Tips for Better Solar Lighting

help_for_better_solar_lightsEvery week or two, our store SolarFlairLighting.com posts different tips to customers about solar lighting and other solar products. Some of our weekly tips also address ways to shop wisely online, to protect your warranty rights and other issues related to our product and SolarLightingSmart.com’s goal of helping you make wise decisions about the purchase and maintenance of solar lights.

Some tips address how to get the most from solar lighting at different times of the year. Others discuss the attributes of different types of solar lights and other solar products, including what to look for to get the most for your money. Many of these tips are based on our Understanding Solar Lighting page of this blog, others are from detailed posts and/or videos, and most are directly related to customer questions.

This Spring, Make Solar Water Features Part of Your Garden Plans

Lots of people think that a garden just isn’t complete without a water feature. Be it a birdbath, fountain, or even a small pond, water adds sound and movement to landscapes.

What a lot of people don’t know is that new solar-on-demand technology means it’s easier than ever to add a relaxing water feature or a dramatic focal point with solar.

In the past, a big drawback to solar water features was that they often only worked in direct sunlight. Today, that’s not a problem as most fountains and pumps let you choose to have them work directly off of sun or via a rechargeable battery that stores solar energy.

The term on-demand means that the pump, whether in a fountain or part of a water garden, won’t stop working when clouds pass by. In fact: you can even use these at night.

Check out our blog post This Spring, Bring Solar Water Features into Your Garden or our YouTube videos above to see how solar water fountains and pumps work, some things to look for to get the perfect water feature for your garden, terrace or even covered balcony!

Tip: Which Alternative to Incandescent Light Bulbs is Best for You?

The most common bulbs for most residences for indoor and outdoor lighting will be CFL, halogens and LEDs.

Each of the three main options are different from each other and incandescent bulbs, and we’ve put together a table that summarizes the features to help you decide which ones are bet for various locations inside your home and outdoors.

We’ve also detailed some of the things you probably won’t hear on the news. In fact, most of we seem to hear is “LEDs” are the best options, which is not true at all,

For example:

  • Some LEDs are excellent choices for certain areas, but many LED bulbs give off lousy illumination. You need to shop carefully and be prepared to pay for the ones that give good light.Good LEDs shed good illumination, lousy ones light very limited area
  • The cost of good LEDs means they probably aren’t the best options for floor or table lamps, especially for people who have active children or pets. They are wonderful for ceiling fixtures, but the cost means think carefully about where you place them.
  • Most CFLs and LEDs do not work in most fixtures with dimmers. Some, sure: but most, no. And this means that once you hit the dimmer, the bulb will fry/burn out? CFL and LED bulbs work with dimmers will usually note this on the package.Still: be careful.Example: we just purchased a Sylvania LED that provides light equal to a 75 watt incandescent bulb and says it can work with dimmers. It cost $31.95 plus tax.Am I going to test this in the fixture that keeps frying the CFL bulbs that say they work with dimmers? No Way! And, it won’t go into the table lamp next to where the cats jump up to look out the window. The $32.99 bulb will go into a ceiling fixture in the entrance/stairwell that requires a 20-foot ladder to reach. Most all other bulbs of our home’s other interior bulbs will be CFLs.
  • CFLs aren’t great options for outside use because they don’t work well in temperature extremes: too hot, or too cold and they just aren’t reliable or flat out don’t work: they take a very long time to light up and flicker so much that they will give people headaches. And, flickering lights can cause seizures in people with certain brain disorders.
  • Be careful where and how you use Halogen bulbs as most get extremely hot. Halogens do cast the light most similar to incandescent bulbs, but the “warm glow” is caused because they generate heat as well as light. Used improperly indoors or outside, halogen bulbs can be a fire hazard and burn/melt people, pets, lamp shades, pool and water garden equipment, plants and wildlife.

To help you out, SolarLightingSmart.com has a post that details the pros and cons of your alternatives (for most of you, this is halogen, CFLs or LEDs) as well as a summary table that you can use for a quick reference. Even though all light bulbs sold in the US are supposed to include lumens on the package, lumen measurements don’t always properly indicate the brightness of LEDs. So, we hope this article helps you pick light bulbs that will meet your needs.

Here’s an example of why LED and lumens don’t always make sense:

white_led_vs_traditional_lightsTip: When the Temperature Dips to Freezing, It’s Time to Store Most Solar Water Features and Delicate Decorative Solar Lights

First, we want to emphasize that the vast majority of solar lighting and other solar products are perfectly fine to leave out all winter, no matter how cold the temperatures get or how much ice and snow your area. The exceptions: if any product is located in an area where it’s likely to be hit by snow shovels, snow blowers, or plows of any sort.

