How to Choose the Best Outdoor Solar Lights for You

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Up to 10 percent of your utility bill goes toward lighting. Because landscaping lights are generally left on for long periods of time than indoor lights, reducing outdoor energy use can go a long way toward saving you money. Solar lights, which have zero impact on your electric bill, require little to no maintenance and come in many shapes and sizes. The best choice for you depends on your specific needs.

Check the Labeled Run Time

On its label, every garden solar light lists its nightly run time. This is the estimated amount of time the light will stay on once the sun sets and the light gets activated. Most solar lights run for approximately four hours. There are many exceptions, however. If you tend to enjoy your outdoor landscape in the late evening, look for lights that run for an extended period of time.

Keep in mind that the labeled run time is based on full sun exposure. On overcast days or during the winter, or if the lights are placed in shaded locations, the run time may be reduced by 30 percent to 50 percent.

Tip

  • To achieve the longest running times, keep the tiny solar panel on each light clean. Dirt, garden debris or bird droppings will reduce the nightly run time.

Review the Bulb Technology and Style

The best solar lights use LED bulbs. LEDs maximize brightness while reducing battery use, which extends the nightly run time and the overall life of the solar light itself. Even if you find a cheaper alternative, never buy a solar light that doesn't use LED bulbs.

In general, solar LEDs are divided into two categories: white LEDs and amber LEDs. White LEDs are the brightest, but this increase in brightness also increases energy use and has the drawback of reducing the nightly run time. Amber LEDs create a softer ambiance and don't shine as brightly, but they also generally run longer into the evening.

Tip

  • Some people find that the light of a white LED is too harsh and sterile for their taste. If you prefer the softer, more natural glow of an amber light but don't want to sacrifice brightness, some solar lights use white LEDs but tone back the LED's hue by adding a decorative yellow tint to the housing around the light.

Pick a Lighting Category

Solar lights for landscaping differ in style and function depending on where the lights will be placed.

Path lights are used to illuminate a trail, path or walkway. They are generally suspended from a pole or staked into the ground.

Accent lights are for more decorative purposes and are often created to be whimsical and fun, such as lights placed in blown glass balls. Accent lights can add visual interest to flowerbeds and shrubbery.

Tip

    • Arrange path lights to highlight areas of a path or walkway that need specific attention or caution. For example, use the lights to define steps, sharp corners or where a path might curve in a new direction.

    • When using accent lights, place them in areas where their whimsical shapes or colorful designs add additional interest to existing landscape arrangements. For example, placing colorful accent lights near flowers can give the blossoms new, unexpected colors at night.

Spotlights add focused lighting, either for security purposes -- such as in a dark corner of the landscape -- or add interest to vertical landscape features, such as shining up a tall tree or a painted wall. Spotlights can also play an important utilitarian safety role near doors and driveways.

Knowing where and why you need lighting in the garden will help you to determine the best solar light for your specific situation.

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