Most solar products survive the winter just fine as long as you keep shovels, snow blowers and chemicals away from them. Others, however, really should be taken inside. This article reviews what should come in and how to store them properly, and what how to take care of solar lights that will stay out for the winter.
Products to Take for Protection against Freezing Weather
The reason is simple: when water freezes, it expands and regardless of the quality of the pump, damage can occur.
There are exceptions: if you have pumps in ponds deep enough so that freezing is rare, you should be okay. And, if you have fish or other fauna in the ponds, you probably will need the pumps to maintain the animals’ health over the winter. However, decorative water features should certainly be taken in, especially those that float on top of the pond.
While all ceramic water features should be taken in (bird baths, fountains, etc.) since the porous material will absorb moisture and cracking (we lost one of our favorite birdbaths this way), not all fountains need to come in.
If you don’t have a place to store them inside, or if they are inconvenient to move, just drain the water out and check the item after rain or snow melts to make sure that none of nature’s water pools in the basin or the reservoir.
Delicate Glass Lights
While glass lights are often more attractive than acrylic alternatives, they also are more delicate and often the glass is not very thick. We recommend taking these in to protect them, so that ice expansion or sheer cold won’t cause cracking or breakage.
Products to Take for Protection against Snow Shovels, Blowers or Plows
Many solar lights from ground-mounted spotlights to decorative items can stay out, as long as they are in locations where there is little chance of them being hit when snow is being removed.
This is especially true if you live in areas where the snow gets deep enough to cover the items completely. This is especially true for walkway lights and solar mole chasers. Not only can snow removal put them at risk, but ice melting chemicals also can cause damage to the solar panel.
And, while most are extremely resistant to water from nature, the corrosive nature of salt and other chemicals means that they can seep in to the body of the fixture and damage interior components, such as circuitry.
What Can Stay Outside Year-Round
Solar lamps and lamp posts, security lights and light strings that are a couple of feet or more above the ground are fine to leave out. These are made to withstand the weather and as long as you clean the snow off carefully (see below), they won’t be damaged.
Solar lamps and lamp posts, except for portable ones, can’t be removed easily. If you are really concerned about damage, you can remove the lamp and keep it inside for the winter, but it’s not necessary.
Same thing goes for solar spot lights and flood lights. Ground-staked models that could be damaged by ice or snow removal should come in, but those above ground will be just fine. However, we do suggest that for best performance you position the solar panels, where possible, to get the most sun. This means positioning them in as upright position as possible towards where the sun shines the most during winter days, as shown in the diagram below.
Cleaning Snow and Ice off of Solar Products and Solar Panels
It’s best to use a soft broom to remove snow off of panels. We use a duster with an extendable handle to clean snow off of our floodlights. Ice is a bit trickier.
If the ice is mostly translucent, the quality of light won’t be diminished very much and it’s best to leave it alone. If the ice is mixed with snow, do not try to chip it off of panels or fixtures.
The risk of damage is just too high. Ditto for snow melting chemicals. As mentioned above, this is a sure-fire way to destroy the fixture and panels.
If a solar lamp or security light or its panels are covered by ice and you depend on the light for safety, take warm water and pour it over the ice.
Be careful not to use water that’s too hot, as this can cause the solar panel or panes to crack. A little warm water, however, should melt ice enough so that you can push it off without any real force. If not, just pour more hot water until it can be easily wiped away.
Recharge Solar Lights Covered by Snow for More Than 3-4 Days or So
If the solar panel is completely blocked by snow for a couple of days, there is a chance that the batteries have fully expended themselves.
Just like when lights are new, you’ll get the best performance and prolong the life of the batteries by turning the fixture off for two sunny days to let the battery store up a full charge. Then, when you turn the light back on, you’ll see the best performance in the short-and long-term.
Proper Storage of Solar Products Taken Inside
If you are taking solar water features, decorative lights or walkway lights inside for the winter, the most important thing to do is to remove the batteries. While the risk of the batteries leaking is small, leaking batteries can ruin items.
Take the batteries out and put a number on each fixture (we use masking tape or medical tape) and then put the batteries into an envelope with a matching number. This is important because products should use the same strength and type of batteries that either came with the item or were specified in the instructions.
Using the wrong type (even NiCad or NIMH batteries, but particularly lithium ion batteries) and strength will destroy your product. Interchanging NICAD or NIMH batteries is possible for some products is sometimes okay (if the instruction manual doesn’t specify you can, don’t).
Always Remember: the best battery is the one that your product was designed to use. Using the wrong type, size of strength of battery not only may destroy the product, it will void the product warranty. Unfortunately, we get warnings from our manufacturers each spring about this issue. Some people think they can try to use whatever battery is handy, but trust us: the manufacturers can tell if the product was damaged by the wrong type of battery. The result: the claim is denied and any money that the customer spends to send the product to the manufacturer will be lost.
And believe it or not, Spring will be here before we know it!