Today’s Solar Lamps: Bright, Reliable and Stylish

Pillar Mounted Solar Lamp

Pillar Mounted Solar Lamp

Lamp posts at the entrance to your property, along your driveway, or near your front door not only welcome you and your guests, they add safety to your property.  As with all lights, solar lamp posts can also help ward off unwelcome company.

Somebody recently told me “forget about solar lights, they don’t give off much light.” Baloney!

In the past, this may well have been true but not today. Modern solar lamps incorporate state-of-the-art engineering in all components and come in a variety of styles to meet a variety of tastes to match the decor of your property.

That being said, you get what you pay for with solar lighting.  You can easily go online or to a home center and buy a complete solar lamp set (lamp post, lamp and solar panel) for  around $100.00.  However, unless you want the light only to serve as decoration, you’ll most likely to be unhappy with the lifespan of the fixture and its components, as well as the dim light emitted by inferior products.

Quality solar lamps alone (not including posts) usually start around $175.00 to $200.00. One way to get good deals online is to look for e-stores that include shipping in their prices, as the cost to ship lamp posts can quickly add up due to the size of the package.

Large-sized packages are often charged at a weight much more than the actual product weight because they take up more freight space.

Lots of Choices When Buying Solar Lamps

Lamp for Existing Post

Fitter Lamp for New or Existing Post

Solar Lamp Post

Solar Lamp Post

You can purchase complete solar lamp posts that include the lamp and lamp post, as well as solar lamps that fit on any standard 3-inch lamp post.   “Fitter lamps” can be mounted on an electrical or gas lamp you already have.

Retrofitting existing conventionally powered lamps to solar is a great way to save energy and will let you see a return on your investment every month when you receive your utility bill.

Solar lamps can also be mounted on a standard post bought from a home center.  (If you do buy one from a home center, make sure that the lamp post matches the style of the lamp you buy.)

Solar lamps also are available as “wall-mounted” fixtures that can be placed on a wall of your home that gets direct sunlight (such as next to a door or entrance) or on virtually any vertical surface that gets at least six hours of sun a day, including walls and fences.

Wall Mounted Solar Lamp

Wall Mounted Solar Lamp

Other solar lamps are designed to be mounted to horizontal surfaces such as fence or deck posts or walls such as the one shown at the top of this article.

“Portable” solar lamp posts are also available. These are ideal for people who want to move lights inside if they are away for long periods, such as those with vacation homes.

Lightweight but steady on their feet, these lamps can be transported to illuminate areas of your property that are shaded during the day such as porches or gazebos.  They also can be moved to provide extra light for evening gatherings outside.

Broad Variety of Styles

In terms of style, what is available today is far greater than what was on the market just a year or two ago. Once you decide to go solar, you’ll find a broad variety of styles with looks that range from traditional gas lamps, to those with Asian influences, to those with a more modern appearances.

Portable Solar Lamp

Portable Solar Lamp

Imperial Solar Lamp with Flat Top

Imperial Solar Lamp, Flat Top

Pagoda Solar Lamp

Pagoda Solar Lamp, with Asian Influence

Victorian Solar Lamp

Traditional Victorian Lamp

Windsor Solar Lamp (Portable)

Portable Windsor Solar Lamp

Imperial Solar Lamp with Finial

Imperial Solar Lamp with Finial

Niles Solar Lamp, Post/Pier Mount

Niles Solar Lamp, Post Mount

Many lamps, like this Tahoe Solar Lamp by Sunmia, have two or even three lamp heads

Tahoe Solar Lamp with Dual Heads

Commercial Grade Yosemite Lamp

Commercial Grade Yosemite Lamp

Some lamps are designed primarily for residential use and others for commercial use.  Is one type better than another?No, they are meant for different purposes.

Many “commercial lamps” are often a little brighter that those for residences (where extremely bright lights can be an annoyance) and are designed to withstand harsher weather (such as strong winds found near the ocean or at ski resorts), and usually have anti-vandalism features built into the design.

In general, residential and commercial lamps can be used by home or home-owner associations, as well as for business owners.  It all depends on the location and the function the user wants.

What to Look for in Quality Solar Lamps

Housing
Since solar lamps will be exposed to the weather, the quality of the housing is important just as it is with any outdoor lighting fixture.

No Painting Required

No Messy Painting

The best solar lamps and lamp posts often are constructed of cast aluminum and have powder coated finishes, which means they are moisture and rust-resistant.  Powder coating is applied as a dry powder and cured under heat to form a skin. In many ways, it is more like a ceramic finish than a liquid paint, and is much tougher than conventional paint.

Powder coated finishes don’t need to be repainted, which means less maintenance.

Anybody who has ever tried to touch up a lamp post or a wall mounted fixture knows that it is s a difficult, time-consuming and messy process, particularly when it comes to preventing paint from getting on either the panes or the surface on which the lamp is mounted.

Another advantage of quality solar lights is, unlike electrical fixtures, that all wiring is hidden. This includes the connections between the solar panel, batteries and lamps is contained within the structure, providing a clean aesthetic look and less vulnerability to weather conditions or vandals.  And, because no utility connections are necessary, they can be sited in the most remote of locations.

