Solar Garden Lights: An Eco-Friendly Lighting Choice

When it comes to putting in landscape lighting, you need to consider many variables.  One of the main points that you are obviously trying to achieve is getting light in your garden, walkway, or garden path.  If you are trying to achieve some sort of accent garden lighting, then this is different than trying to get pathway lighting, so we’ll need to talk about the unique needs required there.  Additionally, if you need your lighting to be more continuous, there are options even for solar lighting there as well.

For most applications, solar garden lights are a great option when it comes to overall lighting needs.  Not only will solar powered lights help you to conserve energy, but they can provide lighting to areas that may be otherwise difficult to light.  One main feature that makes landscape lighting difficult or costly, is all of the wires and electrical wiring know-how to get it done right.  If you are not an electrical contractor or have some real working knowledge of outdoor electrical installation, then solar lights for your garden are a great option.

These types of solar lights don't work when covered in snow or debris.

These types of solar lights don't work when covered in snow or debris.

With solar, you can all but eliminate any wiring.  This not only saves you in terms of cost, but also in materials.  Let’s face it, we are in times that call on us to consider environmental impacts of our choices.  Solar garden lights will meet the needs of your lighting as well as those of the planet.  Even if you don’t consider yourself an ‘environmentalist’, saving money on your utilities should get you excited.  Now, let’s get into how this type of garden lighting works and what styles are available.

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How Solar Garden Lights Work

So, it comes as no surprise that a solar garden light is powered by the sun and not from an electrical connection to the power grid, like the rest of the traditionally powered landscape lighting.  While it is true that traditional lighting can be put on timers and conserve electricity this way, they still require an electrical source and must be dug to install the underground wiring.  Most outdoor lighting for a garden or pathway is low voltage.  This means that there is a transformer that ‘steps-down’ the power from 110/120V to typically 12V or 24V.

Typical installation of low-voltage lighting means that you can only install a certain number of lights per transformer, in order to keep the overall load within the capacity of the transformer.  For example, if your transformer is 100W, then you can conceivably install up to a 10 garden light set with a 10 Watt power rating.  If you need more lighting, then you’ll need either a more powerful transformer or an additional transformer.  Typically, the outdoor lights range from 4 W to 50 Watts.  This higher range is typically a halogen bulb.  More installation and labor, of course, is needed to install more transformers and lights.

This is just one style of copper solar lights.

This is just one style of copper solar lights.

Now, consider a much simpler way to install garden lights.  Pick up or order the style of garden lights that you like and install them the same day with little labor.  Yes, it really can be this simple.  You see, solar garden lights allow you to simply ‘plug and play.’  This is possible because many styles of solar lights come in packs (or singles) that allow you to just stick them in the ground or hang and they are ready for use.

Common Solar Garden Lighting Styles

The most popular of these solar lights are the simplest.  There are a large number of styles, but the general function is the same.  Most utilize a photovoltaic (PV) sensor that sits atop the light itself, providing direct power to the light.  They work by storing the charge and then coming on at night, when the sun goes down.  This style will typically be illuminated for several hours before it begins to lose its brilliance and ultimately dull out to off by early morning.  These styles are more common in small to mid-sized applications, where the lighting is more for accents.  These come in copper styles, hook stakes with hanging lights and other stake-in-the-ground styles.  These will range in price from $10-15 USD each or a pack of four for about $35 USD.

Another benefit of solar lights that do not utilize wiring is the fact that they can be used in various outdoor situations.  For example, if you have a stone area or synthetic grass lawn, both would be very difficult or labor intensive to dig up or remove in order to lay your wiring.  With the stake in ground models, it would possible to simply drill a hole in your stone or concrete surface with a masonry bit or put a small hole in your ‘lawn’ in order to stake the light to the ground beneath.

For larger applications, there are also more intricate or involved models.  These could include things like solar lighting that has one main photovoltaic cell, with wire that connects the lights in series and to the source of power.  This style may also employ a more powerful battery backup system, whereby you can achieve brighter lighting and also have your lighting last for a longer period of time. These applications cost more but with the improvements in technology, costs will likely drop on these as well.

Hanging solar garden lights

Hanging solar garden lights

One main disadvantage of solar lighting is that if there is no sun or the photovoltaic sensors are covered with something that obstructs the sun, they will not charge or shed light when the sun sets.  These are some issues that may be addressed with future solar technology.  But, things like snow, mud and leaves do need to be cleaned from the surface occasionally in order for your lights to work properly.

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What ever particular style of outdoor lighting you choose, there are advantages and disadvantages.  As time goes on and we continue to develop more sustainable and ‘green building’ practices, solar lighting and other solar powered applications will continue to flourish.  What will be available as the innovations and battery storage technology continue to improve and evolve is not known.  For now and into the foreseeable future, solar garden lights are a great and user-friendly option for improving the look and function of your garden and outdoor patio space.





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