Solar lighting is one option for your backyard lighting plan. There are plenty of styles available from many sources. Solar technology has been around for many years and has improved dramatically. Still, there are limitations and considerations you should be aware of while deciding if solar is right for you.
Solar outdoor lighting is the easiest and safest lighting option to install. Essentially, you take the fixture out of the box, position it where you want it, and go do something else, because you're through! There are no wires to bury or hide. No transformer to wire up and install. No measuring for wire runs, no adding up wattages, no connections to make. Nearly all solar fixtures have a photocell included, so there is no need to worry about turning them on or off. A photocell detects light and turns the power on or off automatically. If you live in an area where there is a lot of light outside at night, you may have a problem with photocells. They can "read" a street light as "daytime" and fail to turn your solar lighting on. And of course, there is no electric bill to pay! Almost all solar powered outdoor fixtures utilize LED bulbs. LED bulbs aren't really bulbs at all. They are Light Emitting Diodes - basically a piece of electronic equipment that emits light. Since they produce almost no heat, and use very little power, they last a very, very long time. LED "bulbs" can last 20 years in an outdoor lighting capacity.
The biggest drawback of solar lighting is that it doesn't put out much light. At least not much usable light. Small photoelectric panels mounted on the fixture convert solar energy into electricity which is stored in a battery. Since everything about these units is small, that means not much electricity is generated and stored. That electricity has to last all night, until it can be replenished when the sun comes back out. So it has to be rationed to the bulb. If the electricity was sent to the bulb in a way to produce a bright light, it wouldn't make it through the night.
Another negative aspect is the fact that just like all batteries - these have to be replaced. Many outdoor fixtures use rechargeable AA batteries which can be bought in many stores or online. They aren't super expensive, but they cost more than regular AA batteries. So the monthly electric bill savings will be offset by the cost of these batteries. Most manufacturers recommend their replacement every two to three years. Some larger fixtures utilize a sealed lead acid battery. Either way, eventual replacement will be required.
Solar lighting is not right for all applications, but it can be perfect for others. If you have an area that requires more of a "marker" light as opposed to a need for real illumination - solar can do the job. If you have an area a long distance from a power source, solar is perfect. If you want to define an area rather than light it up, use solar. Solar deck lighting is perfect for soft lighting on a stairway, or to provide some ambiance on your deck itself. Solar technology has come a long way, and it's much better than it used to be, but it still has limitations. As long as you are aware of the limits, you can use solar options effectively. If you aren't sure, buy one fixture and experiment.
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