Solar lighting, both indoors and outdoors, has become popular in recent years with energy conscious home owners. But are solar lights safe? Find out in this post.
Are Solar Lights Dangerous?
Solar lights can also be called solar garden lights, solar deck lights and solar security lights. These types of lighting are primarily used to illuminate a specific area such as a patio, walkway or garden.
A solar light is an eco-friendly and cost effective lighting solution for your home or business. This is a great way to add accent light where you need it without running expensive electrical lines, wires or installing huge solar panels to power them (they use small panels).
Most of the time, solar lights are considered very safe when functioning properly and used as intended.
However, there are various safety risks from solar lights. These include:
- Catching fire
- Burning the skin when touched
Can Solar Lights Catch Fire?
Solar lights pose a very minimal fire risk, however one does exist. This is mostly due to issues with the batteries they use to store the electrical charge recieved from the solar panels.
Cheaper solar lights will have a heightened risk of catching fire because of the their low quality components and construction. Spending more money on good quality solar lights will make them both safer and more effecient, even during cloudy weather.
Lithium Ion Batteries and Fire Risk
Newer solar lights include lithium ion batteries that are known for their ability to recharge. However, these types of batteries are more at risk of causing a fire because of the highly reactive materials and lithium salts they contain.
Fortunately, there are ways to minimize the fire risk of solar lights. These include:
- Only buy solar lights from reputable retailers.
- Beware of fake online reviews touting bad solar lights.
- Ignore the cheapest solar light options.
- Be aware of where you place the solar lights to decrease the spread of a fire.
Solar Light Bulbs And Fire Risk
Solar light bulbs can create a lot of heat, although this is less than standard light bulbs inside your house.
However, solar lights do not produce enough heat to start a fire. Most likely, a fire would be caused by the batteries. This is because the batteries can overheat and melt the plastic structure of the lights.
If your solar lights do catch on fire for whatever reason, their proximity to dried brush or wood debris will cause the fire to grow quicker.
Solar Lights Recall
Some solar lights have been recalled due to the batteries melting and the subsequent fire danger. Specifically, Cooper Lighting, Defiant, and All-Pro solar lights were recalled in 2018 for this reason.
Is It OK To Leave Solar Lights On All Night?
It is safe to leave solar lights on all night, however this could shorten their lifespan. So, it may be a good idea to disconnect them before you go to bed or if you are going away from your home for an extended period of time.
Can You Leave Solar Lights On All The Time?
Yes, you can leave then on all the time. However, this may decrease their lifespan and possibly burn out the batteries. If you can, turn off or remove the solar lights when you are away from home for an extended period of time.
Can You Turn Solar Lights On And Off?
You can turn off your solar lights if it has an On / Off switch. However, make sure to turn it On when you want to use them. If you want to decrease the useage of your solar lights and preserve battery life, you can turn them Off.
Make sure the solar lights you buy have the ability to be turned on or off. Most solar lights have sensors that detect when the batteries are full or empty so as to turn the LED light on or off automatically.
Being able to turn your solar lights on or off is great if you live in regions with lots of rain or snow. It is also useful for storing the solar lights or moving them.
Should You Turn Solar Lights Off?
You do not have to turn your solar lights off if they are not facing extremely cold weather, heat, or high winds. However, in these cases, it may be better to turn them off, and even move them inside. If you leave for long periods of time for work or vacation, turning the solar lights off will help prevent fire risk and lengthen their lifespan.
Turn Off the Solar Lights When The Sun Dissappears
When the sun is blocked, or it is dark, you can turn off the solar panels to decrease the stress on the batteries. It is not good for batteries to be fully discharged of their energy over and over again. So, if you do not need the lights on at night, try turning them off to help increase their lifespan.
Solar Lights For Backyard – Are They Safe?
Backyard solar lights are considered very safe, as long as they are out of the way and you do not trip or bump into them. However, if you rely on them to light a pathway at night and they stop working, this could make doing so more treacherous.
It is most important not to have solar lights be too close to dried brush or wood piles, because if they ever do catch on fire, it will spread more easily.