(For more details than what’s provide below, please see our post Caring for Your Outdoor Solar Lighting and Garden Products This Winter.

But, there are there are three types of solar products that really should come once temperatures start to drop near or below freezing: delicate or light-weight glass solar lights (you probably won’t appreciate them in the winter anyway); glass or ceramic birdbaths (with or without solar lights), solar water fountains/birdbaths with fountains, and most (but not necessarily all) solar water pumps.

  • Delicate and Usually Decorative Solar Lights
    Protect your lights and your warranties by taking glass lights, or those that could be hit by snow shovels, rakes or plows indoors. Even if snow removal doesn’t accidentally damage them, ice alone could crack delicate lights. This is especially true of those that are glass.
  • Solar Birdbaths and Fountains with Solar or Electric Pumps
    As mentioned in store’s product descriptions, these items are at risk once temperatures drop below 32 degrees. And, it has nothing to due with the quality o the item, it’s simple physics.When water freezes, it expands and when ice forms it can easily damage even the heaviest glass (or ceramic) birdbaths. Similarly, freezing water can damage the pumps that make solar and electric fountains work.  If you can’t take the fountain itself inside, please make sure that you empty it as best you can and remove the pump and solar panel and take those inside for winter safekeeping.
  • Solar Pumps for Water Gardens
    Depending on the how deep your pond is and the depth at which the pump is located, it MAY be okay to leave the item out. For example, if your pond is deep enough so that there is plenty of unfrozen water and you are confident the pump will remain in the unfrozen water, it may be fine to leave it out.If your pond or water feature is shallow and much of it freezes, it’s best to take the pump inside for the winter.  It’s always a good idea to take in any decorative pumps or those used to add oxygen to the water, since these usually float on or near the top of the water level.
  • Important Notes When Storing Solar Products
    Since batteries that aren’t used are more likely to leak than those used regularly, make sure to remove the batteries from any stored product. We recommend placing them in a plastic bag or envelope and writing the name of the solar products on each baggy/envelope to make sure the right batteries go into the right product next spring.  Remember, incorrect batteries not only are likely to ruin the product, using wrong type or size of battery will void your warranty. It’s also important to make sure that your solar lights, birdbaths and pumps are completely dry before you put them away. Even small amounts of moisture will stay in the lights or water features for a long periods of time when placed in cool, dark spaces such as storage closets, sheds or basements.
  • Why Products That Don’t Rust Underwater Will Rust if Stored Improperly
    Pumps and lights with metal parts that are outside either dry out during sunny days or are designed to be underwater. However, the combination of water (which drys slowly in dark storage spaces) and air will cause rust that would not happen if the item was in its outdoor spot.

Tip: Time for Seasonal Adjustment of Solar Panels

Everyone knows that days in November are a lot shorter than days in June. What many people don’t realize is that the angle of the sun also changes. This means two things:

  1. The location and duration of shadows in your property may change.
  2. Most solar panels are going to receive less sun that at other times of the year.

How much the above will impact your solar lights and other garden products will depend not only on features specific to your property (trees, buildings, etc.), but where your live. In general, the further north you live, the more impacts you’ll notice.

Each season, it’s a good idea to look at all of your solar lights and make some adjustments to account for the changing sun angle and shorter days. You can’t change Mother Nature, but often there are things you can do to maximize the amount and quality of sun that reaches your solar panel. See if the tips below help your solar product’s performance this fall and winter.

  • Items with Solar Panels That Can Be Moved
    Many solar lighting fixtures, fountains and water pumps have panels that with relative ease.The next sunny day that you’re home, walk around your property a few times during the day and watch where the sun is and how shadows move.Often, moving panels (especially those with long cords) by just a few in one direction or the other can mean up to two or more hours of strong quality sunlight will reach the solar panel each sunny day.
  • Items with Adjustable Solar Panels
    Many people mount solar panels for shed lights, spotlights and flood lights on roofs or walls and locate the solar light itself where illumination is most needed. Most of these panels are adjustable, meaning you can tilt or rotate the solar panel.For solar panels mounted on roof or other areas, fall is a good time to adjust the panels to receive the most sun, as long as doing so won’t pose a danger to you or those you hire or ask to do this for you.Just make sure that each solar panel is faces the sun when it is the strongest.For example, a spotlight that receives strong morning sun in spring may now get more sun in early to late afternoon.
    Seasonal_adjustment_of_solar_panels
    For more information (including a diagram of how to place your solar panels each season of the year, please visit our Seasonal Tips on our Tips for Better Solar Lighting page.
  • Items with Fixed Solar Panels
    Many solar lights can easily be moved; others (most solar lamps for example) cannot be moved without a great deal of effort. This means that you need to pay extra attention to keeping the solar panels free of as much snow, leaf debris, dust and dirt as possible.It also means that you may need to pay attention to the quality of light. Long before a solar light experiences real problems, you’ll notice that it isn’t as bright as usual or the light shuts off earlier than usual.While it’s not ideal (and another reason why your original selection of where to place such solar lights is very important), there is a fix to this solution.  Every so often, especially after cloudy days, shut the solar lamp off for one night. This lets the battery fully recharge, so that when it’s turned back on, it’s as bright as possible for as long as possible each night.If your fixed solar light was originally placed in an area that doesn’t get as much sun as it should during the winter,you may need to shut them off every three weeks or so for maximum performance.

