Solar Lights: Get What You Want, Get
What You Need
By Anne McElroy
It's been said that you can't always get what you want,
but that you get what you need.
With a little planning, knowledge of what solar lights
are available, and simple maintenance, solar lights will
give you both what you want and what you need.
No matter what type of product, from cars to solar
accent lights, wise buying decisions, proper use and a
little use maintenance means you'll get the most out of
what you buy.
While it's true that placing solar lights is pretty
simple and they are low-maintenance, there are things to
do to make sure you get what you want from them.
Like many evolving technologies, solar lighting is
definitely one where you get what you pay for in terms
of appearance, reliability, product lifespan, and light
But, you need to understand the different types of solar
lights that are available. For example, the illumination
from an accent solar light is far different from light
emitted from solar lamps. spotlights or floodlights.
Figure Out What You Want and Need
Whether you're adding some solar lights to your property
for accent purposes or safety, you'll want to determine
the style of and quantity of fixtures you need.
Think about the function or purpose the solar light will
serve. It's often helpful to draw a rough outline of
your property, noting where existing lights are and
where new illumination is necessary.
It doesn't have to be fancy, just make sure you note
things like decks, paths, stairs, patios, walkways,
shrubbery and garden beds. The diagram should include
things that cast shadows for large portions of the day
such as fences, houses, or trees.
On your plan, pencil in strong existing light sources,
such as street lights, as solar lights only turn on only
when they detect darkness. If you put solar accent
lights, for example, in an area that is already lit by
another stronger source, odds are they won't turn on at
Think about what things you want to highlight, where you
want solar lights to illuminate walkways, steps or
stairs or areas where you need additional light for
safety, or secluded areas without electricity that you
want lighting for security purposes. A good trick you
may find helpful is to walk around your home in the
early evening and use a flash light to see how
positioning the light in different ways produces
This can help you plan the location and types of solar
lighting fixtures you need, especially if you want lots
of lights or if you're buying or building a new
residence. And, more and more, people are choosing to
get rid of their conventional electric lights and use
solar lighting as fixtures age, to lower use their
electricity bills, and to help the environment.
Read and Save Instructions that Come with New Solar
Yes, it usually looks simple, but assembling solar
lights in a rush or incorrectly may break them and void
the warranty. Taking a few minutes to review the
instructions when you first open the package will save
you time in the long run.
Carefully read the instruction before assembling or
installing solar fixtures. You should also save the
directions for down the road in two years or so when the
rechargeable batteries will probably need replacement.
Charge Solar Fixtures in the Sun for 2 Days before Use
Solar lights should be charged in sun for 2 days before
So, if you get your lights on a Saturday and put them in
the sun on Sunday and take them inside or shut them off
on Sunday night. Leave them "on" or outside on Monday
and by Monday night they'll be good to go without undue
strain on the batteries.
Can you get away with less of an initial charge for the
fixture and its batteries? Yes, but you're causing
unnecessary strain on the batteries that may lessen
their effectiveness down the road or shorten the
two-year life cycle of most rechargeable batteries used
in solar lights.
Mount Solar Panels in Sunny Places
Seems obvious, but you'd be surprised what people thing
Solar panels need to be placed where they will receive
the maximum sunlight throughout the day. Shadows cast by
houses, trees and other structures move and lengthen
during the day. Six hours of sunlight generally is
enough for a "full-charge."
Too much shade and your solar light will be less
efficient or not work at all. A properly positioned
panel often means satisfaction or disappointment about
how your solar lights perform. And, the fewer
obstructions between the sun and your solar panel, the
better your solar lights will perform.
Even "amorphous solar panels," those that work during
cloudy or rainy days, need to be placed in an area with
Does this mean that if your property has a lot of shade
solar lights won't work for you? No, because many solar
lights have cords between the solar panel and the
lighting fixture itself.
If you want to put solar accent lights in a shady area,
there are newer models of solar fixtures that you place
the light in a shady area and the solar panel in a
nearby area of sun. This has long been standard for
solar floodlights, spotlights and shed lights, but
recently is being designed into newer solar accent and
Cords between the solar panel and lighting fixture are
usually standard for solar spotlights, floodlights and
shed lights that can light the inside of outdoor
structures such as sheds, barns, carports, porches, or
Solar water pumps, solar fountains and combination solar
bird baths/water fountains usually come with cables
between the solar fixture and the solar panel to give
you flexibility. It should be noted that most solar
fountains require steady sunshine, because there is no
"idle time" for the battery to store power.
