast days, the cells will generate less power for the batteries to store.
Long-lasting and energy-efficient LEDs are the most common solar landscape lightbulb, and their relatively low light output is still enough to light a path or steps outside. Solar landscape lighting that is fluorescent or halogen will drain batteries more quickly.
New batteries hold a charge better and last for more charge-and-discharge cycles, so you'll have brighter light longer into the night. Besides occasionally cleaning the solar panel, replacing the battery (about every two years) will likely be your only maintenance for solar landscape lighting. Newer models have smaller solar cells with more ray-collecting power, giving manufacturers more design flexibility without sacrificing performance.
Many solar landscape lighting types come equipped with a sensor that switches on at nighttime. Other models come with a manual switch, giving the user more control over the lighting. Motion-sensor lights have an additional switch that turns the light on with a movement-detecting electronic eye.
Solar garden lights and solar path lights are perhaps the two most popular types of solar landscape lighting. Some solar light fixtures are suitable for in-ground walkways, floating in pools, affixing to fence posts, or placing inside decorative accents. Others have a weatherproof solar panel that can be mounted outside to collect the sun's rays; that panel can power a fluorescent light inside a building, making them perfect lighting options for outdoor rooms like a dimly lit shed, closet, or barn.