Tip: What Really Makes Solar Lights and LEDs “Super Bright”

Many people complain that they pay good money for LED lights (be they for indoor or outdoor use), but are disappointed with the quality of light cast by the bulbs.

This is because LEDs do not “glow” the way halogen, incandescent or florescent bulbs do. Most LEDs used in most solar lights require need reflectors and often prisms to efficiently last cast light.

Without something to move and intensify the light, an LED’s light beam moves in one direction only, much like a laser beam. (Note: LED bulbs that you go directly into lamp sockets work differently, but they too need to incorporate refraction and reflector technology, and often that’s why quality LED bulbs can cost significantly more than discounted options.)

LEDs are evolving technology, and much of the latest innovations are patented.

That less expensive (or some outright cheap) light may well use old, dated technology. If you want bright light or for it to last more than a season (if that), it’s probably not the best use of your money. You almost always will be disappointed with the light quality.

Sometimes: cheap lights are fine, some times they are not. (See our article about when you should and shouldn’t buy inexpensive solar lights.)

When looking for solar lights, you really need to carefully read product descriptions and look at product photos to see what, if anything, the fixture uses to maximize illumination. (This is why some “spotlights” are $15 to $20 but good ones run from about $75 to $90.)

For more information and examples of refraction and reflector technology, please read our post: Forget Super Bright LEDs. Motion of Light Beams Means Quality Solar Lights or watch the summary video on Youtube.

Tip: Consult Electrician or Plumber for Retrofits if an Existing Electricity or Gas Power Source Will Be Terminated

One of the major advantages of most solar lighting is that electricians aren’t necessary. However, if you are replacing a wall-mounted electric lamp on your home or a gas or electric lamp with solar, you really should consult a professional. Unlike low-voltage systems used for many landscape lights, lamps connected to your home are connected to your overall electrical source.

It’s not only about protecting yourself from electrical shock during the process. If you don’t cap an electric source properly, you may be creating a fire hazard. With gas lines, you want to prevent the possibility of leaks or explosions before and after installation.

Depending on where you live, you may not have a choice in the matter as many local building codes require permits and inspections when either gas or electric power sources are altered. Equally important, improper work may cause you problems with your insurance company if something bad does happen.

Our recommendation: It’s always better to err on the side of caution. Find out more by reading Retrofits with Solar Lights: When You Need Electricians or Plumbers.

Tip: Take Care of Solar Lighting During Fall Clean-Up and Which Products Should be Stored for the Winter

Before you (or someone you hire) goes to town with rakes and leaf blowers this fall, make sure you protect your solar lights. Most can just be removed when the work’s being done, and put back when it’s done.

More “permanent” solar lights such as spotlights, floodlights and solar lamps are a bit harder to move, so if they are low to the ground, you may want to cover them to protect them. It’s not only rakes and boots you need to worry about, but gravel, twigs, acorns, etc. that are blowers turn into fast-moving projectiles that could damage solar panels or fixtures from powerful impacts.

There are some things that you definitely want to take in for the winter, especially if you’re located in a region where freezing temperatures, ice or snow (or snow removal) could damage such as delicate glass accent or decorative lights.

Most solar water fountains and pumps also should be stored (or at least emptied of all water) for the winter. It’s simple physics: water expands when it freezes which can damage pumps and the container holding the water. (This isn’t limited to solar fountains.)

How you store things is important, particularly the batteries. For ways to protect your solar home and garden products this fall and winter, please read Protect Your Solar Lighting During Fall Cleanup!

Tip: Dispose of Solar Lights and Components Properly

Nothing lasts forever, not even the best quality solar lights. And long before the lights themselves have passed their brightest days, odds are that you’ll have changed batteries a couple of times and on some fixtures, even the light bulbs.

