How to Choose Outdoor Solar Powered Lights

| September/October 2007


Photo courtesy of

When it comes to backyard or pathway lights, forget practical and boring ? think fun and fancy. You can create a soothing, inviting mood with unique and attractive outdoor lighting.

Better yet, you can use solar powered outdoor lights, to save energy and save yourself digging ditches, laying the wire and attaching it to a junction box. When choosing an outdoor solar powered light you will need to consider a variety of factors in order to match the function you want with the available lighting choices.

Solar lights use small photovoltaic cells that absorb sunlight during the day and turn it into energy. Rechargeable batteries store the energy, making it available at night when it is needed. LED (light emitting diode) bulbs, which require little power and last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs, provide the illumination. There is no wiring necessary to connect the lights to each other or to the electric grid.

For starters, there are three kinds of garden solar lights:

Path lights: solar powered path lights come in a variety of fairly standard styles from modern to classic. They can be hung from a pole or embedded in the ground to light a dark walk or guide the way. And because there is no wiring involved, they can easily be moved to a new location whenever the remodeling bug hits you.

Decorative accent lights: For more fun and fancy, check out the solar powered garden lights that glow with attractive designs and colors. Position them right and it will be like having a giant-size firefly in your yard. These unique lights, made of blown glass or hand-made materials, will add a touch of whimsy to your yard, when placed in and around your shrubs and flower beds. You can find these lights online or in home improvement stores and garden centers. Most have the glowing light perched on top of a slim stake that can easily be pushed into the soil. The small solar collector is attached to the stake and must receive direct sunlight each day in order to charge the batteries.

11/6/2007 12:00:00 AM

The lights I have bbought have all had replaceable batteries. I have never seen nes that were not replaceable. Mine too have lasted several years. Still, they produce very little light. Why do they make these so under-powered? It seems they might be useful with 6 LEDs instead of one and perhaps 4 rechargeable D cells instead of 2 AA's.One great product I have found is a solar powered motion detecting security flood light by (I think( Heath Zenith). These use a 20 watt Halogen light with a 6v motorcycle type rechargeable battery. They are about $90 at Home Depot. I have bought several of them and use them all around outside my house and driveway.

chris boylan
10/15/2007 12:00:00 AM

My last set of solar lights (powered by user-replaceable NiCd AA batteries) lasted 8 years. Dirt build-up and weather-wear of the optical sensor and electrical components eventually did them in. A NiCd battery can be recharged 1000 times or more, and can (and should) be recycled when it dies. The big drawback with solar lights is that they need unobstructed sunlight in order to work well. Partial shade, or full sun for only part of the day will drastically shorten the illumination time.

scott mason
10/1/2007 12:00:00 AM

Definitely cool high end stuff, saw them at Lightfair in New York.With Solar Cynergy's line, you're paying for product quality and technology. Only a few online stores have them b/c they're targeting and working with large developers and architects.

d putnam
9/26/2007 12:00:00 AM

We just saw these new outdoor solar lights on They are in a brick/paver form-factor and can be put in concrete, decking, between pavers, etc. My wife and I are considering them for around our pool. The company is Solar Cynergy. talks about their pricing...a bit pricey, but the life expectancy is extremely high. anyone worked with these?

scott russell_2
9/14/2007 12:00:00 AM

We purchased these lights to light the front walk for an elderly neighbor. They provide a cue so that he doesn't fall off the sidewalk, but they really provide very little light and they are plastic, heavy-metal-filled and destined for the landfill after they stop working.

herbert ehlers
9/9/2007 12:00:00 AM

Most outdoor solar lights are made in China, andthey are typical Chinese junk.If you buy some that last a year, you are doingreally good. Congratulations.

b stur
9/8/2007 12:00:00 AM

True, the batteries in solar lights that I have purchased at Lowes and Home Depot generally last a year, but they are replaceable. They are rechargeable NiCad AA's, but this summer I've had one solar light running off of, and apparently recharging, regular alkaline AA's. You probably don't want to go wild with 20 or 30 solar lights, because you will have to replace the batteries in each of them yearly. But it is nice to have a few automatic lights strategically located around the yard.

anna hackman
9/7/2007 12:00:00 AM

Some of the led solar lights that I have purchased I did not like. They produce a bluish-white light which looks ghost like. Both leds that I tried said "bright white" light. Plus the light was very directional and did not have much of a spread. (this was the spot light.) I don't know if the led/solar lights can tell you a color rendering so you know what color that is.The solar without led are very dim but are at least a yellow soft light. Whatever you do make sure you can bring back the lights if you do not like them. anna

c. s._2
9/7/2007 12:00:00 AM

It's worse than more trash in the landfill--most of the batteries are NiCd. The Cd in that is cadmium, one of the most toxic heavy metals. That's something you really don't want to put in landfills. If you must get one, shop carefully for one that uses NiMH not NiCd batteries. It still might become trash, and nickel isn't great either, but it's much better than cadmium.I browsed a few of the links--many at Home Depot don't say, but the one that I saw is NiCd. Snapdragon doesn't say. Gaiam has some that say NiCd, some that don't say, and two that say NiMH (the garland and the stepping stone). (So much for being able to trust that a product from Gaiam will be environmentally friendly.) If you visit a brick-and-mortar store, you can look on the box and read the warning label to find out.

9/7/2007 12:00:00 AM

These solar lights are little more than a toy. If you really want to save our Earth and end dependency on fossil fuels, why not look into Fuel gasifiers ( for your sewer, garbage, and trash. This includes plastics, newspapers, and yard and garden clippings. These wastes are called biomass and they can be easily converted into gas and/or liquid fuels. The gas is called syngas and can be use directly in Solid Oxide fuel cells produced by either Acromentics ( or Siemens ( As for using solar panels, they are best suited for hydrogen generation such as produced by Distributed Energy Systems ( Don't let anyone tell you differently, industry and government have been working hand in hand to solve our energy and global warming problems.For more information, please see,, and my blog, I am retired from Engineering and have dedicated my retirement to helping solve our energy problems.

fernando rojo
9/7/2007 12:00:00 AM

Pro's and Con's will be helpful...I was ready to buy one until I read the comment on the battery not being replaceable. F.Rojo

walter jeffries
9/7/2007 12:00:00 AM

Problem: the rechargeable batteries wear out fairly quickly. Then the whole unit is caput in many cases as they are not replaceable. This means trash in the landfill. Do we really need junky gizmos like this wasting resources?

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