Many solar lamps also have silicone gaskets that seal the aluminum frame and component casing to prevent water damage.  If you see a lamp that has other features recommended in this article, but doesn’t specify a silicone gasket, it’s easy enough to fix this yourself:  simply get some clear caulking and apply a thin layer along any seams.

Beveled glass adds character and style

Beveled Glass Adds Character & Style

While it’s not actually necessary, it can add to your sense of confidence, particularly after a battery change.  Rechargeable batteries for solar lamps typically last between two and four years depending on how they are used. No matter how well constructed, battery replacement eventually is inevitable.

The panes of quality residential solar lamps are generally made of real glass, often beveled, adding a rich and elegant look to fixtures.

In comparison, commercial grade features often use polycarbonate housing with UV protection.  Plastic makes these lamps more resistant to vandalism, while UV protection prevents the sun’s rays from damaging clearness of the panes.

Light Source
Look for lamps with LED batteries. Along with being the most efficient bulbs available, they have a very long life that ranges from 20,000 to 80,000 hours (depending on application) before requiring replacement barring anything that physically damages the bulb itself, such as being struck by an airborne object.

The best solar lamps available today stay bright from 8 to 15 hours when dark; most can store power to allow a bright light for up to 18 to 20 hours.  This is because the lamps’ batteries store sufficient power to run efficiently for three nights after cloudy or rainy days.  Many lamps also incorporate prisms and/or reflectors that intensify the light to provide stronger illumination.

Most have manual on/off switches and switches that let you adjust the intensity of the light.  In general the lower the intensity, the longer the light will stay lit.  There are other reasons you may want this flexibility, such as switching the lamp to “high intensity” when you are expecting guests while leaving it on the “low intensity” settings for everyday use. And let’s face it: haven’t most of us been annoyed at some point or another by a neighbor’s bright lights while trying to sleep?

Solar lamps for residential purposes generally have a voltage of 3.2V, while the voltage for commercial lamps ranges from 10 to 25V.

Batteries
Unlike many solar lighting fixtures, the type of battery used for solar lamps is important and the best choice is a Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) battery, typically with 12 DC battery banks.

Lithium Ion Batteries are Usually Used in Quality Solar Lamps

Li-ion Batteries are usually used in the Best Solar Lamps

In comparison, other types of rechargeable batteries quality of power and reliable lifetime can be diminished by repeated recharges when they have not expended all of their power.

Another advantage of Li-Ion batteries is that their performance is not hampered by temperatures: they work well at subfreezing temperatures, in temperate climate, and in extremely hot desert-like conditions.

Being smaller and lighter than other battery types, higher strength batteries can be installed without making the fixture look unwieldy or out-of-balance.  Circuit protection monitors protect the batteries from damage.

Solar Panels
Most high-quality solar lamps have mono-crystalline panels.   Given the power required for a strong solar light, mono-crystalline solar cells are better because they are made from a single piece of silicon and can efficiently convert sunshine into power with smaller solar panels.

In contrast, polycrystalline cells are either made from multi-faceted silicon crystals or several different silicon crystals.  While they are less costly to manufacture, they also are less efficient because more surface space is required to gather the same amount of power as a mono-crystalline solar panel.

Shown below are close-ups of the different way that solar panels blend into well-made solar lamps.

Solar Panel at Top of Lamp

Solar Panel Placed on Top of Lamp

Solar panels are integrated into the design of this lamp, and located on all four sides.

Solar panels integrated into lamp design, allowing finial top.

Solar panel integrated into lamp design

A different look with panels integrated into lamp design.

Mono-crystalline solar panels mean that the designer has more flexibility in integrating solar panels into lighting fixture design.  While many solar lamps have a flat top, the use of compact mono-crystalline solar panels means that lamps can be designed with several panels integrated into the design of the lamp, leaving the top free for decorative purposes.

This allows for distinctive design characteristics, such as simple or ornate finals.  Some very strong solar lamps used (typically those used for recreational or parking areas) have a distinct solar panel that is located above the lamp fixture and are very noticeable.

Are all solar products that use polycrystalline cells inferior to those using mono-crystalline?  No, just as with batteries, the components used for any solar product should be appropriate for the application.

Most large solar panels, such as those used to generate power for houses or off-grid power, need a very strong solar charge and large solar panels and are constructed of poly-crystalline.  This is because the cost of mono-crystalline panels would be prevent the products from being economically viable.

Similarly, well-constructed polycrystalline solar panels are more cost-effective for large panels used by applications such as solar street lights

Add Warmth to Your Home without Utilities or Landscape Disruptions

Remote areas like stairs are great places for solar lamps.

Solar lamps improve safety of stairways and other dark and remote areas.

Because no electricity is required, solar lamps and lamp posts can easily be installed around areas with extensive pavement or landscape without disrupting your property.

Even the most remote areas can be effectively lit with solar fixtures.  In fact, they are often used for recreational facilities such as parks, trails, bike paths and ski resorts.

The next time you’re pulling up into your driveway or walking from your car to your doorway, think about the difference a couple of solar lamp posts would make.

If your property has remote areas difficult to access with electricity, or walls or fences around your property, solar lamps could be a very bright idea to add safety and security while deterring vandals or burglars.

 Copyright 2011, www.SolarFlairLighting.comwww.SolarLightingSmart

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