Commonly sold in sets of four or eight, solar path lights often come with stakes or hanging hooks to be placed at regular intervals along a path or driveway. (Photo courtesy of Lowe's.)
Want to add some outside lighting pizzazz without installing wiring or raising your electric bill? While solar lights aren’t typically as bright as traditional outdoor light options, you can get some great benefits from sun-powered lights.
What to consider
Solar outdoor lighting takes many forms: stakes, lampposts, hanging jars and more. But every unit follows the same basic principle: the mechanism generates and stores energy during the day, then releases it at night.
The U.S. Department of Energy advises consumers to consider geographic and site-specific variables. Solar lights work if they receive the recommended amount of sunlight — generally 8 to12 hours a day. Fewer hours of sunlight translate into fewer hours of yard light — shorter winter days typically result in a 30-50 percent output decline — so avoid shade.
Accent lights add a glow to a landscape, but they do not illuminate spaces well. While their light output is lower, the price to buy them is generally lower than other solar lighting options, too.
Search for solar lighting on Etsy.com, a popular online handmade marketplace, and more than 500 options appear. Creative recyclers use Mason jars, soft drink bottles, lamp bases, bird cages and other lidded antiques to house the light.
Accent lights can be colorful — online retailers like EarthTech Products offer illuminated glass-blown bulbs. Amber LEDs are often used as an alternative to white, casting a softer glow but still revealing only a limited amount of area outside of the light.
Consider using accent lights to mark hazards (stones, low walls) as part of a garden feature, but do not rely on them for visual aid at night.
Solar lights fill an important role when used for path lighting. Commonly sold in sets of four or eight, these lights usually come with stakes or hanging hooks to be placed at regular intervals along a path or driveway.
Path lights focus light downward and typically illuminate an area up to 20 feet away from the base, depending on the strength of the light. Some sets offer automatic on-off settings triggered by outside light; others include a six-hour or 10-hour setting. An on-off switch may also be included, allowing owners to soak in the sun for several days, then turn the lights on for a special nighttime event.
Suspended lights are not the only option; manufacturers like HomeBrite Solar produce stepping-stone solar lights.
You can read user reviews before buying products to see if replacement bulbs and batteries are available. Also, make sure the outdoor solar lighting you’re interested in is water resistant.