Solar pumps such as those for ponds, waterfalls or other
outdoor water features you wish to create or enhance
aren't as dependent on strong sun as stand-alone
fountains, because they usually have larger solar panels
and larger, stronger batteries. Because most water pumps
also come cords between the fixture and the solar panel,
this hardware can be hidden or located several feet from
Quick Trouble-Shooting/Easy Fixes
If your solar lighting fixture does not come on at dusk
and you have followed the above tips, try the following:
Make sure that the solar lights are not impacted by
another light source (such as a bright electric street
light), as solar lights have a sensor that makes them
light up on at dusk.
Check that the solar panel is not in the shade for a
large portion of the day. Even "amorphous" solar panels
that work on cloudy or rainy days need sun now and
Make sure the solar lights' switches are in the "ON"
position, if they have one.
Double-check that the batteries are installed correctly.
This is easiest to do by double-checking the
instructions that came with your solar lighting product.
If they're the correct batteries and installed properly,
they may need to be replaced.
Seasonal Tips for Spring and Fall
In the spring and fall, make sure that solar panels are
clear of falling leaves or other blowing debris.
You should also take care when raking or leaf blowers do
not damage any solar lights or solar panels. Many people
take solar accent lights in during fall clean-up and
place them back outside during the spring, especially if
they hire other people to do yard work.
When pollen counts are high, you'll want to occasionally
clean the solar panels so that they are a thick layer of
pollen doesn't impeded the solar panels ability to
absorb the sun's energy. If you live in an area that has
a lot of dust, you'll want to watch for dust build-up as
In the spring, it's a good idea to check-out of solar
lights, both the ones taken in during the winter and
those that stay out year-round. And if you do store
fixture, make sure that you remove the batteries and
carefully mark which batteries go with what fixtures.
For fixtures that stay out year-round (spotlights,
floodlights or solar lamps), spring's a good time to
make sure the batteries work, and to check the fixture
for any damage caused by ice or hail, such as minor
If you see any damage and the lights still work, you can
minimize any potential damage by using clear caulk to
cover any cracks. After you change batteries, you may
also want to put some clear caulk over the areas that
were separated when the batteries were removed. While
it's unlikely changing the batter properly would allow
moisture into high quality fixtures, the caulk can offer
Spring is also a good time to clean solar panels with a
cloth or cotton ball dampened with alcohol or vinegar.
Glass and plastic panes for solar lights can be cleaned
with any glass cleaner. It also helps to use a VERY
small amount of oil on any metal fixtures, just make
sure the oil doesn't get on the solar panels, the
fixture's panes, or any plastic parts. Most
non-vegetable based oils can damage plastic or rubber
Tips for the Winter
As much as you can, keep snow and ice off of solar
panels. If solar lights or solar panels get buried,
charge them in strong sun for at least 6 hours before
using them again to get maximum performance with least
wear and tear on the solar components.
Snow plows, shovels and snow blowers also can damage
solar fixtures and panels. Because you (or whoever
clears the snow) can't see them, it's easy to do. If you
leave solar lights out year-round and know a storm is
coming, you might want to take a stick and mark where
the lights are to avoid damage.
All solar fountains, pumps and other water feature
should be taken inside during subfreezing temperatures
to protect against damage caused as the freezing water
expands. This is true of all water features, not just
those powered by solar.
Try and You'll Get What You Need
When you plan your lighting and buy the proper solar
lights to meet your needs, take care when assembling
them, and taking a little time for maintenance
throughout the year, you'll get top performance from
Copyright 2011, AM McElroy, SolarFlairLighting
AM McElroy has 20 years of experience in customer
communications and marketing/sales within the financial,
high-tech and engineering sectors and turned her
enthusiasm for renewable energy into an e-commerce site,
a recently http://www.SolarFlairLighting.com that sells
solar lights, solar home & garden items, and other
eco-friendly gardening products. A recent blog on the
solar lighting http://www.SolarLightingSmart.com helps
people learn about solar lights, including what's best
for their needs, maintenance tips and new solar lighting