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The Pros and Cons of Outdoor Solar Lighting

Many elements go into creating a great outdoor space, but almost no aspect of design impacts as many areas as outdoor lighting. While the right outdoor lighting can add the elevated ambience you’re looking for to your space, it also is one of the most essential installations when it comes to designing a yard that is both functional and safe. Solar lighting can offer both style and function, while providing money saving and eco-friendly benefits.

For most, a main goal in creating a great outdoor living space is that it remains open and usable even after the sun goes down. Smart lighting makes this possible, and results in not only extended functionality, but heightened safety and navigability as well. But before you decide on lighting design, homeowners need to decide on the type of lighting they prefer.

With so many options on the market, it’s important to weigh the value of different kinds of lighting solutions. Over the years, solar lighting has gained popularity not only for its initial eco-friendly approach to illuminating your space, but for other notable benefits as well.

What is solar landscape lighting? How does it work?

To better understand how solar lighting can serve your outdoor space, it’s good to have a basic knowledge of how a unit works. Like all solar powered energy, these landscape lighting fixtures draw energy from the sun using specialized panels made from layers of chemicals and crystalline silicon.

When sunlight is absorbed by these panels, heat is generated. This heat sparks movement in negatively charged electrons, pushing them into the positively charged layers of the cell. This activity results in electricity, which travels along a wire and is stored as power in the lighting unit’s battery pack to be used once the sun goes down.

Solar energy and solar panels have come a long way since their inception, and modern day iterations are more functional and energy efficient than ever before. Still, solar lighting isn’t for everyone, and may work better in some spaces than others. Here’s what to consider before making your choice.

Budget Friendly

If homeowners have strong feelings about any part of their outdoor project, it’s likely to be the overall or long term cost of their space. Solar powered lighting is appealing to many for the positive impact it can make on monthly utilities bills. Unlike electric or wired lighting, solar power is free from the sun, meaning you save on yearly cost of operation. However, this long term savings does come at a steeper initial investment.

Upfront Expense

Though you are almost guaranteed to save money in the long run, solar landscape lighting can be a bit of an upfront expense, especially when investing in quality lights. Most homeowners who opt for solar lighting do so with the notion that the monthly savings will balance out the upfront cost over time. No matter what option you choose, we don’t recommend cutting corners when it comes to lighting your yard.

Though reaching for the most affordable lighting may be tempting, you’re likely to get what you pay for. Cheaper solar lighting will hold a charge less efficiently, provide less brightness to your space, and may be subject to more frequent replacements. This can actually result in a higher net spending overall.

Weather Relient

Those who dislike solar lighting will often cite its reliance on sunny days. While it’s true that your solar lights will charge most efficiently in sunny weather, this is less of a problem than naysayers will have you believe.

Today’s solar powered lighting doesn’t require intense, full daily sun to add high functionality to your space, as solar technology has come a long way since first introduced. Furthermore, many solar powered landscape lighting solutions run with long lasting battery packs that come in handy during a string of cloudy days.

This being said, if you live in a notoriously sunless region, solar power may not be a reliable energy source to provide the continued illumination you’re looking for. In this case, looking into low voltage options can be a satisfactory alternative.

Easy Installation

Many homeowners find themselves drawn to solar lighting solutions for its ease of installation. While electric lighting can be costly to install, and often requires disruption to your space to accommodate for buried wires and electrical work, solar powered options are far less involved. This makes DIY installation very feasible, saving many both time and money. Once solar lighting is purchased, simply stake or mount where desired and enjoy the added ambience.

Enhanced Design Flexibility

As mentioned, installing electric lighting in your outdoor space can be a bit of an undertaking. But while burying or hiding wires can be disruptive to your existing property, electrical lighting is also limited by its reliance on a power source. This means that in order for installation to be possible at all, the lights must have nearby access to an electrical source which is often limiting when creating a lighting design.

As solar lighting is untethered to any fixed power source, it can be far more versatile. Larger properties can benefit from lighting far corners and landscaping features without digging across their yard or worrying about intrusive or unsightly wires. Furthermore, if you are unsatisfied with the positioning of an existing light, adjusting or moving to a preferred spot is easy. However, there are still areas where solar lighting may not be a viable solution.

Because they require extended periods of sunlight to charge, solar lighting may not work for uplighting features such as shading trees, or illuminating overhangs. In this case, alternative options may be required to achieve reliable illumination throughout the year.

Low Maintenance

Maintaining solar powered landscape lighting is simple. This is great news for those who want to enjoy the functionality and ambience without frequent upkeep. All that is typically necessary to ensure your lighting serves you well for years to come is semi-regular cleanings of the solar panels. Wiping clean with warm, soapy water and a rag is enough.

While not a weekly task, preventing a build of dirt on the panels of your outdoor lighting will allow them to charge more efficiently resulting in longer hours of functionality. Neglecting cleaning for long periods of time will reduce functionality. When cared for properly, most solar lights have a lifespan of up to 20,000 hours.

Eco Friendly

One of the most obvious benefits for homeowners looking to reduce their environmental footprint is the inherently eco-friendly nature of solar powered lighting. In addition to their reduced impact on your electric consumption, they are also carbon-footprint friendly in other ways.

Since most solar solutions utilize LED bulbs, they seldom need replacing. This means you are changing your bulbs less frequently, resulting in reduced waste overall. If you’re on a mission to create a landscaping solution that is as green as possible, solar lighting is an excellent option.


If there is any area where electric lighting still outshines solar options, it’s in the overall brightness provided by the bulbs themselves. Solar energy simply does not provide the same brightness as electric alternatives. However, solar technology has been steadily improving over the years and efforts to close this gap have come a long way.

Still, if brightness is your main concern, assessing the level of light provided by solar options before investing in a system is worth your time. If you find yourself unsatisfied with the illumination provided, it may be time to look into alternative options.

Solar Lighting Vs Low Voltage

For those concerned about energy efficient options, but are feeling cautious about potential limitations of solar, other options do exist. Low voltage lighting solutions are designed to be energy efficient electric options that check many boxes solar power cannot.

Where as solar powered lighting is only usable at night, low voltage options can be switched on at any time, including cloudy or dim days. Additionally, low voltage lighting can be used to brighten areas that don’t receive enough lighting for solar solutions to function properly. However, installing low voltage lighting can be a more complicated process, and can become quite costly if many units are needed to achieve the desired effect.

For those on the fence about either solution, a blend of both lighting options throughout your space can offer a perfect compromise. Solar units for pathway and yard lighting can be used throughout the bulk of the space, and low voltage or electric lighting can be used in areas where solar options will not work. If you are unsure of which option is most functional for your space, consulting a landscape designer for professional insight can help.

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