Can I Leave Solar Lights Out In Winter?
Newer solar lights and panels are able to capture sun energy even on very cloudy days. This is due to the monocrystalline panels which are an advancement over polycrystalline.
If it rains heavily, solar powered lights could collect water. If this then freezes when the temperature drops, it could damage the lights. This, however, depends on the design and if the solar lights are water proof and freeze / thaw proof.
Solar panels can suffer leak through from rainwater buildup because the sealants lose their effectiveness as they get older. So, if you have an older set of solar panels, rainwater is more likely to get inside.
Snow And Ice
Snow and ice build up may not affect the solor lights outright, beyond preventing them from absorbing sunlight. However, once the snow or ice melts, it could seep into the lights and possibly damage internal components.
Snow, however, is a great reflector of sunlight and can actually enhance the amount of light collected by your solar panels.
Snow and water build up is a problem for all solar panels, which is why having them tilted is the normal way to place them.
Solar panels work because they have nano-scale materials that move within it and use up energy in the process. When the temperature drops low enough, these particles stop moving as quickly, making the voltage generation production go up.
Solar Light Batteries
The type of battery used in the solar light also affects how well it withstands and performs in cold weather. NiCad batteries are regarded as best for this. Some batteries will perform well, whereas other will be ruinced by the cold.
Make sure to purchase solar lights that declare their ability to withstand extreme weather and temperature fluctuations on the packaging.
Solar light fixtures that are IP65 (Ingress Protection) rated means they can prevent water from seeping inside their structure and affect sensitive electrical components. Make sure to look for an IP rating of 5 that protects against snow, rain, or melting ice.
Burying Solar Light Batteries
If the temperature and weather changes are extreme in your area, you could consider burying the solar light batteries to keep them insulated. To do so, you will need to dig a hole big enough to house their installation boxes. However, since the average lifespan of batteries is between 5 -7 years, you will have to un-bury them at some point.
Be sure only to buy solar lights that are intended for for outdoor use and has the IP65 rating and adequate weather protection declared on the packaging. It has to be able to withstand rain, snow, ice, and changing humidity and temperature.
Do Solar Lights Really Work?
Solar lights do really work, because they convert sunlight effectively into energy and store it within their batteries to be used as lighting at night. Solar lights come in many shapes and sizes and can be placed in all sorts of areas around your home or property.
However, if the batteries are drained, it may take several hours or days to fully recharge them. If the batteries use up all their power, the lights may not work when you need them. This is usually only the case when the panels are blocked from sunlight, or the batteries lose their ability to store energy.
Why Do Outdoor Solar Lights Stop Working?
Solar lights, like other electronic devices, are not fullproof and can stop working for various reasons. Some more common reasons include:
- Their panels are not recieving enough sunlight.
- The solar panels are damaged from rainwater.
- The batteries have worn out and hit the end of their lifespan.
- Faulty sensors could be stopping them from working properly.
- Snow or ice buildup has damaged the lights or solar panels.
How Are Solar Lights Affected By A Power Outage
A normal solar powered home system without battery backup will automatically shut down during a power outage. This is to prevent solar energy from entering the grid. And when the utility power goes back on, the home’s power will also turn back on.
Solar powered outdoor lights with their own batteries and not connected to the grid will keep working when the power goes out. Extra power from the panels will also not flow to the grid, rather it will store in the batteries.
Do Solar Lights Work During Brownout
A brownout is a temprorary drop in power supply from the main power system of a region. This can be either intentional, as in the case of emergency load reduction, or unintentional as in the case of a lack of energy production capabilities.
Solar lights connected to the grid and without battery storage will not work during a brownout. However, most outdooe solar lights include battery storage and will continue working even when the grid goes down.
Types of Solar Light Batteries
There are several different types of solar batteries that are used in solar lighting. However, the basic process is the same for passing energy from the panels to the batteries. A smart controller charges the batteries with the energy converted by the solar panels, and also prevents overcharging, overdraining, and overheating.
One issue with nearly all batteries is the Memory Effect, which is when the battery loses its ability to charge fully over time.
