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There are plenty of benefits to using solar lights around your home's exterior, including a lower electric bill and smaller carbon footprint. And while they're an excellent choice for illuminating your garden during the warmer months, you shouldn't save solar lights for summer alone. Solar Christmas lights are rising in popularity thanks to the increased availability and affordability of the technology behind them. We spoke with two electricians to get some insight on solar-powered holiday lights.
How do solar Christmas lights work?
Solar holiday lights are attached to a dark panel, called a solar cell, that converts the sun's rays into electrical current, according to Joel Worthington, president of Mr. Electric, a Neighborly company. "The newly converted electricity is then stored in a battery until it's needed." The solar lights charge off sunlight all day, and then in the evening, a photoreceptor senses when it's dark outside and will turn on the light. "The light (usually an LED) will remain on until the battery is empty or the photoreceptor senses light again."
What are the pros of going solar?
Not only do solar lights reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a source of renewable energy, but Mark Dawson, chief operating officer at Mister Sparky, says that they also won't cost you a penny more than what you pay to purchase them. "And because there's nothing to plug in, solar lights give you the flexibility to string them up far away from the nearest electrical outlet." And since most solar holiday lights can be set to turn on automatically after sunset, you won't have to worry about setting up timers or remember to turn them off before you go to bed at night.
Is it a one-size fits all solution?
It may be obvious with a word like solar in the name, but solar lights need sunlight to work. So, how much sun is enough? And what should you do if you want to hang them on an area of your home that spends more time in the shade than not? "When it comes to sun access, here's what to think about: Because solar outdoor lights charge off of sunlight, they work best on bright days when there is plenty of daylight," Worthington says. "Most solar lights need between four and 12 hours of sunlight to fully charge." Some solar lights might work with less light on the colder, rainier days of winter, but for the most part they work best in more temperate climates. "In general, solar lights may not be right for you if you live in a very snowy, cold area with little sunlight."
Where should you hang them?
Because solar lights don't need an extension cord to work, you don't have to worry as much about the logistics of hanging them far from an outlet, giving you much more flexibility when it comes to deciding where to decorate. "However, you will need to make sure your solar panels aren't covered in snow so they can charge properly," Worthington says. And from a safety standpoint, you'll want to avoid placing "hot lights" on dry trees as they can become a fire hazard.