Now that autumn is here, the days are shorter and your solar lights and other solar garden products will receive less sunlight at the same time you need them to stay on longer each night.
As we’ve said in other posts, some solar product should be taken inside during late fall or early winter.
However, contrary to what sellers of traditional electrical landscape lights may say, it is simply untrue that solar lights are only effective in the summer time.
True: solar lights aren’t as efficient during times of the year when there are more hours of darkness than daylight.
Luckily, there are some quick and easy things you can do to make sure you get the best performance of them throughout the fall, winter, and early spring.
Solar lighting technology has come a long way over in recent years. Better LED bulbs and solar technology mean that the quality and reliability of solar lights continuously improve. As we’ve said before, when you go solar, you get generally what you pay. Higher priced lights generally use better bulbs and newer solar technology, as well as better quality housing, circuitry, panes, and light color.
Often, the extra money you paid this past spring or summer will pay off when there are more hours of darkness than light.
Adjust Panels or Solar Light Positions Seasonally
Many solar lights, particularly solar security lights, have panels that can be adjusted seasonally so that they can absorb the maximum possible energy from the sun.
The diagram below shows the optimum positions for the four seasons of the year.
If your 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 day.
More and more solar lamps have panels on all four sides (excluding wall mounted versions), so these generally are okay the way they are.
If you have accent or pathway lights that you want to leave out year-round and want to maximize the duration of light each night: tilt them a bit to get more sunlight. The trade-off of having pathway stakes that aren’t perfectly straight may well mean a couple more hours of light output each night.
Keep Leaves Off Solar Panels and Lighting Fixtures
It’s always a good idea to regularly check solar panels to make sure dirt, pollen or leaves don’t obstruct their ability to absorb the sun’s energy. It’s particularly important once fall rolls around.
While many leaves are long gone by Thanksgiving, many trees (particularly oaks) tend to shed some leaves in the fall and then regularly shed the rest until the following spring when new leaves start to emerge.
And, along with the solar panels, make sure you regularly check the solar light itself to make sure that leaves do not block the part of the light that sheds illumination.
For solar shed lights and security solar lights, this may mean checking the roofs of small structures or panels mounted on walls. The easiest way to clear these off safely is with a garden hose, assuming it’s not so cold that you’ve already shut off the water for the winter.
Brooms also are effective, as long as you’re careful not to strike the hard part of the tool against the panel, which could crack it. Caution should be used with leaf blowers, especially if you suspect acorns are nearby or if there are broken branches or twigs that could strike and damage the panel or the fixture.
Important note: many solar floodlights use halogen lights, which provide a great bright alternative to LEDs. While many people like halogen bulbs because the light color is usually “warmer” than LEDs, halogen bulbs use a considerable amount of energy generating heat.
In fact, you should pay special attention to halogen fixtures (solar or otherwise) because of the extreme heat they generate. Dry leaves on halogen lights can pose a fire hazard, particular when the fixture is mounted to a structure, be it a home, barn or shed. (This is one reason why we carry very few halogen lights and overall, don’t recommend them.)
Tips for Winter Ice and Snow
Unless snow is very deep, most lights and solar panels can easily be swept clean with a soft broom. Don’t use a shovel, as there is a real risk of damaging the light and/or the solar panel.
Ice, however, is a different matter. Never try to chip ice, as this is likely to cause damage. Either wait until nature takes its course and it melts on its own, or pour hot water over the ice and then brush away what you can. Clear ice won’t impact the solar panel from absorbing much power anyway.
If snow, ice or mixtures of snow and ice cover lights for more than a few days, you may wish to turn the light off for two sunny days, and then turn them back on.
This lets the solar battery get a new strong charge that will jump start its performance. This is the same reason it is recommended that solar products be allowed to charge for two full days when they first get out of the box.
Batteries that are covered by snow for more than five days to a week or more are pretty much like a battery in a car that hasn’t been driven in a while. It may be drained of all power, and the car might need a jump start under worst case scenarios, or at least allowed to “idle” for a while before it hits the road.
What To Leave Out, What to Take In
We’ll soon post an article about maintaining solar lights during the winter, which will include details about how to store solar products properly and tips for holiday lights such as string lights and other decorations
But, the following solar lights and products are probably what you’ll want to take in for the winter:
- Any solar powered pump or water fountain to protect against ice damage
- Delicate accent lights
- Accent lights that would be subject to plows, snow shovels and blowers or salt
Other solar lighting fixtures that you’ll either want or need to keep outside for the winter include:
- Solar lights for security: floodlights and spotlights
- Solar lamps and lamp posts: these usually are installed for the long haul
Even with these tips, it is unrealistic to expect that solar lights will be as bright or illumination as long-lasting as during late spring and summer. However, the sun doesn’t charge you more come wintertime because of the supply demands of homes during winter mean more “peak hour” electrical rates.
Copyright 2012, AM McElroy, SolarFlairLighting.com, SolarLightingSmart. com
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