There are three different battery types used in modern solar lights. These are:
- Lithium Ion (Li-Ion)
- Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH)
- Nickel Cadmium (NiCD)
Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) Batteries
Lithium Ion batteries are well-known today because they are very good at storing a lot of power relative to battery size. Because of this, they are used in nearly all smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Even electric vehicles have adopted Li-Ion as the battery material of choice.
However, they are prone to fire risk due to the volatililty of their energy cells which float in a highly flammable mix of lithium salts and other solvents. Even highly touted manufacturers have trouble ensuring their lithium ion batteries and controllers are not fire dangers.
Li-Ion battery costs have also been steadily decreasing over the years, making them the go-to choice for electronic devices.
Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) Batteries
Nickel Cadmium batteries are a very old type of battery technology and are very cheap. NiCD batteries are well suited for extreme weather conditions, such as high heat and the very cold. However, NiCD batteries are very susceptible to the memory effect, so they are not the best type to be used for solar lights.
Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) Batteries
Nickel Metal Hydrided have been used in solar lighting for many years and are able to provide significantly more energy than NiCD batteries. These batteries are look like your ordinary cylinder shaped battery the size of a human finger. However, these types of batteries do not perform well in extreme temperatures.
And like other battery types, they are sucseptible to the memory effect, meaning they will not perform as well the more they are used.
Solar Light Battery Size -Bigger Is Better!
The larger the battery, regardless of which type it is, the more energy it will be able to store. This will allow your solar lights to stay lit longer.
Solar light battery capacity ranges from 1000mAH (milliampere-hours) to 1800mAH, with the larger being best for larger solar lights. The packaging of the solar lights / batteries will state how many hours they can shine before recharging. It is also useful to be able to remove the batteries from the lamp in case they need replacing.
Alkaline Batteries – Can You Use Them With Solar Lights?
Regular Alkaline batteries, the ones used in small flashlights or computer mice, are not good for solar lighting. These types of batteries should not be used, unless temporarily until you can find an adequate replacement.
Do You Need A Solar Light Battery
If you want your solar lights to run during the nightime when the sun is not out, then yes, you do need batteries. However, if your solar lights are plugged into the power grid, you may be able to turn them on and off without solar power. But if this is the case, then why use solar lights at all?
Types Of Solar Lights
Solar lights now come in many different types that cover a wide range of uses. These include:
- Lamp post
In fact, solar lights be used in all sorts of ways, only limited by space and your imagination.
Components of Solar Lights
Solar lights include a number of components that make them functional. These include LED diodes, lithium-ion batteries, portable remote control, and motion sensors. Different solar light manufacturers will offer varying features for users.
Do Outdoor Solar Lights Wear Out?
Solar lights, like other electronic devices, eventually wear out. What usually causes them to stop working are worn out batteries. Batteries will slowly lose the ability to store a charge over time and use. Another cause is the solar panel itself, which could be cracked or covered in dust or snow. Wiring at some point may also be faulty not allowing the charge to be recieved from the panels.
Cleaning your solar panels and lights may solve this problem.
The manufacturer may provide a 12 month warranty, and the retailer may have a time – sensitive return policy. However, solar powered lights do generally last a long time when well looked after.
How Long Do Solar Lights Last?
Outdoor solar lights should be able to last for many years if they are maintained properly and do not face too much extreme weather. The quality of the brand also will contribute to how long they last as well.
Solar Light Components – How Long Do they Last?
Each component of a solar light can fail, causing the whole light to stop working. The quality of manufacturing plays a large role in this, so make sure to buy only solar lights that are from a reputable brand.
Batteries are the primary reason why solar lights start to fail over time. NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries are desinged to tun for 1000+ nights before wearing out. They are also easy to replace when needed, as they are located with their own compartment on the lights.
LED Lamps Lifespan
LED lamps of solar powered lights have very long lifespans. They will likely last much longer than the batteries will. You can expect the LED lights to last upwards of 20+ years if well cared for. However, if the LED light is broken, the entire solar light will have to be replaced as they most likely cannot be changed out.
