Choosing the Right Outdoor Solar Lighting
Deciding to go solar is only the first step. Now you need to think about what functions you want your solar lights to perform. This will determine what sort of solar lights you purchase.
Solar lighting functions can be grouped into three main types: 1) Path and Garden Lighting, 2) Spot and Flood Lighting, and 3) Accent Lighting.
Path and Garden Lighting - The most common application is to shed light on a pathway, a set of stairs, or some other perimeter. But the same lights that do this can also provide small pools of light to display various obstacles in your yard or various features in your garden. If you're using them for path, step, or perimeter lighting, remember to budget for enough to buy several of them. They'll need to be placed close enough together to provide continuous lighting along the way.
These lights generally come with ground stakes and are easily mounted in the nearest patch of dirt or lawn. More complicated varieties may mount a post with a ground stake which supports a hook from which the lamp hangs.
Path and garden lights provide enough light output to see by without being overly bright. This means they cost less than their brighter counterparts as well.
Spot and Flood Lighting - For brighter illumination, you need spot or flood lights. Naturally, this means they have a higher price tag. But they're what you need to display a statue or birdbath or to set off a decorative shrub.
It may not seem as though solar spot and flood lights can perform the same task as their wired counterparts. This instinct is partially correct. You shouldn't expect to get the same brightness as a 100-watt outdoor floodlight. On the other hand, over lighting is one of the basic mistakes made by rookies. So you may not need as much power or brilliance as you think. A solar light with a good LED can send out a focused beam equivalent to a 40 watt incandescent. The LED has the additional advantage of becoming brighter as the weather grows colder. (The opposite is true of incandescents.)
Because of the power required, solar spot and flood lights often have a separate solar panel that connects to the lamp(s) by weatherproof wires. This allows the manufacturer to make the panel of sufficient size without perching it precariously on top of a smaller lamp. And it allows you to position the panel for optimum sunlight.
Accent Lighting - Accent lights aren't meant to help you see their surroundings. They're meant to impart a pleasing glow to the landscape. They are often used to mark places such as hazards or small features, but not to illuminate pathways. Placed next to ponds, they can add a reflective charm. Often their purpose is to draw attention to themselves, adding charm or whimsy to the garden in which they sit.