One of the hardest parts of decorating the outside of your home during the holidays is trying to find a place to plug in all those lights… not to mention the bill you rack up leaving them on for even just a few hours a night. If you live in an older home that doesn’t have many (or any) exterior outlets, or if you’re simply feeling the utility crunch but still want your home to look festive for the holidays, you might want to consider changing out your traditional lights for solar powered strings.
Outdoor solar lights are passingly similar to their electricity guzzling brethren – they run on the same green cords with the same evenly spaced bulbs. But solar lights like these Red Solar Strings tend to use high-efficiency LED lights rather than incandescent ones. This produces a somewhat cooler light, but one that can be very bright while drawing minimum power. And instead of ending in a plug on either end, solar powered lights end in a small solar panel that you can drive into the ground, clip to your roof, or secure to a branch of a tree or bush.
Even in relatively low but direct light (like a cloudy day, but not in shade), most solar panels will absorb enough energy to fully power a built in rechargeable AA battery. When the sun sets at dusk, the lights will come on, and stay lit anywhere from a few hours to most of the night, depending on your particular lights, the panel, and how much sun it got the preceding day. With a full charge, these LED 102 can last straight through until morning.
The package should tell you how long to expect the lights to burn (these Flipo Rope Lights claim to last 8-12 hours), but I always check user reviews, too, because some solar panels work better than others, and people that own the lights can give you a better picture of how well they’ll work in different conditions. One especially creative user with a shady yard charges the panel’s rechargeable batteries in a separate charger indoors every few days to keep her lights shining bright (though that’s a lot of work for lights placed high up!). If you get a string that doesn’t light up, though, or is very dim or doesn’t stay on long, be aware that it might be defective, so contact the manufacturer for a repair or replacement before you discount it as just a problem with solar lights!
All that said, even at a full charge, White Solar LEDs will have a slight bluish tint – not the warm, yellowish light of equivalent incandescent bulbs, and tend to be a little dimmer, especially if they don’t attain a full charge (though you should still get a noticeable shine out of a working string). But they also free you from all the extension cords snaking around the sides of your house that ordinarily come hand in hand with holiday lighting, and the bills that come with them! What you pay for the lights is the total cost, whether you only have them up for the holidays or leave your trees or yard decorated year round.
Just like with regular holiday lights, you want to plan before you buy – chart out how many feet worth of lights you’re going to need and figure out what kinds of light clips you’ll need to secure them to your roof, gutters, or eaves. You’re also going to need to figure out where and how to secure the solar panel as well. Most of them have a very long length of cord between the panel and where the lights actually begin, but be aware that lines of solar lights tend to be much shorter than their more traditional equivalents, especially the 50 Light Lengths, so you might need more of them than you think, and you might need to get creative with your panel placement for longer lines of lights.
That said, Solar Rope Lights are excellent for landscape decorating, because unlike more traditional light strings, these don’t have any bulbs protruding. The whole thing is encased in a clear, flexible, protective plastic tube that looks amazing lining paths, ponds, wrapped around bannisters, or even accenting trees or bushes – and you won’t have to worry that the bulbs will catch on something or break.
My personal favorites, though, are the ones designed a little like nets, sized just right for a single tree or large shrubbery so you can just toss them on top and instantly have a beautifully lit, self-powering garden. These Crystal Ball Lights look amazing any time of year.
Of course, you can also find specifically winter/holiday oriented ones in pretty Red And Green patterns, or like these beautiful Icicles, which stretch up to 11 feet on a single line, with 10 feet between the first light and the solar panel, so you can easily hang them on higher parts of the house and still leave the panel on the ground.
So if money’s tight this holiday season, and you’d rather spend it on gifts than turn your pockets out for the electric company, consider making the switch. You might even find yourself wanting to leave some of the more holiday-neutral lights up year round as part of your regular outdoor lighting! If you wind up installing some solar lights, I’d love to hear your impressions and recommendations in the comments!