You’ve been good to the environment (and your pocketbook) by choosing solar. The question: how to stay green when disposing of solar lights and their components?

  • dispose of batteries and solar lights reponsibly. recycle when possibleTreat batteries and some light bulbs as “Household Hazardous Waste,” as most contain small amounts of toxic materials. This means they should be disposed of the same way you should dispose of regular lead batteries, pesticides, paint thinners and other electronic devices.
  • Metal Components: With the price of metal today, it’s possible to take the light apart and recycle any metal components, such as stakes. Your waste disposal provider may accept these with other recyclables (including cans).
  • Circuitry and Solar Panels: Many of the components of solar lights, or the entire solar light or other solar product, should be disposed of the same way you get rid of other household electronic devices such as cell phones, TV sets and computers.Again, some waste management allow disposal of these all the time, while others only collect or accept these on specially scheduled.

Be earth-friendly (and, in some places, avoid fines) by properly disposing of solar lighting fixtures and their components. More information is available in our blog post Staying Green with Solar Lights After the Glow is Gone.

Tip: Make Sure You Protect Your Warranty Rights!

We often speak with customers to answer questions and give them assistance to buy the best solar light or water feature. We also answer questions about maintenance issues (particularly battery changes), and when the product isn’t working the way you expected it to.

Here are some things that you can do so that we can provide you with the best possible customer services. An added benefit: these tips can help you protect any manufacturer warranties.

Always open the product carefully, and keep all documentation and packaging until you know that it works correctly. The sooner we know there’s a problem, the sooner we can fix it.

Please contact the store (SolarFlairLighting.com) and not the manufacturer if you have a question or problem with the product.

Even if you complete an ownership registration form, please us before you contact the manufacturer. As the retailer, we can often make your path easier and help you can the answers you need. (And, we like to know if certain products or brands tend to have an unusual amount of issues.)

Always Save the Product Instructions/User Manual!

Please read and follow any instructions that come with your product. In addition, save any user documentation for down the road for maintenance.

Eventually, all solar products’ batteries must be replaced. Solar fountains occasionally need to be taken apart for a thorough cleaning. And, batteries should be removed and marked from any item that is being stored, such as many solar lights and water features during the winter.

By having the instructions handy, you’ll be able to do your maintenance easier and put the item back together properly.

Tip: Use our Hydraulic/Head Pressure Calculator to Select the Best Solar Water Pump!

SolarFlairLighting.com has an online calculator that can help you to help figure out what size solar water pump would be best for your water garden or fountain project. We also have calculators to estimate a fixture or pump’s electricity use, how to estimate the volume of water in your water feature, and other helpful tools at http://www.solarflairlighting.com/content-pages/page-calculators.

We recommend using our Hydraulic Head Calculator to determine the pump that’s best for your water feature. You can also call us with any questions at (866) 686-6903, or email Info@SolarFlairLighting.com

Whether you’re buying a pump for a new water feature in the works or to replace one that’s seen better days.

Regardless of the size pump you need knowing the amount of vertical lift is important. Some products clearly specify this; other products provide information about the strength of the pump in terms of GPH, which is the number of gallons per hour the pump can move.

Confused? Don’t Be! Our Hydraulic Head Calculator briefly reviews key terms necessary to determine the best pump for you.

It will ask you information that assumes you have (on paper or in your mind) the basic shape and size of the water feature. Just follow the instructions and it will give you the answers you need and you can contact us if you have any questions, including questions about using the calculator or the results you get.

Tip: Not Sure You’re Ready to Get Replace Electrical Flood Lights with Solar? Try This!

While often area without ready access to electricity are the best places to install solar lights, such as solar floodlights, it’s not always true. Our home, for example, has at least one electric halogen or LED floodlight on virtually exterior wall of our home, installed by the original owner.

Not only were the lights set so that they lit up at the slightest movement, the lights were blinding when driving up to the home and distracting to ourselves and our neighbors when trying to sleep. Even after we adjusted the sensitivity to motion, our electricity bills still were much higher than we wanted them to be.

We don’t want to remove these lights, but frankly, they are brighter than our current needs and often ran the electricity bill up quite bit.

Here’s what we did.Example of Testing Solar Floodlights

Instead of removing all of the electric floodlights, a major effort in and of itself, we turned the LUX and motion setting so that a high level of motion activates them and they only turn on in extreme darkness.

We then mounted solar floodlights above the traditional lights. Since the light from the solar floodlights tricks the electrical lights into staying off, we get the benefits of lower electricity and a level of illumination that is definitely more appropriate for our yard and our neighbors.

While we decided to keep some of the electrical floodlights because we wanted them for safety during extended periods of clouds (common for New England), we removed or disabled several.

