Choosing Solar vs Electrical Garden Lights

Before you make the choice between solar or electrical garden lights you want to know all the facts. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type? And how to decide which light source is best for your garden project?

You might think the only real difference is that solar lights require sunlight instead of a socket. But that’s not all. For example, say you’re not that great with DIY stuff, do you think solar or electrical outdoor lights will be easier to install?

Solar Path Light

And that’s just one of many considerations. So that’s where this short overview comes in to help. Below, you’ll find out more about the main pros and cons of each type of light, so you can decide for yourself if you want solar or wired landscaping lights.

You might want to read this before you buy yourself that new set of garden lights…

How do Solar Garden Lights Work?

Let’s first have a quick look at how solar garden lights actually work. In most cases, solar lights consist of four main parts:

  1. Solar panel
  1. Wire
  1. Battery
  1. Light bulb (generally energy-efficient LED bulbs)

Solar lights work by converting sunlight into energy. This process starts in the solar panel, which is made up of multiple solar cells, also called photovoltaic cells.

Each solar cell consists of two layers of crystalline silicon. These layers are doped with either phosphorus or boron to create different chemical electrical charges (i.e. positive or negative charges).

Now sunlight is made up of photons. Once these photons hit the solar panel, they are absorbed by the semiconducting silicon material. Inside the solar cell, the photons excite electrons, creating energy.

This energy then flows like an electric current through the silicon layers before it’s transported through a wire to a battery. Once this battery is charged with enough electricity, it can send that electricity to the bulb, lighting up your solar light.

Most solar lights charge the battery during the day and have an automatic sensor to switch the light on once it’s dark.

Advantages of Solar Garden Lights

Now you know a bit more about how solar garden lights work, let’s look at their main benefits.

Environmentally Friendly

This is one of the main arguments in favor of solar lights. They use a renewable energy source (the sun) and are thus much more environmentally-friendly than electric lights.

With solar lights, you use solar energy instead of energy from fossil fuels, reducing your impact on the environment.

Budget-friendly

Solar lights don’t need electricity, which means you’re not paying for them every time they switch on. With solar lights, you just pay for the initial costs of the lights. After that, the lights run themselves.

Easy installation

Solar Powered Uplights

Don’t you just hate having to dig trenches in your garden to connect your garden lights to the mains power supply? With solar lights, you don’t have to worry about that.

One of the main advantages of solar lights is that they don’t require connection to sockets and thus no extensive cabling through your garden.

Just place your solar light where you want it and make sure the solar panel can catch the sunlight. Installation is that easy!

Easy to move around

Due to this easy installation, you can move the lights around whenever you feel like it. You can try placing your outdoor solar light in one part of the garden first. If you don’t like it, just pick it up and install it somewhere else.

With cables to mains power supplies, it wouldn’t be that easy.

Disadvantages of Solar Lights

There are also a few disadvantages to solar lights that you should take into consideration when comparing solar and electrical garden lights.

Dependent on sunlight

The obvious one. If you don’t have enough sun, your solar lights won’t work as well. This makes solar lights dependent on weather conditions.

That said, solar lights are getting better every day. Some high-quality lights are already capable of still storing solar energy even during relatively cloudy days. But if you live in a dark and rainy area, solar lights might not be your most reliable solution.

Less powerful than electric alternatives

This is one of the main disadvantages of solar lights, although it is expected that this is soon a thing of the past. But right now, solar energy products, especially when buying cheaper models, are often not as powerful as electric alternatives.

If you need reliable, year-round, powerful lighting (for example for floodlights that have to cover a large terrain) you might be better off with electrical lights for now.

Don’t always last through the night

This really depends on two factors:

  1. The quality of the solar lights you decide to buy
  1. The weather conditions

Cheap solar lights often have a relatively small battery that won’t always last through the night. Aside from that, bad weather conditions (as mentioned above) may limit how well your outdoor solar lights work as well.

How do Electric Garden Lights Work?

Next up in our comparison of solar vs electrical garden lights are the “standard” lights that plug into your mains power supply.

You can either get normal lights that require 120 volts of current or choose low-voltage alternatives. Low-voltage landscape lights are specifically designed for outdoor use and require only 12 volts of current.

These types of lights still need to be connected with your home power outlet, but they come with a transformer to convert the 120 volts into 12 volts to save you energy.

Advantages of Electric Garden Lights

Just like solar lights, wired landscaping lights have advantages and disadvantages. Let’s begin with the pros.

Don’t rely on sunlight

Whereas solar lights depend on weather conditions, electrical outdoor lights only need to be connected to a power outlet. This makes them more reliable than solar lights, especially if you live in a commonly clouded area.

Quality of light

As mentioned, although solar lights are rapidly getting better, they currently still fall short when it comes to reliable, intense power.

If you install floodlights or spotlights you want to ensure they are extremely bright and they will always work when you need them to. For the best performance and ease of mind, electrical lights are in this case still your best bet.

Disadvantages of Electric Garden Lights

So now we’ve seen the pros, let’s have a look at the disadvantages of electric garden lights.

Higher costs

With electrical outdoor lights, you never stop paying. Every time you turn them on they are tapping energy from your home outlet, which means you’re paying for it.

As such, electric lights are, in the long run, more expensive than solar lights.

Bad for the environment

By tapping into the mains power supply, you are using non-renewable energy sources to light your garden lights. This makes them bad for the environment, increasing your ecological footprint.

Difficult installation

Installation can be a bit trickier when it comes to electrical vs solar garden lights. Unless you’re lucky and you have a socket right next to where you want to place your lights, you will need to dig a trench in your garden to run the cables through.

If you’re good at DIY and your garden doesn’t have too many obstacles (like tiles) this might just mean an hour of your time.

But depending on your garden’s layout and how comfortable you are with doing it yourself, laying cables for your electrical garden lights can become challenging. And if you have to hire someone to do it for you, this can get expensive really quick!

Difficult to move around

Imagine you hired someone to dig a hole for your cables and install the lights for you. It was expensive, but at least now you have your garden lights to enjoy for years to come.

But that night when you turn them on for the first time, you’re shocked by what you see. The balance of the lighting in your garden is completely off! If only you could move your lights a few feet to the right, that would fix the problem.

Well. Good luck paying someone (again) to move your lights for you. And what if you’re still not happy with the result?

With solar lights, you don’t have this problem.

The verdict: Solar vs Electrical Garden Lights

Although outdoor solar lights sure aren’t 100% perfect (yet), the advantages do outweigh those of wired landscaping lights. Not only are solar lights better for the environment, but they can save you money, they’re easy to install, and you can move them around whenever you like. So, when it comes to solar vs electrical garden lights, the verdict goes in favor of solar lights