Solar Path Lights in Winter

blheron(7 and 8)February 9, 2010

I've been picking up those small solar powered path lights at WalMart and other places---you know the ones that sell for about $4. I have found they make my flowerbeds *so* pretty at night during the winter, especially when everything is so dreary.

The problem is, here in the Northwest (Lakewood area) it has been so dark all winter I can't get them to charge long enough to hold their light for more than just a few minutes. If I bring them in and fully charge them under a lamp they will last most of the night.

I *love* the twinkling affect on a dark night with them scattered about, but has anyone had any luck figuring out how to get them to charge in our dark winters (short of bringing them in everyday)?

I've also noticed they are not very waterproof, so I am taking the time to seal them better---good winter project!

Any suggestions would be appreciated. My kids gave me a string of solar butterflies I want to put out too, but have hesitated because of the other problem.



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They are not the bargains that the regular solar powered landscape lights are (very inexpensive at BigLots!), but try the LED solars. Not only do they have enhanced solar receptors, they hold the charge longer and provide a much brighter light. They even have spots - overall, much more smiliar to the wired low voltage landscape lighting than to most solar lights. But they are 3-4 times the price, sometimes more.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 7:03PM
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George Three LLC

i've had bad luck long term with those solar lights. they seem to lose battery life after a year or two.

i think just going ahead and paying the money for a low voltage wired system is the best long term approach.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 7:36PM
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blheron(7 and 8)

The ones I got at WalMart and I think Lowe's, are a single LED. I did have several that the wires inside rusted on and broke, but I figured for $3-$4 I could play around and fix the wires, then seal them. If you haven't seen them, the actual lens is only about 1" diameter and 2" tall. (I posted links at the end of this message to similar ones.)

The LED gives a nice bright bluish glow of light---not really enough to light up a walkway, but enough in a flower bed to give a pretty effect---especially in the winter.

I also received 3 larger globes for Christmas that change color---red, blue, green, and are in a 3" crackled glass globe. They are SO pretty when fully charged, but my yard just doesn't get enough sun to charge them.

Running electric to the area is pretty much not an option, there are no outlets nearby. That's why these are so neat---and I can move them anytime I feel like it. Just wish I could get them to charge.

This is a link to the color changing lights:

This is similar to the small ones:

I was hoping maybe I was just doing something wrong :(. Might have to figure out a way to get electric to the areas, but it would be a major job (I think).

Really appreciate the input, I haven't even looked at wired sets, I don't care for the large lights. Do they make the miniature ones???? I can't wait to string the butterflies---there are "Christmas type" twinkle lights on a string and each one has a plastic butterfly on it. Sounds tacky, not usually my style, but they really are pretty and an unusual effect in the yard.

Thanks again for your input :)!


    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 9:54PM
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Solar powered devices are all the rage, but they have definite limitations. Not everyone realizes that the solar power must be stored in a rechargeable battery for nightly use, and these batteries can only take so many charging cycles.

More modern, expensive and larger-scale devices may use "super capacitors" that are better long-term than batteries, but you will not find this technology in inexpensive yard trinkets.

I would be curious to know if your solar lights have a commonly available, replaceable battery, or is it soldered in and of an unusual type. Fix-it type handymen might be able to replace these batteries; pry into one and ask anyone you know that has electronic experience.

The only practical advise is to keep the solar cell pointed at the angle of the midday sun in the winter, and keep the lens very clean.

The city of Portland has experimented with solar street flashers (one is on my running course near SE 41st and Glenwood). It worked well for about 2 years but after 5 years it only emits a feeble flicker of light after dusk.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 11:02PM
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blheron(7 and 8)

Larry, I just checked the 3 different solar lights I have. The "post" type use a standard "AA" rechargeable battery---easy to replace. The "Butterfly string" uses a 1.2V Ni-Cad and there are instructions to replace it. I didn't open the globe lights, but I'm assuming they are also replaceable---most I've seen are, which surprised me.

The butterfly string (Ni-Cad) does say the batteries may need replacing after about 18 months, the LED bulbs virtually never.

