Using Solar Lighting at home will benefit you, your running costs and the environment as you install a lighting system that is independent of electricity. Installing them in and around your home and garden will not only add security and and safety lighting but when used in the garden quickly introduce a wonderful new dimension to your exterior areas at night.
However, despite solar power’s simplicity, careful installation and maintenance is essential to maximise its longevity and potential. Follow our tips on using solar lighting at home to boost solar’s potential and rival any electrically installed system.
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Solar lights are brighter when their LED light source receives the power it has been designed for. The sun is one of our greatest free energy sources when its solar energy is captured through a PV panel and stored in a battery. The greater the capture, the better the charge.
In daylight hours the PV panel that is either built into the fixture or sold as a remote panel, must be getting sunlight. The more sunlight the panel has, the longer and brighter the light can be when it comes on at night. Simply put, more sun equals more light so regardless of where you might want to put the lighting fixtures, as a solar powered light it will work best facing the sun.
One of the most common reasons why solar garden lighting doesn’t turn on for long at night, is because the solar panel isn’t getting enough sunlight during the day.
In the northern hemisphere of the USA and Europe, the sun tracks from East to south to West, so boost the battery storage with a south facing panel. Where you can, angle the panel to approx 30 to 45 degrees to cover the height of the sun throughout all seasons.
Exterior solar lighting will be exposed to the weather and seasons all year round. Be mindful of locations that could work well in the winter but be largely in shadow in the spring and summer from the foliage of growing plants and trees. Any reduced exposure to the sun will be detrimental to performance, including snow over panels too!
Overhanging roofs and porches can also only allow the more direct sunlight for a small proportion of the daylight hours, so in these areas position them for maximum exposure. The panel needs to have a clear view of the sky at the very least even if not facing south.
Solar lights with fixed panels built into the fixture are not as adjustable to avoid shadowing compared to free standing panels built into the system, so choose a remote panel for the greatest flexibility to relocate its position to avoid obstacles that will hinder the charge.
The minimum time a battery needs to charge sufficiently is 6-8 hours of sunlight or more if a cloudy day.
It’s so easy to forget that the source of some of our outdoor lighting is from solar energy and not connected to the electricity. All other lighting works when we ask it to, but solar needs more care and maintenance in exchange for free to run illumination.
It’s important to know how to clean solar lights as the cleaner the panel, the greater the efficiency the lighting system has in converting solar energy into electricity. So a solar system must have a regular cleaning regime to ensure that the panel is free from a build up of dirt and charging optimally.
A clean solar panel is also very important for the longevity of the system’s battery life. Regular shorter charge times will not only give a poorer performance but shorten the battery life and lead to failure.
Maintenance is especially required for ground level panels in driveway solar lights and Solar Garden Lighting, that will quickly build up with grime as rain bounces off the dirt in the ground onto the panel. No matter how bright the sun may be a dirty panel will reduce its efficiency and the brightness of the lighting.
Charge the Batteries of your system before Installation as new solar batteries need a long full charge to ensure their maximum storage capacity. To ensure this happens, do not turn on your solar lights until they have been exposed to the sun for at least 72 hours preferably before install in a south facing window. Next the new batteries need 5 to 10 full cycles, meaning the full charge of maximum sunlight exposure must lead to a full discharge at night and repeated in succession to each other. Invest some time in this simple tip for longer lasting solar lights at night.
The rechargeable lithium ion batteries within solar lighting systems are the best storage tech currently available but will still degrade over time reducing their storage capacity and therefore light run times. Extreme low temperatures will also affect the battery performance and longevity, so be prepared to potentially change your batteries every couple of years. You do not have to throw the light fixture away if it’s not running as brightly or for very long, just replace the battery.
Solar lighting often has an on board dusk to dawn sensors that automatically turn on the light as the sun goes down and ensures it will not turn on in the daytime, wasting valuable energy intended for night-time use.
This lux sensor in some models can be tuned to suit how dark you deem it should be before allowing the lights to turn on but it will always need to be near dark. If the surrounding light levels are too bright even at night from other sources, the sensor will not allow the power to pass to the light source and keep the lights turned off even at night.
So an important consideration for your solar light location is to ensure that it is not near bright night-time light sources such as street lighting, porch lighting or even the light shining through an adjacent window. Always test a location before installing it if you have any doubts.
You may want to store some of your solar garden lighting system in a shed or garage over winter when the outside is not looking its best. Whenever a rechargeable light is removed from its intended location, it does require some preparation to ensure it is ready for future use.
Although designed for use outdoors, any rest from extreme temperatures will extend the fixtures lifespan, so store in a dry location preferably at an even temperature.
Do not hide the solar panel from daylight even when stored as the rechargeable batteries need to keep some maintenance cycling. It would be better to leave the light charging and discharging every day in storage rather than just turn it off, thinking you are resting the batteries and extending their life.
If you do winter your solar lighting for say 4 months, this prolonged time of storage will degrade its performance in the future if not allowed to follow some routine of charge/discharge. Leave the lighting near some form of daylight and if you do want lights coming on in your shed or garage unnecessarily, turn them off but remember to fully discharge them by leaving the lights on until they fade at least once a month.
, the owner of Orange Lighting qualified and worked as an interior designer in 1993 before specialising in lighting working on high profile projects based in London. Since starting Orange Lighting Ltd in 2003 he has been sharing his knowledge and unique teaching style mostly to his designer clients, offering practical real life advice born from running a busy consultancy and lighting supply business. Launching in 2020, his blog has evolved into Quick & Easy Lighting, curating some 25 years design experience into making the lighting choice and design process achievable and easy to understand for all.
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