Summary: Many homeowners want to install outdoor solar lights as a way to cut back on energy use. A solar light has a longer life than a regular light or bulb. Outdoor solar lights operate on LED's which put out a different light than regular incandescent bulbs.

Like a lot of homeowners you may be wanting to do home improvements but with an eye on more 'green' - or environmentally friendly - improvements. A perfect, and often quick example, is to install solar lights around your house and to improve your architectural elements, improve safety, draw attention to landscaping improvements and as a deterrent to thieves.

There are even solar Christmas lights available which, with rising electrical costs, can still allow you to be festive this year without breaking the bank.

But, before you rush out to jump on the solar bandwagon there are some things to keep in mind.

1. How Long the Light Stays on Depends on Weather

Solar lights operate on the principle of stored energy. During the day the solar collector gathers sunlight and converts that into usable energy for nighttime use. But if the weather is overcast or if there is a shadow there simply won't be enough sun available to provide usable light at night. Your solar light should be someplace with good, direct sunlight during the day. Avoid shady or partially shady areas.

While homeowners may think that a spot is sunny you'll find that solar lights don't do well in even partially shady areas.

2. Solar Lights Aren't Like Regular (Incandescent) Lights

Solar lights operate with LED's (Light Emitting Diode). An LED is actually a semiconductor and gives off a visible light when an electric current passes through it. But, keep in mind, the light that an LED emits isn't the same as an incandescent bulb. An incandescent glows all the way around the bulb while an LED is more intense but has a different angle of dispersion than incandescent.

A drawback for a lot of people is the type of light LED's put out. It's simply not the 'glow' that they are use to and can appear 'weaker'. In fact, only recently have LED's become advanced enough that they actually put out enough light to become viable for landscaping use.

Actually, despite the weaker appearance of the light from an LED, they actually put out a LOT of light for the amount of power they use. An LED uses very little electricity (probably 1/10th what a typical household bulb uses) and are much more efficient than fluorescent and neon bulbs.

Now, another common mistake is to shop around for solar lights and look at wattage. Wattage doesn't mean how much light a bulb will put out - wattage is a measure of electrical draw or consumption - not output or brightness. Brightness is usually measured in lumens or candle feet.

However, solar lights have one big advantage over incandescent ... they last much, much longer.

In fact, most solar light manufacturers claim the LED will actually outlast the life of the rest of the solar light device. Most experts agree an LED will last a couple of decades under normal use. But, if something goes wrong with the LED they are NOT replaceable.

3. Solar Lights are Low(er) Maintenance

As I wrote above, the LED last 25 years. There's no wiring to run and, unless you run over the light with a lawn mower, there's virtually no upkeep.

But, solar lights do operate on batteries. Not the regular coppertops you and I are use to but solar batteries. While they do last years before needing replacement you'll still end up replacing them sooner or later. Five years of use would be considered a rule of thumb.

As you can see solar lights have come a long way and do offer distinct advantages over low voltage (wired) landscape lights: namely lower electrical bills and longer life. But, the performance of these types of lights depends on their location and how much sun is available during the day.