I don't think it's a matter of the battery life so much as it's just finding a way to get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight to charge them. Guess these are made for people who live in Arizona---not our PNW!

I know nothing about solar power, but it seems like the lights could be connected to a central box that could be placed away from the lights in an open area that would have a solar collector to charge them all---but that's probably dreaming---or very expensive, LOL!

Thanks again everyone, sounds like it's not a "fixable" problem unless I can figure out how to hard-wire them.

Much gratitude!


    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 4:42PM
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My solar path lights only come on for a few minutes during the winter, and that's all I expect out of them. Of course, during the summer months, they last almost all night, which is great.

I have a string of LED Christmas-type lights strung through a forsythia and it only lights up for a short while these days, but it looks great when it does. In the summer, it gives off quite a bit of light, looks fantastic.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 1:34PM
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Solar lights should be banned. When they polute the night sky. Whats that orange planet that faces east in the night sky?

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 8:50PM
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Banning solar lights will not improve your view of the heavens.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 12:13AM
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blheron(7 and 8)

I hope you didn't mean to sound so negative, but for what it's worth, I used to spend a lot of time in the backcountry---I know and *miss* the "unpolluted" night sky. Unfortunately, it's getting harder to see and not many have the opportunity to *really* see it.

As for my solar lights---that was the whole point---they are small and don't obstruct my view when I'm stargazing---I don't like bright lights in my yard. I have since become disabled and no longer able to climb into the backcountry to see the "huge dome" sky full of stars. The tiny solars give me just enough light to make my way into the backyard where I can see that orange rock in the sky.

Thank you for your observation---it does have some merit, unfortunately for me I need some light to get around now.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 12:45AM
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They are losing me at the word "orange". All I can think of is a large, lighted Union 76 ball.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 12:09AM
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My solar lights take AA rechargeable batteries. The batteries that came with them didn't seem to be holding a charge for very long so I replaced them. After that the lights were brighter and lasted longer.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2010 at 7:55PM
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You have to remember that you bought the $4 solar path lights. There are a lot more better options a little bit more expensive that will hold the charge longer and are more waterproof. The other option here is getting in ground path lights.

Here is a link that might be useful: Outdoor Path Lighting

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 11:20AM
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I bought some solar lights at Target about 8 years ago and this year was the first time I needed to change out the batteries. Unfortunately this did not help for 4 out of the 6 lights which was a bummer because I really liked these lights and I can't seem to find any thing similar. They are a round lantern style and have a warm yellow tone (led) and hang on a small Shepard hook. All I can find out there now is the lights that look like blue hued halogen headlights which I don't find very appealing at all. If anyone knows of solar lights with a warmer tone please post!

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 12:54PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

I received the three color crackle lights for Christmas and they barely work after nine months....pretty though even if they don't light up.

We have metal low voltage landscape lights. We used to have plastic and they sucked, constantly falling apart. I got the metal ones on eBay for a fraction of the price locally.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 1:01PM
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hvaldez--8 years is a pretty good run. Perhaps the 4 of 6 balky units have weathered or oxidized battery contacts? Scratch around on them and shine up the contacts.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 11:30PM
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larry-gene, Thank you for the response to my comment as I have tried three different batteries (ni-cad which is the original battery and nimh) and even took the units apart and cleaned out dead bugs and spider webs out of the circuit board area, but hadn't even thought of the obvious idea to use the age old scratching method!! The contacts looked good but I will give it one last try. Also, what do you mean by "balky"?

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 2:00AM
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Balk means "refuse to cooperate", and that is what 4 of your 6 solar units did.

nimh batteries have a slightly lower voltage than niCads (1.2 vs. 1.25), but the solar lights should work with either. Contacts can look good and still make poor contact. Use a nail file or a pen knife blade and see if that doesn't shine them up. Battery connectors can involve springs or be springy themselves--make sure they are putting pressure on the battery terminals.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 11:22PM
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When you first buy your solar lights you need to make sure they have at least a steady 8 hour charge the first time you put them in the sun so once you pull the activation tabs put the lights out on a clear sunny day. Move them during the day if need be to get the full 8 hours after this your lights will keep charging faster even in cloudy weather.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 8:02PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

