Solar-powered landscape lighting was once viewed as an energy drain. They required a lot of work - and sometimes money, depending on the option - and offered little return. But now as society's global consciousness continues to grow, and consumer's pocketbooks shrink, more manufacturers are developing solar-lighting options that yield greater results."Solar-powered lighting has really come into itself in the past year," says Geoffrey MacMurdo, owner of Sun Solar Products of Medford, N.Y., who has been in the solar lighting and energy business since 1976.
He says that lighting has gone full circle from the "light, cheap things that you could buy all over the place in the 1980s" to the expensive panels that few could afford. Today's consumers are benefiting from the availability of function and form.
Technology has evolved to the point that solar lighting is an option for all landscaping needs, from illuminating walking paths to lighting the pool to placing a motion detector over the garage. Solar lights are also available as lamps for patio tables and bases for uplighting.
Without a doubt, energy that runs on the sun's rays is better used. Though some critics argue that it's still limited in some regards, Jason Jayne, a landscape consultant with Tumber & Associates in Ontario, says his company believes in delivering drama and emotional appeal to projects.
"We have not seen a [solar light] product that accomplishes the value of installing it in the design," he says. He says that the current offerings still don't meet some aesthetic goals. They also pose a safety risk if they're not fully recharged at night when you need light around a walkway. In areas that receive little sun, they're simply not a good option.
"You can't cut corners by using something like that," he says.
Regardless, many consumers have determined that solar-powered lighting is worth trying. Now that LED bulbs are more efficient, it takes less energy to power them. Lights also stay on for longer.
Green advocates such as Charlie Szoradi, founder of GREENandSAVE.com, says that the savings over time wins over a lot of people. He has estimated that you can save 50 cents a day with a set of eight solar lights. Over the year, that adds up to around $170 of savings. That's just for a set of eight lights.
Szorardi adds that he uses premium level fixtures worth at least $40 since the less expensive ones do not give off as high quality light. The calculation also factors in additional wire, additional batteries after five years, and a consideration to replace two of them if damaged by pets or branches. Most exterior solar lights have a solar photovoltaic panel, a battery system, a controller and the light itself.
"The greatest benefits of solar lights is you do not need to run wire to each light, you are utilizing renewable energy and requires little set-up time," says landscape architect Troy Mears with the consulting firm SR Design, LLC in Beaverton, Ore.
Mears says that if you're turning to solar for the first time, you should think about what you hope to accomplish. Then decide how long you would like the lights to illuminate. Some solar lights do not have large enough rechargeable batteries to provide for long periods of time every night. Also think about how much light you would like to see.
Here comes the golden rule when it comes to solar lighting: "In order to use solar lights you have to place them in direct sunlight areas so they can recharge during the sunlight hours," Mears adds. Sandra Williams, a green energy consultant known as The Queen of Green and who lives in DeLand, Fla., says she's used all sorts of solar lights for various projects. For instance, tiny lights with a single LED work well to illuminate a flowerbed or part of a walkway.
"They're simple to use. Just take them out of the box, stick them where you hope they'll get some sun, and there you go," she says. A bigger fixture, such as a multiple LED bulbs, is strong enough to light up a sign, or a shed. These can be ideal for outdoor locations that need lots of light, but do not have a source of electricity nearby.
"Think shed, backyard, barn or dock. These are also handy because you can either install them (panel and light.) Or just use them as a movable, super-bright light," she adds.
Some larger fixtures are also portable. Charge with the panel during the day, and you have a big powerful light ready to go at night - wherever you want it. Vincent D'Onofrio, owner of Gutter Lights Inc. in Selbyville, Del., came up with his product out of sheer frustration.
One night he arrived at his rural home and tripped over a light fixture that had not been turned on. He came up with the idea for a solar light that attached to gutters, fences and signs. Because they're small, his Gutter Lights can also be taken on a camping trip or used as flashlights.
D'Onofrio asks,"How can we not take advantage of the sun's ray to light up at nighttime?"
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