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Solar light buying guide

Solar light buying guide

Anne, Painter, Cambridge

Guide written by:

Anne, Painter, Cambridge

59 guides

Environmentally friendly, practical and decorative at the same time, solar lights brighten up your outdoor areas on a budget. But should you go for a spotlight, wall light or even a solar floodlight? How bright are they, how long do they last and what are the protection ratings? Read on to find the best solar light for your needs.

Important features

  • Types of solar lights
  • Brightness and run time
  • Protection rating
  • Motion sensor
  • Remote panels
  • Colour-changing solar lights
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Solar lights work with a small, built-in photovoltaic cell. This captures the sun's energy during the day, stores it in the battery then releases it at night to power the solar light's LED bulb.

Solar lights must be correctly positioned to capture the maximum sunlight. If the spot you've chosen is too shaded, you'll have to opt for a solar light with a remote panel, which can be positioned in full sunlight.

Now you just have to choose your solar light to suit your taste and requirements. If it's only to decorate the garden with, you might want to consider fairy lights or a light-up bauble. To mark out a path, go for solar bollard lights, while if you're looking to light up a front garden, you might want to look for a solar floodlight, preferably one with a motion sensor.

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Motion sensors

Solar lights come in many shapes to choose from depending on how they're going to be used and your personal tastes.

Solar wall lights

Solar wall lights are attached to a wall and are perfect for lighting up a driveway or garage. However, they provide ambient lighting rather than direct lighting.

Solar floodlights

Being brighter, solar floodlights are suitable for illuminating a transit area such as a front garden. Equipped with a motion sensor, they also enhance safety by reducing the risk of falls as well as intruders.

Solar spotlights

Installed at the foot of a tree or fitted into the decking, solar spotlights are used to either mark out an area or to create atmospheric lighting.

Solar bollard lights

Looking a bit like a mini lamp-post, solar bollard lights can be used to discreetly mark out a driveway or patio.

Decorative solar lights

Decorative solar lights come in many shapes and forms to please adults and children alike: fairy lights, lanterns, flower pots, animals, baubles, etc.

The brightness, or more precisely the luminous flux of a solar light, is measured in lumens. The brightness should meet your requirements:

  • less than 100 lumens is bright enough to mark out a path, without actually lighting it.
  • 100 to 250 lumens is enough for the solar light to illuminate a patio, for example.
  • more than 250 lumens means the solar light is bright enough to light up a front door, or twinned with a motion sensor, to alert you about intruders.
  • over 750 lumens is mainly used for floodlights where the solar light provides a broad and extended beam.

Note that brightness can exceed 1000 lumens in the models that illuminate most.

Run time is what enables the solar light to function after dark. This run time varies considerably from one model to another: from 4 to 24 hours fully charged, i.e., in summer. Be aware that this will be considerably reduced in winter.

Once again, what you decide on will depend on your needs. So, a solar lighting system intended to work throughout the night will require a greater run time than a floodlight with a motion sensor only used to light the way as you walk past.

The IP rating of a solar light tells you about its level of protection against the intrusion of solid objects and dust (the first digit after the IP symbol) and against immersion in liquids (the second digit).

If your solar light is attached to a wall, an IP rating of IP 44 is perfectly fine, while a rating of IP 65 is ideal for a patio spotlight, for example. This rating will climb to IP 67 for a solar light located outdoors in the middle of the garden.

IP ratings


First digit = protection against solids

Second digit = protection against liquids


No protection

No protection


Protected against solid objects ≥ 50 mm

Protected against vertically falling drops of water


Protected against solid objects ≥ 12.5 mm

Protected against vertically falling drops of water when tilted at 15°


Protected against solid objects ≥ 2.5 mm in diameter

Protected against sprays of water up to 60° from the vertical


Protected against solid objects ≥ 1 mm

Protection against water splashed from all directions


Dust protected

Protected against jets of water



Protected against powerful water jets from all directions


Protected against temporary immersion


Protected against continuous immersion under pressure for long periods

The colour temperature of a solar light is expressed in degrees Kelvin (K). This helps you to choose the colour of your light:

  • Warm white. Warm colour, < 3000 K
  • White. This is close to natural light, from 4000 to 5000 K
  • Cool white. The light is cold, > 6000 K (very rarely found in solar lights).

There are many add-ons to choose from, but they will obviously hike up the price of your solar light.

Motion sensor

A handy motion sensor automatically triggers the solar light to switch on when a person passes by, before switching off after a pre-set period of time. This is popular for use at the front door or garage for example, but also to reduce the risk of intruders. However, make sure to correctly position the detector.

Remote solar panel

If you need to install a solar light in a shaded spot, it's a good idea to choose a model featuring a remote solar panel that can be placed in a position enjoying full sunlight to capture the maximum amount of the sun's rays.

Colour-changing solar lights

This type of solar light gives off a variety of colours depending on each model, and also lets you play with how quickly they change as well as a few different effects (flash, fade, strobe, etc).

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Guide written by:

Anne, Painter, Cambridge, 59 guides

Anne, Painter, Cambridge

After 8 years of trade, I turned professional: I trained myself to be a painter and carpet fitter, either on my own or with 16 year old comrades. 9 months later, following vocational training, I created my company. I’m a self-taught DIYer and decoration enthusiast, I love to find and restore furniture and to create unique decoration pieces. I completed the renovation of my sister’s house with my niece: electrics, tiling, plasterboard...we did it all. And today, if I can share my experience I'm happy to do it. Good Luck.  

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