Home & Living

Solar Light Buying Guide: Outdoor Accent Lighting (PHOTOS)

As the days grow noticeably shorter we're turning our attention to outdoor lighting. And we're not talking about hard-to-install electric systems, either. We're going for solar lights, which are easy to set up...and well, easy to forget about, since you don't even have to flip a switch to get them going and they will charge on even cloudy days. Also, they won't increase your electric bill. Need we say more?

If you are thinking about investing in solar lights, here's everything you need to know for shopping...and then getting the most light from your system.

Look for lithium-ion (Li-Ion) or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries: Li-Ion batteries have the longest lasting battery life, are not affected by extreme temperatures, and are worth the extra cost. However, NiMH batteries are another good choice because they have long lasting lives, are less expensive and have a greater diversity of product styles. A variety of other battery types, from nickel cadmium to lead acid to AA, are used in solar lights, but the information will be listed in the product details or on the box.

Use LED bulbs: Most solar lights run on LED bulbs, but always check the box. LED bulbs last longer and are more energy efficient because they create light without a lot of heat, preventing burn outs. While a regular incandescent bulb might last for 1,000-2,000 hours, a LED bulb will easily last for 25,000-50,000 hours - quite a difference. LED lights are not as bright, but will be more than strong enough to illuminate a pathway.

Don't buy lightweight plastic lights: If you live in a seasonal climate (aka a hot summer day could easily be over 100 degrees and you might get two feet of snow during the winter), make sure your solar lights are in a more durable aluminum casing rather than lightweight plastic. Also, check the product details to make sure there is a powder coat finish (a strong, thermoset polymer finish) to keep the lights moisture and rust resistant.

Find mono-crystalline solar panels: If you are looking to invest in a more sophisticated solar lighting system, purchase lights with mono-crystalline panels as opposed to polycrystalline ones. They are better because they are made from a single piece of silicon and more efficiently convert sunshine into power than those with smaller solar panels. This information is almost always only listed if the panel is crystalline - you can often assume that if it is not listed, it is a polycrystalline panel.

Get the angle right: Free-standing solar panels can be adjusted along with the changing angle of the sun. Because of the tilt of the earth's axis, the angle of sunlight changes, creating the four seasons. During the fall for example, the sun is sinking lower and the angle is progressively shallowing, therefore a freestanding solar panel will charge more efficiently if positioned at a 45 degree angle. When the sun is steepest in the summer, a 15 degree angle works best, and when the sun is lowest during the winter, a 60 degree angle is optimal.

Place near reflective surfaces: Try to place your lights near reflective surfaces, like a white surface or water feature. According to Geo-dome, a geodesic dome manufacturer, the extra light that reflects from these surfaces onto the panel can magnify energy output by as much as 75%. (http://www.geo-dome.co.uk/article.asp?uname=solar_mirror) For free-standing solar panels, you can also try laying a mirror or a white board against the panel base to maximize energy output.

Stagger stake lights: The ideal distance between each stake light is the radius of the glow, usually 6 feet. For a softer look, space them slightly further at 8 feet apart, or for a stronger illumination, space them slightly closer at 4 feet apart.

Click through the slideshow below for our favorite stylish solar products currently on the market:

Glass String Lights(01 of 25)
These hand-blown glass globes are colorful, but still elegant. Photo by SolarLightsStore.com
Modern Lanterns(02 of 25)
These modern lanterns are ultra-chic! Photo by SolarLightStore.com
Obsidian Glass Light(03 of 25)
This mosaic glass light makes the perfect decorative tabletop lantern. Photo by SolarLightsStore.com
Three Tier Pewter Lights(04 of 25)
These pathway lights last for an amazing eight hours a night and have a weatherproof pewter finish. Photo by SolarLightsStore.com
Copper Landscape Lights(05 of 25)
These copper stainless steel fixtures will match almost any home and stay lit for up to ten hours. Photo by Newegg
Patterned Lanterns(06 of 25)
These printed solar lanterns will look great in any garden. Photo by SolarLightStore.com
Glass Garden Stakes (07 of 25)
Set these lights up near completely green bushes to add a pop of color. Photo by SolarLightStore.com
Shepherds Hook Lantern(08 of 25)
These traditional hook lanterns have a sturdy aluminum casing and a powder coat finish, making them perfect for any climate. Photo by SolarLightsStore.com
Modern Pathway Lights(09 of 25)
If you have a modern design style, these pathway lights will definitely fit your home. Photo by OutdoorLightingAndMore.com
Calla Lily Light(10 of 25)
This glass light has all the beauty of a calla lilly with none of the maintenance. Photo by Snapp Dragon
Rustic Lantern(11 of 25)
This rustic lantern was made to flicker just like a candle. Photo by Improvements
Chinese Lanterns(12 of 25)
These chinese lanterns are festive and great for a party. Photo by SolarLightStore.com
Sun Jar(13 of 25)
This Urban Outfitters mason jar looks as though it has 'captured' the sun. Photo by Urban Outfitters
Tiki Torch(14 of 25)
Fun tiki lights that are perfect for the summer months for only $17 each. Photo by Amazon
Stepping-Stones(15 of 25)
These stepping-stones will not only light your pathway, but will create it too! Photo by The Home Depot
Holiday String Lights(16 of 25)
Solar strings lights are the perfect way to embrace the holiday spirit without hurting the environment. Photo by SolarLightStore.com
Ceramic Star Lantern(17 of 25)
Bring the stars down to earth with this ceramic, blue-glazed lantern. Photo by SolarLightsStore.com
Blue Finial Light(18 of 25)
This beautiful swirled cracked-glass globe is sure to dress up your yard. Photo by Snapp Dragon
Colorful String Lanterns(19 of 25)
These colorful string lights will infuse lots of life into any dull lawn. Photo by SolarLightStore.com
Window Pane Lantern(20 of 25)
The architectural design of stainless steel over frosted glass on this fixture will add sophisticated charm to your yard. Photo by Improvements
Red Globe Light(21 of 25)
This glass globe will cast a beautiful amber glow on your garden. Photo by Snapp Dragon
Westinghouse Canterbury Light(22 of 25)
The decorative shadow glass and black finish of this light will act as the perfect finishing touch to any traditional home. Photo by eVitazone
Art Glass Stake(23 of 25)
We love the elegant curves in this artistic striped light. Photo by Taylor Gifts
Hand-Blown Glass Jar(24 of 25)
This solar mosaic jar is not only beautiful during the day, but will cast a soft warm glow over your yard at night. Photo by eCrater
Westinghouse Solar Light(25 of 25)
These lights are a cost effective solution for lighting your pathway - it's only $16 for a set of four! Photo by OutdoorLightingAndMore.com

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