Get the Most Out of Solar Lights!

Maximize Your Solar Lighting

All solar lights work best when they are placed and used properly.  While summertime has the strongest sunlight, you can 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.

Regardless of what type of solar lighting fixture you purchase, there are easy things you can do to get the most from your solar lights.

Many tips listed below take less time than changing a traditional electrical light bulb!

Get What You Need

Create a simple plan of your property

Draw a simple outline to help you plan your solar lighting

When starting your solar lighting design plan, you’ll want to determine the number and style of fixtures you need. (See post from a while back that discusses different types of solar lights and what each is best suited for.)

Think about the purpose the light will serve, as the strength of accent lights is extremely different from light generated by floodlights, spotlights or solar lamps.

If may help to draw a rough outline of your yard noting areas to be illuminated.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, just make sure you note things like decks, paths, stairs, patios, walkways, shrubbery and gardens areas.  Also note things that cast shadows for large portions of the day such as fences, houses, or trees.

Illuminate dark outdoor structures without electricity with solar lights

Good spot for Solar Spotlight or Shed Light

Walk around your home and yard with a flash light at dusk and see how the light, positioned in different ways, gives different effects.

This can help you plan the location and types of solar lighting fixtures you need, especially if you want lots of lights or if you’re buying or building a new residence.

More and more, people also are choosing to get rid of their conventional electric lights and use lighting as fixtures age or just to lower use their use of electricity.

Dar Stairs

Make stairs safer with solar floodlights, solar path lights, or solar accent spotlights

Think about what things you want to highlight, where you want solar lights to light walkways, or where you want to place security lights for safety.

Read and Save Solar Light Instructions

Yes, it usually looks simple, but assembling solar lights in a rush or incorrectly may break them and void the warranty.

Bottom Line: Carefully read the installation instruction before assembling or installing your solar lights. And, save the directions for down the road in two years or so when you’ll likely need to change the batteries.

Taking a few minutes will save you time in the long run.

Charge Solar Fixtures in the Sun for 2 Days Before Use

Solar lights should be charged in the sun for two days before use

Charge Solar Lights for 2 Days Before Use

Solar lights should be charged in sun for 2 days before use.

So, if you get your lights on a Saturday and put them in the sun on Sunday and take them inside or shut them off on Sunday night.  Leave them “on” or outside on Monday and by Monday night they’ll be good to go without undue strain on the batteries.

Can you get away with less of an initial charge for the solar lights and their batteries?

Yes, but you’re causing unnecessary strain on the batteries that may lessen their effectiveness down the road or shorten the two-year life cycle of most rechargeable batteries used in solar lights.

Mount Solar Panels in Sunny Places

Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised.  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.”

Shady Back Yard

Solar lights with cord between light & solar panel are great for shady areas.

Too much shade and your solar light will be less efficient. A properly positioned panel is often means satisfaction or disappointment about the 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.

Many solar lights let you position the light in shade, and the panel in sun

Solar panel on this light can be put up to 6-feet Away from Fixture

Does this mean that if your property has a lot of shade solar lights won’t work for you?

Solar Water PumpNo, because many solar lights have  cords between the solar panel and the light fixture itself.

This lets you put the solar light where you need it and place the solar panel in an area where there is sun.

Most solar spotlights, solar floodlights and some solar accent lights and solar accent spotlights come with these cables.

Solar water pumps, solar fountains and combination solar birdbaths/water fountains usually come with cables between the solar fixture and the solar panel to give you flexibility.

Quick Trouble-Shooting/Easy Fixes

If your solar lighting fixture does not come on at dusk and you have followed the above tips, try the following:

Make sure that the solar lights are not impacted by another light source (such as a bright electric  street light), as solar lights have a sensor that makes them light up on at dusk.

Check that the solar panel is not in the shade for a large portion of the day. Even “amorphous” solar panels that work on cloudy or rainy days need sun now and agan.

Make sure the solar lights’ switches are in the “ON” position, if they have one.

Double-check that the batteries are installed correctly. (This is easiest to do by double-checking the instructions that came with your solar lighting product).

Position Solar Panels for Seasonal Sunlight

To achieve the best results from your solar lights, any adjustable solar panel should be positioned as shown below throughout the year:

Slant adjustable solar panels to different angles throughout the year

Adjust Solar Panels Seasonally

If you solar panel can’t be adjusted, don’t worry about it.  Most solar fixtures work just fine with as little as 5 or 6 hours of sun per night.

The only real exceptions are some solar fountains that require steady sunshine, because there is no “idle time” for the battery to store power.  This is not the case for most solar pumps, which typically have much stronger solar panels and batteries.

And, if solar fountains or any solar water feature should be taken in during subfreezing temperatures to protect not only the solar mechanisms but the water feature itself from the damage caused by expansion as water freezes.

Tips for Spring and Fall

Fallen Leaves

Keep fallen leaves off solar panels, and be careful when raking, plowing or shoveling.

Make sure that falling or blowing leaves to do not obstruct the solar light panel.  Whenever there is a lot of pollen in the area (usually in spring or fall, but sometimes during the summer), you also want to occasionally make sure the solar panels are not covered with pollen.

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.

Keep pollen off solar panels

Keep Pollen Off Solar Panels

In the spring, we check all of our solar lights, both the ones that we take in during the winter and the ones that stay out year-round. It’s a good time to make sure the batteries work.

We then clean the solar solar panels with a cotton ball dampened with alcohol or vinegar. Glass and plastic solar panes can be cleaned with any glass cleaner.

It also helps to use a VERY small amount of oil on any metal fixtures, just make sure the oil doesn’t get on the solar panels, the fixture’s panes, or any plastic parts.   Most non-vegetable based oils can damage plastic or rubber materials.

Tips for the Winter

Keep Snow off Solar Panels

Keep snow and off solar panels. If  lights get buried,charge them for 6 hours before use.

As mentioned above, solar water features should be taken in during subfreezing weather, as should all water features regardless of what makes them run.

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 comes to obtain maximum capacity from your solar lights.

When you plan your lighting and buy the proper solar lights to meet your needs, take care when assembling them, and taking a little time for maintenance throughout the year, you’ll get top performance from them year-round.

Copyright 2011, AM McElroy,, www.SolarLightingSmart

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