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The Good and Bad about Solar Lighting

Updated on July 28, 2010

I love the idea behind solar-powered lights for our yards. I want lights around my front porch and steps and around my deck in the backyard. I don’t want to run wires everywhere and have to hire an electrician to install a new breaker and a switch to run them. It’s not that I mind hiring an electrician, I just have a hard time justifying the cost for something as simple as adding a little light to my porch.

A few years ago, I bought a couple of solar-powered accent lights for my yard. They were cheap, real cheap. I should have realized that there was no way that I was getting any quality at just a few bucks per light. Now, don’t get me wrong, they did produce light, for a little while each night at least. The small bluish LED in each produced enough lumens to light up an area about one foot in diameter. Even with a full day of direct sunlight, the best that I ever got on of them was probably an hour and a half. My wife and I used to bet on whether righty or lefty was going to die first each night. The strange thing was that it would change almost every day. Needless to say, I was not terribly hopeful when the guy at Lowes started telling me about how great their new solar-powered outdoor lights are.

It turns out that there are three major components to solar-powered lighting that you must have to have a decent light. First of all, you have to have an adequately sized, efficient solar cell on top. Next, you have to have a battery that is capable of storing enough power to make the light actually last more than just a few hours. Finally, you need a good LED or more with a good reflector to spread the light out evenly.

The good newer solar lights have all three components. They put out more light, and it’s not blue anymore! They take less time in the sun and they produce light for many hours. They also look a whole lot better than the cheap plastic little ones that I had bought. They are still cheap, poor quality lights. The way to tell the difference is price. If you can buy ten or twelve solar-powered yard lights for fewer than twenty dollars, then you are going to be disappointed. But, if you buy name-brand lights for about twenty bucks per light, you will not be disappointed. They may cost more, but you don’t have to run wires or hire the electrician! Do your own product review and let me know if you have any recommendations.

Have you used solar-powered outdoor lighting?

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