Over the past few years, we’ve DEFINITELY saved extensive money. In fact, we’re confident that we’ve recouped most of our investment in lowered electricity bills.

Tip: Advantages of LED Bulbs Over Halogen Bulbs for Exterior Lighting (Especially When Lighting Expensive Plants or Pond Equipment)

It’s true that some exterior LED lights, whether low-voltage or solar, cost a bit more than their halogen alternatives. Even so, LED lights make sense for lots of reasons, particular for ponds or areas with plants.

Among them:

Life Span: LED bulbs last years, not months. The average LED in a quality fixture lasts at least 8 to 10 times longer than a halogen bulb. Not only does this save you cost over the long term, it means less bulb changes. MANY less bulbs changes.

Energy Efficiency: LED bulbs use far less energy to produce the same amount of light as halogens, and can cut your electricity costs by more than 60%.

Cost Savings: With fewer bulbs to buy and lower operating costs, keep the savings or invest the money in other areas of your landscape.

Less Risk of Damage: One of the biggest issues with Halogen bulbs is that they generate very high levels of heat. In fact, a good portion of the electricity goes not towards creating light, but creating heat. Heat that can damage plants, fish or other animals (including people), or other equipment, particularly in water gardens.

Improved Color Tone of Newer LEDs: Many people don’t like LEDs because many traditionally cast a pure white, almost bluish light. Knowing this, LED manufacturers continually add features, such as tinted lenses, to produce light more like the “golden” tones of incandescent.

To find out how much more money any halogen fixture uses than an equivalent LED light, please use our Electricity Calculator, how much electricity will an electric fixture cost to run?

Quick Ways to Get Maximum Performance from Solar Lights and Other Solar Garden Products During the Summer

Make sure the season’s foliage, be it from trees, shrubs or flowering plants doesn’t create too much shade (and what to do if it does)

If you don’t get regular rain, check for excessive build-up of pollen or dust

Check solar water fountains at least once a week, more in extreme heat, to make sure there is enough water. If you’re going on vacation, fountains should be turned off and emptied. Turning them off means the water won’t drop low enough to damage the pumps (solar or electric). Since the water isn’t moving, a lively water fountain can quickly turn into mosquito breeding grounds, so it’s best to empty the fountains.

Tip: Adjust Settings on Solar Floodlights to Match Your Lighting Needs

Most solar floodlights and many solar spot lights are activated by motion. The summer is a great time to evaluate how all of your lights work and if you need to adjust settings so the fixtures works the way you need them to. Quality floodlights, solar or electrical ones, have settings that you can adjust to meet your needs.

Floodlight settings

Quality Floodlights Have Settings That Let You Adjust When They Turn On

  • You may want to adjust the SENS setting, since motion-activated lights turn on with less motion in cold temperatures than warm weather.
  • Is the LUX, the level of darkness at which the light begins to turn on, where you want?
  • Do different seasons change the TIME the lights should stay on when activated?

Find out more about Solar Floodlights, including what features make some lights better values than others with our video Get the Best Solar Floodlights.

Tip: Understanding the Very Many Different Types of Solar Spotlights

We love solar spotlights partly because there are just so many different types.

Some are mounted on walls, entrances or even flagpoles, while others are staked into the ground. The ones we love best: the ones that you can choose how to mount.

Find out more in our video Curious about Solar Spot Lights? Ask SolarFlairLighting.com.

There are so many types of solar spot lights (or spotlights) and their functions range from decorative to security lighting.

Different lights have different looks, features, options and price tags.

We put together this short video to help you understand the different ways spotlights can be used and what you should look for when making your selection.

Ways to Reduce Mosquitoes WITHOUT Pesticides

There are many easy things you can do now, and easy habits from now until mosquito season is over to make sure your outdoor living areas have less mosquitoes: without pesticides!

The number one way to lower the mosquito population in your yard is to remove standing water on a regular basis. And contrary to what you may think, you don’t need to get rid of your birdbaths, fountains or plants.

Find out more with our short YouTube video Pesticide Free Tips for Less Mosquitoes. Copyright 2013, SolarFlairLighting.com, or get all the details on our blog post Tips to Reduce Mosquitoes Without Pesticides.

Copyright 2014, SolarFlairLighting.com, SolarLightingSmart.com

2 thoughts on “Tips for Better Solar Lighting

  1. Pingback: What’s Missing from This Picture? What We Stored for Winter | SolarLightingSmart.com

  2. Pingback: Important Do and Do Not Tips for Solar Lights, Solar Products During Ice, Snow Storms | SolarLightingSmart.com

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