Whether your solar lights remained outdoors during the winter or whether you’re adding stored ones back to your landscape, odds are that some of the lights won’t be working properly.
The good news: most solar lights will work as good as new with new rechargeable batteries.
The bad news: if you use the wrong type or size battery, you may well permanently damage the fixture and void any warranties.
Here’s some important things to note about solar lights and batteries, including when to tell the solar light has outlived its usefulness and replacement batteries are a waste of time and money.
Every year we post about batteries because every year we get calls from people who’ve wrecked their solar lights by using the wrong replacement battery. Our distributors also ask us to remind customers that using wrong battery will destroy the solar light, fountain or water pump.
(For more information about rechargeable batteries for solar lights and solar garden products, please see our post from a while back “Don’t Commit Assault With Your Batteries.”)
Manufacturers and distributors also ask us to tell customers that the type of damage done by the incorrect type or strength battery is very noticeable to an educated eye.
Since improper batteries void the warranty, we always remind customers of this fact and always ask if the wrong battery was ever used. Why: we don’t want you to go to the trouble and expense of shipping the product back only to find out that the warranty is as useless as the light or water feature.
Are some rechargeable batteries better than other? Sure, and some solar lights are a heck of a lot better than others. Regardless…
The Best Rechargeable Battery for Any Solar Product is Always the Exact Same Size and Type Battery That Came With the Product. Period.
Yeah, we read blog posts and “tips” all the time with people boasting of kick-butt performance they got by changing out batteries. If they did, God bless ’em. But, most of the time they’re blowing smoke or the batteries just haven’t had time to destroy the fixture or it’s solar components.
What Battery Your Solar Product Needs: Save Instructions or Ask the Dealer
It’s always a good idea to save any instructions that come with products so that when maintenance is ready, you know what to buy.
Instructions often say how to get at the battery (some batteries are much easier to access and replace than others), and specify the exact battery that should be used.
If you don’t have the instructions, usually the store can provide a replacement copy or tell you what type of battery the product should use.
If the light is older or discontinued, the solar light may not have access to that information. In situations like this, think about how much you like the light and how much you paid for it initially. Solar lamps, spotlights and floodlights usually last for several seasons.
Take the Battery and Product to a Good Hardware Store or Home Center
Let’s face it: the online retailer you bought the light from just a few months ago may not be in business anymore. Over 70% of online businesses fail, often in the first 18 months.
Bigger chain stores customer service lines probably will not be familiar with the specific light you carry. You can try to call another smaller store that sells the same lights: our store SolarFlairLighting.com routinely works with competitor’s customers for product support.
The manufacturer’s website may provide information, or their customer support reps may be able to help. Another thing you can do is to take the light and the fixture (if possible) to a good hardware or home center. They may be able to tell what the battery is even if much or all of the label is worn off. If they can’t tell, you are going to have to call a seller and try to get the information.
You can always go on a “guess” but just make sure you’re willing to lose the light if the guess is wrong.
Remember, while NiMH and NiCAD batteries of the same size (for example AA), are OFTEN BUT NOT ALWAYS interchangeable, you can’t use interchange either one with lead acid or lithium ion batteries. And, you should NEVER use non-rechargeble batteries with solar lights. It kind of defeats the purpose of having solar lights in the first place but if it works, more power to you because a regular old Duracell battery probably will destroy the solar components.
If You Have More Than One of The Same Light, Test Batteries
If your battery seemed to last an unusually short time, it may be that the light was just placed in an area without enough sun, which dramatically shortens the life span.
But, today we are seeing a glut of cheap lights, particularly solar accent lights, that frankly are build to be “disposable” and probably you’re better off buying new lights.
If you have sets of lights and at least one of the batteries works, use the working battery to test whether the battery is the issue. Or, buy one battery and see if it works in several lights before deciding whether to buy a lot of new batteries or a few better lights.
The following are problems common in older lights and relatively new lights that are poorly made are:
- Circuits or Wiring is damaged – lights are used outside and exposed to moisture. Cheap housing and components are more likely to succumb to the elements and rust out, even when you can’t see the damage.
- Solar Panels or Controllers are Shot – broken, cracked or peeling solar panels mean odds are the panel has outlived it’s usefulness. Sometimes solar panels do get too much sun, especially cheap ones.We love amorphous solar panels because they can absorb solar energy even during cloudy weather, but the trade-ff is that they usually don’t last as long as mono-crystalline or polycrystalline solar panels.Controllers are basically hidden and you probably won’t see the damage. Unless it’s a very expensive light, controllers usually aren’t worth changing. And if the controller is gone, you should be concerned about the integrity of other internal components.
Photo Sensor that Detects Darkness Doesn’t Work – This is a common problem seen most often in poorly made lights, but s one that usually means the light won’t be working well in the future.
Since virtually all solar lights turn on only when an electronic eye sees darkness, a damaged or worn-out light sensor means the light’s usually doomed.If the light turns on in the daytime, that’s a sure sign that the sensor shot.
The light doesn’t work at night, or doesn’t work long at night, because the battery uses up most of its energy at night when it can be difficult to notice that the light is on, as shown in the photo.
Do Brands Matter? No, Be Leery of Extreme Discounts
Brands don’t matter in terms of what you can and can’t use, but we find that paying extra money for batteries (especially for our better solar lights) usually pays off in better performance and longer life spans.
Many “discount” batteries, like discount solar lighting, are older batteries and some batteries store better than others. If you buy batteries from a dollar store, you may luck out but you may also be paying for batteries that may be dated. Try and see if there is a “Expiration” or “Use by Date.”
If you can, ask a salesperson to open a package of batteries sold in bulk to see if the batteries themselves have date on them. You also want to look at them carefully to make sure that there are no signs that any of the batteries may have leaked during who knows how long in a warehouse.
Recharging Batteries, Not Changing Them, Is Also a Possibility
If you are taking lights out of storage for the winter (and if you did store them, we hoped that you removed the batteries and labeled them as to which one goes with which product), the batteries WILL NOT work immediately.
If a solar light does not turn on the first night you place it outside after storage, don’t panic. The rechargeable batteries probably were stored in a dark place (or should have been) and most likely they will have little if any stored solar power.
The solution: before you decide a light needs a new battery or has outlived it’s useful time in your garden, let it sit in the sun for two sunny days.
If the light, fountain or pump still doesn’t work after 8 to 10 hours in direct sunlight, it’s definitely time to change the battery and, perhaps, the light.
Copyright 2014, SolarFlairLighting.com, SolarLightingSmart.com
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