Thank you!
That explains a lot. I'll tell my wife. She's the one that brings em' home and sets them up and isn't happy with their performance. It's the only thing in the garden she does. Maybe this information will get her outside more, even if it's during the night.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 3:13PM
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I have thethatct same solar globes as you, and I have to say thati don't think it has anything to do with you living in the north. I think the product is the problem. I live in the deep South, and I am having the same issues as you are having, with mine. I have both the taller color changing crackled globes from Bed Bath and Beyond, and I have the shorter $3.00 clear glass crackled globes from Walmart as well. The two that change colors, I have been having for a few years now and they are still going strong. I've never had to change the batteries on these and I've had them the longest. That being said, the $3.00 ones that I got from Walmart, are a different story. I bought these last spring and only one out of the four that I have, lights up. I bought new rechargeable battery's and replaced the three that won't light up. It didn't make a bit of difference. The one that worked still works with its original battery in place. The other three, just will not work. I went to Home Depot yesterday and talked with a gentleman there about it. He advised me on what I should try and I did just that.

The first thing he told me to try was to take out the battery in the working globe and try it in the others. I did and that failed.

Then he told me to take the rechargeable battery out of the non working globes and put in a regular AA battery. I did, and it lit up (in two out of the three non working globes).

Then he told me to put the new rechargeable battery's back in and put them under a direct light or lamp and let it charge for 6 to 8 hours. (I did this too, but still have yet to see them come on). Granted, I only put them back out there this morning and its a dark rainy morning at that. So I guess I will have to see if they will light up tonight or after a full day of sun.

He also told me that those solar receptors whiten over time with a film, that you can take a little sandpaper and file away the white film to clear them up again. Since the solar panel receptor is inside the glass globe, I didn't find this to be the case, add they still look shiny. You can try this though.

I too, have experienced the moisture problem and the spiders inside the globes. I took the final one apart, cleaned out all the sand and water in it and dried it out. Unfortunately, the red wire came out, so I am waiting for my husband to try and solder it back together again. Will let you know if any of my attempts to fix these globes, work out or not.

One more thing the man told me, was that some of these solar powered landscape lightsjust don't have the capacity to last and will only recharge so many times. He said they make better ones that last longer and have a higher capacity of storing energy with better output, but they are usually more expensive. I think that you and I thought we got a bargain with those pretty crackled globes, but in the long run, is it really worth the time, hassle and wasted money on more batteries that still won't light the darn things up? I'm like you.... I don't want to give up on them, but I may just have to bite the bullet and buy some more expensive ones, hoping that I get a better product that last longer.

I noticed that Home Depot carries a six pack of these crackled glass globes that you have the option of choosing white or color changing, which sell for $50 bucks. I may end up giving these a try.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 9:26AM
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The proliferation of solar yard lights undoubtedly comes with some of inferior or marginal design.

Putting in a "regular" AA battery of 1.5 volts would be expected to light the device that is normally powered with 1.25v rechargeables, but a fully-charged NiCad or whatever will never put out that high (1.5) of a voltage.

This swap-battery method only tests the LED light, not the solar cells.

Hard to say if price equates quality in the case of LED yard lights.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 3:26AM
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blheron(7 and 8)

Thanks for the input. Since I posted this I have purchased several different kinds. The issue for me though still appears to be so many overcast days here in the Pacific Northwest.

On another note, I'm not convinced that cost is a factor. My longest lasting path lights are the plastic ones I got at Dollar Tree! Wal-Mart also has them for different holidays. My more expensive ones only lasted a year. Most of the "cheap" ones are still going after 3+ years.

I bought a set of 3, 3" crackle globe, color changing ones from at least 5 years ago and they are still going strong--total cost was $19.99 plus shipping (free if you meet their limit amount). They still have them. Go figure!

Now if I could just figure out what the people who design solar statuary are thinking. The solar panels are always on the back--which unless I'm the only one, I usually have against a wall or at least with the "face" facing out, so no sun.

Anyway, the tip about the sandpaper is a good one, many of mine are whitish.

Thanks again :o)

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 12:44PM
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