Garden solar lights always seem like a great idea. They come in all different shapes and sizes to match any garden décor, and you don’t need to have mains electricity to get them to work. It seems like a dream, right?
Of course, we all know how underwhelming they can be. You put out your beautifully bougie solar bulb lights only to find that they give off as much light as a 4-day-old glow stick. It’s infuriating.
It’s no wonder that many of us find ourselves asking whether garden solar lights are actually any good.
The truth is, garden solar lights can be great, you just need to buy the right ones.
Let’s take a closer look.
How Do Solar Lights Work?
The solar lights you put in your garden work thanks to rechargeable batteries and a few small solar panels.
The idea is that the solar panels generate electricity during the day when exposed to UV light. They do this through the photovoltaic process which is when light ‘excites’ electrons within the cell.
The electricity generated by the solar panels is delivered to the rechargeable batteries thus replenishing their energy stores.
When the sun goes down, the rechargeable batteries power the lights. Generally, these lights are LED because they have a lower wattage. This means that they won’t drain the batteries immediately.
Interestingly, the lights know when to turn on thanks to a photoreceptor usually located on the top of the light. This receptor essentially lets the lights know when it’s dark enough to turn on. Of course, this sometimes means that they switch on during cloudy days.
Speaking of cloudy days, one of the most common misconceptions about solar lights is that they don’t charge on overcast or cloudy days.
The fact of the matter is that clouds diffuse the sunlight, but they don’t block it entirely. This means that your solar lights still get enough light to charge even on a cloudy day. They may not charge as much as on a sunny day, but it should be enough to see you through the night.
What to Look for in Garden Solar Lights?
First and foremost, you need to look at the price. It’s a sad but true fact of life that good things cost more.
When it comes to solar powered garden lights, you need to be prepared to pay more if you want stronger, brighter lights.
The issue is that good quality solar panels aren’t cheap. So, when you see $10 lights, you can assume they have lower quality parts, including the panels.
Most cheap solar lights use polycrystalline solar panels. These are the cheapest and least effective solar panels. You can spot polycrystalline solar panels by the blue hue they carry.
Slightly more expensive solar lights will have monocrystalline solar panels. These are more effective than polycrystalline panels but are still limited in low light conditions. This means that they can struggle over the winter or across a run of cloudy days.
If you want high quality, light output even in the winter you’ll need to look for lights that have amorphous solar cells.
Amorphous cells are more expensive and need twice as much surface area, but they are far more efficient. This means that even on overcast days, they can capture and convert enough energy to keep your lights powered.
The second thing you want to consider when buying new lights is the mAh rating of the rechargeable battery. This refers to the storage capacity of the battery. The higher the mAh rating the more power the battery is able to store and therefore the longer it can power your lights.
The other thing to consider is how many LEDs are being run from the batteries. More LEDs might sound like a good idea, after all the more bulbs the brighter the light. However, more LEDs mean the power is split across more bulbs and is therefore weaker.
How to Get the Most Out of Garden Solar Lights
To make your solar lights worth the cost, there are a few tips and tricks you can use.
1. Stay Out of the Shade – If you place your lights or panels in the shade of a wall, tree, or other building they won’t get the light they need to charge. In particular, you need to pay attention to where the shadows form in your garden.
Before placing your lights, observe and make note of the shady areas of your garden throughout the day. You’ll want to avoid these when placing your lights. Choose the spots with the most light for the largest part of the day.
2. Tilt – If your panel can tilt then you’ll need to adjust the tilt depending on the time of year. In the US you can tilt the panels at 30 degrees in the summer and 45 degrees in the winter. This will give you the best chance of catching those rays.
3. Charge Before Use – When you get your solar lights, be sure to give them 8 hours of continuous charge before use. This means that you shouldn’t install them at night on that first day. This can be detrimental to the battery life.
For best results, it is recommended that you turn off the lights when it gets dark for the first week or so. This will prevent the batteries from discharging their power at night meaning they won’t shine and won’t drain the battery for the first week.
Again, this is all about making sure that the batteries are fully charged before you start using the lights.
4. Keep Away from Street Lighting – If you place your solar lights under street or other bright ambient lighting, it will affect the panels light sensitivity. This means that they’ll struggle to respond to light and regulate their charge.
5. Clean the Panels – Over time your solar panels will get covered in dust and dirt. You need to wipe them off frequently to make sure they work to the best of their ability.
Solar lights can definitely be worth the money you put into them. You just need to be prepared to pay more than $10 for a string of solar lights.