Trouble with solar lights


Solar lights seem like a great idea. You put them wherever the sun shines without the need for wiring. You don’t have to pay for electricity to make them glow. They often come with sensors, so they’ll switch on automatically at night or only come on at night when motion is detected. They are a source of light if there’s a power failure.

But my experience with solar lights has been, um, a flickering one. Several neighbours seem to be having the same experience, judging by the dim state of their solar lights.

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The lights come with solar panels, batteries that are charged by the panels, and light bulbs.

In the last five years, I’ve bought around 10 solar lights, and installed them to light paths in our front and back yards. A pair lasted about six months before they wouldn’t light up any more. Most of the others failed in about two years, though one that’s about five years old continues to come on every night.

They’ve been a variety brands, in a variety of designs, bought from a variety of stores. I guess I was hoping that I’d eventually happen on a unit that would last.

It turns out, judging by comments posted with articles about solar lights, that my experience is common. A lot of solar lights don’t last much beyond two years. Their solar panels go yellow and cloudy. The batteries stop accepting a charge. The bulbs go dim. Since the lights don’t last very long, forcing constant replacement, it might be more economical to have wired lights installed.

I’ve tried to revive some of our solar lights by putting in new rechargeable NiMH batteries, with limited success.

It could be that I’ve been buying solar lights that are too cheaply made, with low-end batteries and low-end panels. They’re the ones that are commonly stocked at hardware stores, costing between $15 and $30 per unit. There’s a good chance that, despite the different brands, they were all made in the same factory.

Despite my spotty experience with solar lights, I have not given up on them. I recently splurged and bought one for $60. Its solar panel covers roughly the area of three credit cards, which is three times as much as my other lights. It has 53 LEDs, comes on at night at a dim level, and switches to full brightness when motion is detected. I’ve had it for a month and it’s been working very well, even though there hasn’t been much sunlight. Here’s a link to the unit that I bought after a good bit of shopping.

I’m not recommending it, but I might in three years. We’ll see if spending more money puts me on a path to better, longer-lasting solar lighting.

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SolarTown: Knowing the good from the bad in solar lighting: Look for solid assembly and high-quality batteries, such as NiMH.

Garden Web: People grouse about how their solar lights fail after a couple of years.

An FAQ at says solar lights with NiCad batteries, common in lower-end lights, will last about two years.

GardenBoy has advice for finding the best solar lights.

Your Solar Link: 5 main reasons your solar lights are not performing as well as new

SFGate: To keep the lights on, clean the solar panels regularly and replace the batteries with high quality ones.

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My previous posts are here.


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