Outdoor solar lighting tips

Solar lights can be a great addition to any outdoor area – turning your garden into a magical night-time landscape. Melissa Davidson, from The Lighting Warehouse, offers some tips on what to look for when selecting outdoor solar light fittings for your garden.
Modern solar lights are much more than the innovative gadgets they used to be a few years back, says Melissa Davidson, from The Lighting Warehouse: “Today, solar lights come in a plethora of various styles and designs; they are practical, functional, long-lasting, virtually maintenance-free and affordable – making them a great choice for your outdoor lighting needs.”
How solar lights work
Solar-powered lights are great for the environment and exceptionally cost-effective to run. They capture the free power of the sun using a small photovoltaic cell and store this energy in rechargeable batteries. Each light comes with a photosensor, and when these fail to detect any more sunlight, the built-in light emitting diodes (LEDs) turn on automatically. The LEDs are driven by the power that has been stored in the batteries during the day.
The benefits of solar lights
Apart from running on the greenest and most affordable energy source known to man, solar lights have a number of other benefits as well.  Davidson elaborates: “One of the biggest advantages of solar lighting is that these units are self-contained, so you don’t have to run wiring all over your garden in order to light it up. Installing solar lights couldn’t be easier, since there are no wires, power outlets or heavy digging involved – at most, you need to affix them to the top of a post or drill them into place, but in most cases, you simply need to stake them into the ground.They are also incredibly safe, and don’t pose any electrical threat to adults, pets or children. Solar lights require minimum maintenance, and virtually cost nothing to operate.”
Different uses
Before you can decide on which type of solar light to invest in, it is essential that you determine what application it is going to be used for. For example, do you require ambient lighting for your walkway, or are you looking to provide focused, critical lighting to clearly direct visitors to your doorstep? Davidson notes that the applications of solar lights can be divided into two groups, namely:
- Critical lighting: This lighting provides fairly strong, direct light – for example, The Lighting Warehouse’s 8-LED spotlight may be used to specifically like up a tree in your garden.
- Ambient lighting: The lion’s share of solar lights service this category, as they are primarily used for environmental enhancement. Ambient lighting can be created using various garden lights, path and walkway lights, ornamental lights, fairy lights and lanterns for example.
Attributes to look out for
“Not all solar lights are created equal,” says Davidson, “As such, it is essential that you know what to look for when choosing your solar light fittings. You need to carefully look at the following attributes: LED brightness, solar panel variety, the batteries, and the lifespan of the fitting.”
LED brightness: Any good quality solar light will be fitted with at least two LEDs, however, some inferior quality solar lights are only fitted with one LED and consequently do not shine very brightly at night. Davidson says: “Check the capability of the light before you buy it. All the GrandSolar outdoor solar lights supplied by The Lighting Warehouse come with a minimum of two high bright white LEDs to ensure excellent illumination and offering a minimum of 1 to 1,5 metres of coverage in diameter. It also provides two new products that come with a 3- and 8-LED light source.”
Solar panel variety: The Lighting Warehouse’s solar lights have their own built-in mini solar panel.  “These need to be positioned so that they are in maximum sun all day to ensure that they are adequately charged. If your property is generally quite small and/or shaded during the day, you could put your spike garden solar lights in a bucket in a place that gets sun all day and then later at dusk, plant them by your walkway where they are most needed,” advises Davidson.
GrandSolar outdoor solar lights from The Lighting Warehouse boast high quality mono and poly crystalline silicon panels with an output that is rated 100mA, however effective output varies from 40mA to 80mA, depending on the exposure to the sun and prevailing weather conditions.
Batteries: The final component of any solar light are its batteries – the higher quality the battery, the longer the fitting will stay lit and the longer the batteries will last. “The battery system is one of any solar light’s most important parts, since it affects the number of hours it will operate. All solar lights from The Lighting Warehouse use Grandcell rechargeable alkaline batteries, which are ideally suited for this application,” explains Davidson.
Most other solar lights use NiCad (Nickel Cadmium) batteries, which have a very poor performance, with their only advantage being that they are comparatively cheap. Grandcell’s batteries come fully charged, so you can use your solar light immediately. Due to their much lower self-discharge at high temperatures, Grandcell batteries also charge much quicker than their NiCad counterparts, even when they are not in direct sunlight. Furthermore, they boast a higher battery capacity, which means that the lamps will operate even after prolonged use in unfavourable conditions.
Grandcell rechargeable alkaline batteries are also a much more environmentally responsible option, since they do not contain toxins, such as Mercury and Cadmium. As such, they can be disposed of in normal household waste, unlike NiCad batteries, which need to be disposed of in controlled conditions, since the Cadmium content in one NiCad battery can pollute up to 600 000 litres of ground water. As such, these batteries are endorsed by the World Wildlife Fund.
Lifespan: To get the most bang for your buck – check out the life expectancy of your fitting, says Davidson: “All GrandSolar solar lights from The Lighting Warehouse boast charging and protection circuitry to support an extended lifespan. The charging circuitry is designed to support the charging of the rechargeable alkaline batteries and protect them from over-charging. It also protects them from deep discharge to extend their life. As such, these batteries will only need to be replaced after six to eight months. The LEDs are another consideration, and should last for approximately 100 000 hours, which translates into around 11 years. ”
What to do if our solar lights are not working
If your solar lights are not working, Davidson says you should check the following things before you rush out and buy a new fitting:
- Make sure your solar lights are getting enough sun: The majority of problems with solar lights can be traced back to the fact that they don’t receive enough sun during the day. Solar lights need a minimum of several hours of direct sunlight a day, so check to see if your lights have not been positioned in full- or semi-shady areas and move them to areas that receive full sun all day.

- Change the batteries: Another common problem with solar lights is that the batteries may have worn out. High quality rechargeable batteries should last  for six to eight months, and will need to be replaced thereafter. Once the batteries have been used past their lifespan, the lights will begin to dim and light up for increasingly shorter periods of time. – Antonella Dési

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