All solar lights work best when they are placed and used properly. While maximum benefits are seen during the summertime when the sun’s light is strongest, there are many ways to take maximize the advantages of solar lighting throughout the year.
Solar lighting technology has come a long way over the past couple of years. Better ways to use LED lighting, more weather-tight construction, and better designs make it the smart choice.
When going solar, make sure that you buy quality products that use the latest in technology and design for both the light source and the housing.
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 quality.
Mount Solar Panels in Sunny Places
Solar lighting 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.
A properly positioned panel is often means satisfaction or disappointment about the performance of your solar lights. The fewer obstructions between the sun and your solar panel, the better your solar lights will perform. Even “amorphous solar panels” that work during cloudy or rainy days, need to be placed in an area with some sunshine.
Here are some tips, valuable year-round, that are particularly important during late fall, winter, and early spring:
- Make sure that the solar lights are not impacted by another light source (such as a street light), as solar lights have a sensor that makes them light up on at dusk.
- Make sure the solar panel is not in the shade a large portion of the day. Even “amorphous” solar panels that work on cloudy or rainy days need sun.
- Make sure the solar lights’ switches are in the “ON” position, if they have one.
- Check that the batteries are installed correctly. (Please check the installation instructions that came with your solar lighting product).
Position Your Solar Panels To Adjust for Seasonal Differences
To achieve the best results from your solar lights, any adjustable solar panel should be positioned as shown below throughout the year. Many solar lights do have fixed solar panels that are designed to work in all four seasons. However, many lights (solar security floodlights and solar spotlights in particular), have adjustable panels. If a solar panel can be adjusted, tilt the panel as show during different seasons.
If You Can, Adjust Your Motion-Activated Lights
Any light that is motion-activated, be it an AC/DC or solar floodlight or spotlight, becomes far more sensitive to motion and will activate more frequently during cold weathers. To make sure that unwanted levels of motion (such as small animals) don’t turn on the solar floodlight and annoy you and your neighbors, unnecessarily expend the battery’s stored energy, check the PIR sensor on the light.
All motion-activated floodlights and spot lights have a PIR (Passive Infrared) sensor that makes the fixture light up when motion is detected. The best solar floodlights and spotlights usually let you adjust the lighting fixture’s sensitivity to motion so that “false alarms” are prevented.
Many also let you adjust the LUX, or the level of darkness at which the light will turn on. So, if you don’t want your light turning on when dusk starts at 4:00 or 4:30 (or earlier in some areas), you might want to adjust the LUX setting.
Special Tips for Fall
Make sure that falling or blowing leaves to do not obstruct the solar light panel. Depending on where you live, you may also have early autumn weeds that may require you to occasionally clean pollen off of the solar panels.
We remove many of our garden accent lights before fall cleanup so they are not damaged by rakes or blowers, and to make sure that no plow or shovel hits them during the winter. If you choose to remove your solar lights and store them for the winter, you should remove the batteries if you can do so easily. Then, put tape or a tag on the battery noting which battery goes with which light, because using the wrong battery can destroy solar lights, or any electronics for that matter.
Each fall and spring, we clean our solar lights and the solar panels with a cotton ball or soft rag dampened with water. If there is heavy soil, bird droppings or sap, we add a bit of alcohol to the water. You should never use a rough cloth, scrubber or harsh chemicals on solar panels, as they may be damaged.
Keep snow and debris cleaned off the solar panels so the batteries can recharge. If the solar lighting fixtures are covered with snow for an extended period of time, let the solar panels charge in full sunlight for at least 6 hours after the thaw to obtain maximum capacity from your solar lights.
Solar light strings are great for Christmas decorations, but a few things should be noted to make sure you are satisfied with them.
First, make sure the solar panel is in an area where there is at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Some amorphous solar panels can make do with less, but 6 hours is a good guideline for best performance.
Second, remember that ALL solar lights turn on in the darkness. To do so, they have a sensing device that detects darkness. Solar string lights are recommended for areas that are not lit by other light sources.
If you wish to use them in a lit area (or with electric lights), you usually can find the light sensor (for strings, they are generally located near the solar panel rather than each bulb). Once you locate it, cover it at night so that the sensor does not “see” the other lights. We put a bucket over the solar panel, where the light sensor is located, when we get home at night and remove it when we leave in the morning. Easy!
Other solar decorative lights suitable for Christmas include color changing solar accent lights and solar crosses. These should be located in areas that are not already lit by strong light sources such as house or street lights.
If they are, please remember to locate the light sensor and cover it at dusk. Masking or medical bandage tape works great, you just want to make sure that you remove the tape in the morning so that there is enough charge for the lights to go on in the evening.
No matter what type of solar light you have, remember that routine maintenance and cleaning is not just for solar lights. All types of outdoor lighting require maintenance. The difference is that any additional upfront costs for solar light fixtures pays for itself in utility costs pretty quickly.
And, new technologies are continually available that better harness and store the sun’s power. Do these cost a bit more than dated fixtures? Sure, but as we’ve said before, with solar lighting “you get what you pay for.” An extra 10 dollars per fixture means better quality, better reliability and a quicker return on your investment.
Solar Lighting: Today’s smart choice!
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