How to Install Solar Deck Lights on Post Caps, Railings & Stairs
Solar-powered lighting is popular because it’s easier to install than hard-wired low-voltage lights and can reduce operating costs since the lights don’t use household electricity. These DIY-friendly fixtures, with their built-in solar panel, lamp, battery pack, and photosensor, also come in a variety of configurations. Install them on decks, on top posts, under railings, along stairs, and in other locations to illuminate and add ambiance to outdoor spaces. Brands like Trex offer a wide variety of lighting options.
Why Should You Use Solar Deck Lighting?
Untethered by wires, transformers, or electrical outlets, solar lighting can be installed quickly and easily, even in the most remote locations. It’s a great way to add light where wiring is too expensive or impractical. Plus, the light fixtures attach with just a few screws, instantly improving safety and giving you more time to enjoy your deck. Some homeowners prefer solar lights for ecological reasons.
What to Consider Before Installing Solar Deck Lighting
Compact and self-contained, solar lights fit almost anywhere on a deck, but some locations are better than others. Most important is orienting the lights so that they receive direct sunlight. That will keep the batteries charged and the LEDs at maximum brightness. Even fully charged, however, solar lights are dimmer than wired lights. As a result, it’s better to focus on creating a “feel” or “mood” with solar lights than to try flooding the deck in light.
Solar lights work best when they get at least six to eight hours a day of battery-charging sunlight. If you have a shady deck, low-voltage or conventional lighting may be a better option. You might also need to consider the seasonality of sunlight. In northern climates, winter days are shorter and the sun less intense, while nights are longer. As a result, the batteries in solar fixtures might not recharge enough to keep the lights bright through the night.
Solar technology has come a long way, but no amount of sunshine will make solar fixtures glow as brightly or as reliably as hard-wired ones. That’s why solar lights are typically used for accent lighting. Still, solar lights can do the job if you select the right mix of fixtures. For example, combine bright (15- to 20-lumen) post-cap lights with dimmer (5- to 10-lumen) rail-mounted lights.
Solar light fixtures have dropped in price and are often less expensive to purchase and install than traditional low-voltage lighting, especially if you pay a pro to do the work. Operating costs are also competitive with electrical lights if you assume a 10-year service life for the solar powered ones.
To get the best value, look for solar deck lights with replaceable batteries. Otherwise, you’ll have to throw away the entire fixture when performance flags or the unit fails. Expect to replace the batteries every two to three years.
Aside from changing the batteries, solar deck lights don’t require much maintenance. Just clean the solar panels occasionally using mild soap and water. You might also need to trim back plants that have overgrown the lights to ensure they get enough sun to recharge.
Installing Different Types of Solar Deck Lighting
Once you decide where to put them, solar deck lights are simple to install. Just hold the fixture over the area where you want to mount it. Then, with a pencil, mark where the screws will go, making sure that the marks are level and/or plumb. Last, drill pilot holes and screw the fixture to the post cap, railing, or stair.
How to Install Solar Deck Post Cap Lights
Make sure the caps fit over the posts, which are typically 4x4 or 6x6 inches. If there’s too much space between a post and fixture, use an adaptor. Next, remove the top of the fixture and attach the base to the post using screws or, in some cases, exterior-grade adhesive. With the fixture secure, remove the protective packaging from the battery, install it, and turn the light’s switch (if so equipped) to “on.” Last, give the battery a full charge, reassemble the fixture, and snap it into the base.
How to Install Solar Deck Railing Lights
Because solar-powered lights must be exposed to the sun, railing-mounted fixtures cannot be hidden under the railing like wired lights. Instead, these fixtures—typically wedge- or L-shaped—are mounted on the top or side of the railing, with the solar panel pointing upward and the light shining down. Other designs use a clip that attaches the light fixture to the railing’s vertical balusters.
How to Install Solar Lights on Deck Stairs
Like the fixtures used on railings, solar lights for deck stairs must shine down while the photocell points skyward. As a result, stair-mounted light fixtures resemble wedge-style railing lights, but might be smaller. Install these fixtures on the stair risers, if the deck has them, or to the bottom section of the handrail.
To find solar deck lighting at a nearby retailer, use the Decks.com Find a Retailer tool.
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