During the short days of autumn and winter, solar lights get less sun just when darkness means they need to stay on longer each night.
Contrary to what electrical landscape lights sellers say, it's just not true that solar lights are only effective in the summer.
While solar lights may not be as bright or stay on when there less hours of sunlight, the sun doesn't increase its rates during winter as fuel costs rise and demand increases.
And, there are quick and easy things you can do to get the best performance from solar lighting in the fall, winter, and early spring.
Solar technology continues to evolve rapidly, a fact in and of itself that should silence critics and put myths aside. Evolving LED and solar technology mean the quality and reliability of solar lights continuously improves.
Winter often is when you truly will get your money from higher priced lights, which tend to use better bulbs and solar technology, as well as better quality housing, circuitry, and light color.
Adjust Panels or Solar Light Positions Seasonally
Many solar lights have adjustable panels that let you tilt them to absorb the most solar energy.
A general rule for adjustable panels is to place them "flat" in the summer, tilted at a 45 degree angle towards the sun during spring and summer, and to a 60 degree angle toward s the sun in the dead of winter.
Even if your solar panel can't be adjusted, don't worry about it. Most solar fixtures work just fine with as little as 5 or 6 hours of sun per day.
Newer solar lamps tend to have panels on all four sides (excluding wall mounted lamps) so these generally are okay the way they are.
If you have keep accent or pathway lights out year-round, tilt them a bit so the panels get better sun exposure. The trade-off of having pathway stakes that aren't perfectly straight may well mean a couple more hours of light output each night.
Keep Leaves off Solar Panels and Lighting Fixtures
It's a good idea to regularly check solar panels year-round to make sure dirt, pollen or leaves don't block the sun. It's particularly important once fall rolls around.
While many leaves are long gone by Thanksgiving, many trees (particularly oaks) tend to shed some leaves in the fall and then shed continuously until the spring when new leaves start to emerge.
Along with solar panels, make sure you regularly check the light itself to make sure that leaves aren't blocking the light fixture or its panes.
For solar shed lights and security solar lights, this may mean checking roofs of small structures or panels mounted on walls or trees. The easiest way to clear these off is with a garden hose, assuming it's not so cold that the water is shut off for the winter.
Brooms also are effective, as long as you're careful not to strike the hard part against the panel, which could crack it. Caution should be used with leaf blowers, especially if acorns, broken branches or twigs are nearby that could strike and damage the solar panel or fixture.
Important note: Many solar floodlights use halogen lights instead of LEDS, largely because many people prefer the warner color of halogen bulbs over the colder tone of older LEDs. However, halogen bulbs generate enormous amounts of heat.
Pay special attention to halogen fixtures, solar or otherwise as dry leaves or twigs on halogen lights can pose a fire hazard, particular when a fixture is mounted to a structure. This is one reason why we aren't a big fan of halogens, outdoors or inside.
Tips for Winter Ice and Snow
Unless snow is very deep, most lights and solar panels can easily be swept clean with a soft broom. Don't use a shovel, as you could damage the light and/or the solar panel.
Ice is a different matter. Never chip at ice, as this is likely to cause damage. Wait until nature melts it away or pour hot water over the ice and brush away what you can. Clear ice won't impact the solar panel from absorbing much power anyway.
If snow, ice or a mixture of the two covers a light for more than a few days, you may need to turn the light off for two sunny days, and then turn them back on.
This lets the solar battery get a new strong charge, jump-starting its performance. Batteries covered by snow five days to a week or more are much like a battery in a car that hasn't been driven in a while. In the worst case, the car will need jumper cables; often it may just need to idle a while before it hits the road.
Even with these tips, it is unrealistic to expect your solar lights to be as bright or shine as long in winter as they do during the late spring or summer. However, the sun doesn't charge you more come wintertime because of the supply demands of homes during winter mean more "peak hour" electrical rates.
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