On hot summer evenings, our recently-renovated back patio is where it’s at. It’s private (well, as much as it can be in an urban setting) and peaceful (well, as much as it can be with kids playing street hockey a few feet away, and neighbours who love karaoke and mah jong). After a long day, when Lila is finally asleep, there’s no better place to relax with a glass of something cold and potent. The sounds and smells of the city just add to the feeling of being in our own little leafy paradise.
It’s also dark. There’s a porch light, but it’s rather ineffective – and does nothing for ambiance. When we redid the garden, installing traditional hard-wired garden lighting seemed like overkill for this tiny (12’x15′) space (not to mention the added labour and cost), so we skipped it. Perhaps that was a bad call, but I’m not convinced.
Like many people, we’re trying to reduce our energy consumption. Candles are a good option, but aren’t great when you want to play an al fresco game of cards. Solar lighting, in which a rechargeable battery is charged during the day by a tiny solar panel (often integrated with the lamp), seems like a logical solution, but I’m scarred by memories of dim, feeble solar lights from gardens past.
In a quest to find out if solar lights have improved, I interviewed Akshata Kalyanpur, a lighting expert at Canadian Tire.
Heavy Petal: Why should I choose solar lighting over traditional lighting?
Akshata Kalyanpur: Benefits of solar lights include being able to cut down your electricity bill and protect the environment. Installation is easy and quick – no wires required! – and there is minimum maintenance required. They are also affordable and safe for use, and can enhance your landscaping.
Like all garden lighting, solar lights can be used as accents to create ambiance in patio or backyard to highlight or downplay certain areas. You can also play with perception and depth to make spaces look bigger and brighter by strategic placement of lighting.
HP: Okay, but how well do they really work? Has the new solar lighting improved over the products on the market 5+ years ago?
AK: Solar LED lights are the newest innovation in solar lighting. They have four key components – solar panel, battery, LED light, and circuit. These components have undergone significant improvements in the last five years and, as a result, the light is brighter, the battery runs longer, and less sunlight and less time is required to charge it. Solar LED lights are up to 24 times brighter than regular solar lights.
HP: That sounds great – and worth checking out. What are some of the new trends in solar lighting?
AK: Besides the trend toward using LEDs, decorative options in solar lighting have really exploded. Consumers are no longer limited to the basic light-on-a-stake style of solar light – there are lights with decorative rock-like finishes, lights that fit onto a deck post, and even fiber optic flower lights.
HP: You’re right. There are hundreds of options out there – not all of them good. Let’s do some online shopping!
My favourite outdoor lighting option has to be the paper lantern – they are so quintessentially summer. And my favourite paper lanterns are actually plastic or nylon (hey, they’re much more durable that way). I love the Soji Modern lantern from Allsop Home and Garden, pictured above.
They also have a more traditional version. In fact, Allsop just makes killer solar products in general.
You can’t beat Ikea for cheap and cheerful, and these Solig solar lanterns are just that. The Solig line also includes sun-powered globe string lights, aluminum posts, and even table lamps.
These clean and modern post lights from Gardman would look at home in almost any style of garden.
I like the Pinnacle solar light for its simplicity. These would be great for lighting along a path, or tucked into a perennial border. And this is the size of light that would fit in scale with my small patio.
I’d love to hear your experiences with the new solar lighting. Is it all it’s cracked up to be? Have a product to recommend? Leave me a note in the comments section.
Top image: Lanterns in the tree by gritgoods on Flickr.
I’d like to add my fsvorite solar garden lights to the list… these Aurora blue glass led solar lights. I have three sets strung up around my patio. They go strong all night long… they were still glowing when I got up at 5am this morning. They’re pricey but worth the splurge. Low maintenance, I left them up during the rainy winter.
Grandma Tilly says
Another option is getting a reasonable solar system installed. My country’s government now provides great rebates on solar and our energy supplier provides 25% renewable energy for just $1 extra per quarter.
If you can generate 50% of your electricity yourself and get 25% of the rest from green renewable sources you don’t need to feel so bad about using the electricity.
This is a good option not just for your lighting.
Ohh I like the paper lantern style. I am in much need of backyard lighting. I’ve got nothing back there currently.
I don’t know if they’re the ‘new’ solar leds, (what defines that anyway?) but I’ve seen a number of solar led lights around the neighborhood recently.
They are still pretty darn dim – at least by the time it’s dark enough to need them. They are pretty good for lighting a path, where mostly you just need to know where the edge is, but I would never want to play cards by them, even holding one in my hand.
Solar lighting sounds like a great idea. to create mood, although if I’m still outside, in my far northern garden, when darkness falls, I find my headlamp shines a stronger light for reading or playing cards.
I have a string of solar star-shaped LEDs strung on the fence in my city yard. They go on at dusk and shine brightly for a few hours and then slowly start to dim. They’re quite nice, cool-looking, and the star shape seems appropriate for summer: outdoorsy, 4th of July. I use them decoratively rather than for serious lighting.
thanks for doing this! Thanks for creating this labour of love and fountain of information. The interview section is great and the selections are works of elegant simplicity. You could say that I have an interest in solar powered lighting. Not only as timely energy saving curiosities, but as outdoor lifestyle essentials. This is a great page! Thanks.