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Hardscaping 101: Solar Lighting

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Hardscaping 101: Solar Lighting

April 22, 2019

Artful lighting can beautify almost any outdoor space. And these days it’s much easier to achieve, because you can buy solar-powered lights for almost any outdoor use, instead of having to install conventional hard-wired electric lights. Read on to learn the ins and outs.

What is solar lighting and how does it work?

An 8-by-4-inch Solar Landscape Paver Brick Light comes with an embedded solar panel and rechargeable battery. It is $35.99 from Lamp Lust via Amazon.
Above: An 8-by-4-inch Solar Landscape Paver Brick Light comes with an embedded solar panel and rechargeable battery. It is $35.99 from Lamp Lust via Amazon.
Solar lights operate without electricity, since they create their own power. Each light has a photovoltaic cell that soaks up the sun’s rays during the day and converts it into power. The battery stores the power, and the LED (light-emitting diode) bulb turns on when the internal sensor detects that darkness has fallen. Depending on the manufacturer, it takes anywhere from 8 to 12 hours of sunlight for the battery to fully charge, and a full charge will generally provide light for up to eight hours.

What types of solar lights are best for outdoor use?

The Solar Landscape Paver Brick Light can be embedded at the edge of a patio, driveway, or path (as shown above). The brick needs several hours of direct sunlight a day to function properly; $35.99 from Amazon.
Above: The Solar Landscape Paver Brick Light can be embedded at the edge of a patio, driveway, or path (as shown above). The brick needs several hours of direct sunlight a day to function properly; $35.99 from Amazon.
Probably the most common solar lights are used to illuminate garden paths or sidewalks. Most path lights, usually sold in multi-packs, come mounted on spikes that you just insert into the ground alongside your walkway. You can also find solar spotlights, which will dramatically illuminate a specimen tree, flower-laden gazebo, or some other beauty spot.

See a similar set of two Pro Series Spotlights for $7loading=
Above: See a similar set of two Pro Series Spotlights for $71.20 at Frontgate.
A floodlight or lantern installed on an exterior wall of your house can make it easier to find your way to the door, or perhaps highlight an architectural feature on the façade. Motion-activated security lights will make your yard safer by lighting up when they detect activity in the area.

Small solar lights can be inset in stair risers?

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Above: A 1-Light Step Light has “amorphous solar panels gather and store sunlight, even on overcast days” and can provide up to eight hours of light per night; $39.95 via Wayfair.

A collapsible solar lantern, the PackLite Max
Above: A collapsible solar lantern, the PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger charges mobile devices at the same speed as wall outlets; $49.99 from Luminaid.
These are portable solar lanterns that you can set on a patio table for an al fresco dinner, or beside the pool for a midnight swim.

How much does solar lighting cost?

Made in Italy, a Solar Bud designed by Ross Lovegrove for LucePlan has an aluminum stem.
Above: Made in Italy, a Solar Bud designed by Ross Lovegrove for LucePlan has an aluminum stem.

The only expense is the purchase of the lights themselves. After they’re up and running, solar lights are self-powered, self-regulating, and won’t add to utility bills. And while prices vary depending on design, many lights are inexpensive: a six-pack of Hampton Bay Landscape Path Lights is $24.24 at Home Depot.

 Photograph by Allie Rowe. See more of this solar power setup at Tiny Homes: Living Large in 5 Square Feet, Baby Included.You won’t need to install solar panels on your house to power the lights in your garden. Each light comes with its own mini panel.
Above: Photograph by Allie Rowe. See more of this solar power setup at Tiny Homes: Living Large in 275 Square Feet, Baby Included.You won’t need to install solar panels on your house to power the lights in your garden. Each light comes with its own mini panel.

What are the environmental benefits of solar lighting?

A solar-powered LED Sunstone No. 9 is a pavement light that recharges even when sunlight is minimal. For more information and prices, see Out-sider.
Above: A solar-powered LED Sunstone No. 9 is a pavement light that recharges even when sunlight is minimal. For more information and prices, see Out-sider.
Solar power is a boon to the environment in two ways. Much of the electricity we use is produced by burning fossil fuels, a non-renewable resource. Solar power is a renewable resource. Plus, the production of solar power doesn’t pollute the air (unlike those fossil fuels).

Where do I install solar lights?

A Solar Round Decking Light creates a halo effect; £85.99 from Exterior Lights UK.
Above: A Solar Round Decking Light creates a halo effect; £85.99 from Exterior Lights UK.
To be fully charged, most solar lights must be exposed to at least eight hours of sun daily. So you’ll need to place them in an area where they’ll get as much full sunlight as possible—which means not under trees, building overhangs, or other dark areas. However, some lights come with a separate solar panel that’s connected by a cord, a convenient feature when you want to install a light in a shaded area, such as under the eaves for a security lamp or tucked among tree branches for string lights. Portable solar lights are handy because you can set them out in a sunny spot during the day to charge, and then bring them to your porch, deck, or patio after dark.

Are solar lights hard to install?

A Luci Lux Pro Inflatable Solar Lantern has a &#8
Above: A Luci Lux Pro Inflatable Solar Lantern has a “two-way USB port fully charges it in just a few hours, or lets you top off your smartphone with the power of the sun.” It is $34.95 from REI.
Because no wiring is necessary, solar lights are easy to set up. Path lights generally come mounted on spikes that you simply stick into the ground beside your garden path or sidewalk. (If the ground is hard or rocky and the stakes aren’t that sturdy, you might need to pre-drill the holes.) Some lanterns come with metal rods for hanging. Security lights designed to be mounted on brackets will require you to get out the ladder and some basic tools.

Are there drawbacks to solar lighting?

A white LED Outdoor Solar Powered Panel Garden Switch Lamp is $
Above: A white LED Outdoor Solar Powered Panel Garden Switch Lamp is $22.97 from Gear Best.
If you live in an area where it’s cloudy or rainy much of the time, the weather will affect the light’s performance. While solar lights can still generate some power under cloud cover, they’ll be weaker or may not go on at all. And using the lights if the batteries aren’t fully charged can shorten the battery life. Another disadvantage: Just as many solar lights are easy to install, they’re also easy to “uninstall,” i.e. steal. If that’s a concern, you may not want to invest too much.

Do solar lights require maintenance?

A white Solar Rechargeable LED Tube Light is $38.87 from Gear Best.
Above: A white Solar Rechargeable LED Tube Light is $38.87 from Gear Best.
Very little. Many manufacturers claim that the long-lasting LED bulbs will never need replacing. You do need to keep the panels free of leaves, snow, bird droppings, or other debris that might affect their charging ability. If you expect an extended period of cloudy weather you could turn off your solar lights, since the battery life can be shortened if the lights are used without a full charge. And if winters are harsh where you live, you might want to put your lights away in storage for the season (being sure to turn them off)—while the panels are weather-resistant, they’re not indestructible.

Are smart solar lights available?

Most of the Wifi-enabled solar lights on the market are motion-activated security lamps that you mount on your house’s exterior, such as Novolink’s LED fFloodlight, $69.99 at Home Depot. The Bluetooth app lets you control it with your smartphone, adjusting such features as motion sensitivity and how long the light stays on after it’s activated.

A collapsible solar lantern, the PackLite Max
Above: A collapsible solar lantern, the PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger charges mobile devices at the same speed as wall outlets; $49.99 from Luminaid.
Are you designing an outdoor lighting plan? For more ideas, see:

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