Solar Powered Accent Lighting
Last summer we spent several weekends installing low voltage lighting in our back yard. It’s beautiful. There are fixtures everywhere. Some point up into the trees, several act as walk lights and yet others are placed so that they will highlight shrubs and flowers. We expect nighttime to be a beautiful event – sometime soon. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly what the lighting looks like yet. That’s because we haven’t had time to add the new power circuit, connect the transformer to it and then tie in the wiring that joins the light fixtures to the transformer. We expect to finish sometime this summer – maybe!
Who was it that once said that a plumber’s house always has clogged sewers and the lights never work at an electrician’s house. Well, no matter who you are, the more complicated the project the less likely it will be that it will get finished. Sound about right to you?
If you’re like us you probably will be better off with solar powered landscape lighting. This is garden accent lighting with an accent on the garden and not on the trials and tribulations of installation. There is absolutely no wiring and all you have to do is push the stake style mounting posts into the earth. OK, so you will have to do a little digging if the ground is rock hard, but the same hard work would be required no matter what type of lighting you select.
Solar powered lighting used to be 90% solar panel and 10% light fixture. In fact, older solar units were actually poor sources of lighting. Energy inefficient incandescent bulbs have been replaced with brighter more energy friendly LED’s, fluorescents and halogen models.
LED’s (light emitting diodes) are the most energy efficient and are great for walkways and for navigating dark areas. However, they don’t make good reading lights. Fluorescents and halogen bulbs use more energy, but are more powerful and can literally brighten an area.
Fluorescent lights range in size from 4- to 5-watts (this equals about 25 watts of regular incandescent lighting). Fluorescent bulbs will remain on for up to about 10 hours after sunset. We like the fluorescent models a great deal more than the LED types.
Quartz halogen bulbs are not very energy efficient, but they do emit a really bright light. For security applications this can be a real boon. These units come with motion detectors that turn the light on for about three minutes when an intruder is detected from up to 20 feet away. Hey, and there is no limit to where one can be mounted – well, maybe not spots that are shady.
Best of all, depending on the fixture, you may even have difficulty locating the solar panel once the light fixture is in place. That’s because the solar panels themselves are getting a lot smaller. Also, designers are beginning to work the panels into the various designs. Remember when a solar fixture was a light with a large plate mounted on top? Now, styles are more interesting. Where original solar lighting units were “scientific” looking – OK if you lived in a space ship – new models are “decorator” friendly. Coach lights, tier lights, pagoda style, down lights and portable “lantern” units really add variety and interest to this type of lighting.
When shopping for solar lighting be sure to go directly to the source. Electricians buy direct from supply stores that carry endless numbers of light fixture catalogues. And the neat thing is – you can too! You may even find one that has a small showroom. Lighting fixture specialty stores often have solar fixtures in stock, but you can count on paying more in one of these places. It seems to go with the “artsy-craftsy” aspect of such an establishment. We like going to the electrical supply store rather than the electrical showroom because the clerks in electrical stores are often trained electricians and tend to be “no nonsense” types when it comes to light fixtures.
So, in review, remember, solar lighting is better looking than ever before. It installs instantly. It can be used for accent lighting, decorative lighting and security lighting. And, the only requirement is that it be installed in a sunny location. Each fixture costs more than wired lighting, but the savings elsewhere are terrific. There’s the wire, the waterproof connectors, the transformer and the electric receptacle (if one doesn’t already exist in the yard). And don’t forget the digging (to bury the wire). Solar is definitely a contender. And, good luck!
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