LED light bulbs are housed in a water proof casing, so rainwater will not affect them. Compared to incandescent and flourescent bulbs, LED’s produce less heat and do not burn out as quickly, or at all. LEDs are also able to withstand physical bumps and knocks very well.
Solar Panels Lifespan
High quality solar panels that are well designed for durability can last a very long time. Their efficiency can last upwards of 20 years before noticeably dropping. Even so, they will only lose perhaps 5% of their energy absorbing capability making them still very useful. Solar panels need cleaning once every 6 months or so, or they will lose their ability to collect sunlight. You can do this with just ordinary soapy water and a sponge.
Solar Lights And Freezing Weather
If the weather gets too cold, the solar light components could break or become weakened. So, make sure to bring your solar lights in during the winter if you think the temperature will drop below freezing. If there is moisture inside the solar lights, this could cause the electrical components to short circuit when it condenses.
Can Solar Lights Electrocute You?
As I mentioned above, there is a negligible risk of being electrocuted or shocked by solar-powered lighting. They are typically made with LED lights, which require very little power to run. The casing and any wiring will be well insulated and waterproof.
Any electrical device can cause electrocution of varying degree. It is very important to practice preventive maintenence on your solar lights and replace them if you notice cracking or freyed wiring.
A very important component for a solar light to have is a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI.) This will shut off the lights if the current moving in and out of the lights fluctuates to 5 milliamps.
Can Solar Powered Lights Give You A Shock?
As mentioned above, solar powered lights can potentially eletrocute you or give you a shock. However, a bigger risk than being shocked is the solar lights igniting a fire due to a poor state of the wiring or electrical components. These can cause the batteries to overheat or melt which creates a fire hazard.
Always be sure to only used solar lights that are intended for outdoor use and can withstand weather changes and other events.
Are Solar Lights Safe Around A Pool?
Many pool owners like to have parties or gatherings at night on the outside deck near the water. Solar lights seem to be an ideal solution. But what if they fall into the pool?
Solar lights are safe around a pool as long as they are waterproof and can be submerged if they fall in. Even so, if one falls into the pool while a person is in it, they should get out quickly and disconnect from the panels and batteries.
Solar lights can cause electrocution if they land in the pool if they were not installed properly or are disfunctional in some way.
If you use any type of lighting around a pool, make sure it is 12-volt pool lights and no higher. Also have a licensed electician install or inspect them so they do not cause a problem.
Solar Lights Over Swimming Pool
Solar lights over a swimming pool have more of a chance of actually falling into the pool. Along with the lights, are the power string that has current running through it. A solar light that has a crack in its casing could pose a danger if it falls in and float on the water.
Solar lights, even though generally safe over a pool could still break and leave plastic or glass shards in the pool where children could swim.
Strong winds could blow the solar lights off their poles or braces, or they could be accidentally hit while people play around the pool. So, it may be best to keep solar lights around the pool, not over it.
Regardless, if you intend to have solar lights near or over a pool, make sure they are the submersible type and are entirely sealed off from water.
Why Have My Solar Lights Stopped Working?
Solar lights can stop working for a number of reasons, including:
- Dead batteries
- Solar panels are dirty or covered in snow.
- The solar panels are placed in the shade.
- A component or wiring is broken.
- There is not enough sunlight during this period.
If you have used your solar lights for many years, the issue is most likely due to worn out batteries or malfunctioning solar panels.
Will Solar Lights Charge On A Cloudy Day?
Yes, however if the solar panels are older, as in made out of polycrystalline cells, then they will struggle to obtain enough energy on cloudy days. Newer solar lights come with panels that are made of monocrystalline cells which are an advancement over older solar lights.
However, solar panels always collect the most energy on sunny days, so if you live in a region that has regular cloud cover, such as the Pacific Northwest, then solar lights will not operate as well.
Solar lights have become more popular in recent years due to decreasing costs and being more environmentally friendly. They are also considered very safe compared to other types of lighting. If you decide to install solar powered lights, make sure to choose a repuable brand and make sure they are fully weather proof.
Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree in Economics from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use.