Solar powered lamps and lanterns look chic, cost little and provide good light. Perfect to bring a balcony or garden into a lounge mood. TechStage introduces suitable LED lights.
Thanks to Corona, the garden or balcony will be a popular destination this year and a replacement for pubs and beach bars. So it makes sense to pimp up your own garden. With solar powered jewelry lights, such as lanterns, fairy lights or mason jars with LED, you can bring the flair of a beach bar home and that for comparatively little money. In this guide, we present the different approaches that can be used to create a comfortable lighting mood without a power connection. We initially limit ourselves to decorative lights, ie no “real” lighting for paths or the illumination of dark corners. Here we are planning a further contribution that deals with these solutions in a dedicated manner. If you are looking for something like this, we recommend taking a look at our tests on cameras with integrated lighting, such as the Netatmo Presence (test report). We show more about these devices in the topic of surveillance cameras. We have summarized atmospheric and smart lighting effects for interiors in our own guide.
The great advantage of solar lights is their independence from the power grid. Most products work according to a simple principle: a solar cell generates enough electricity during the day to charge a battery. As soon as it gets dark, the LEDs in the respective lamp turn on and then light up until the battery is empty. How long the light duration is depends on several factors. In addition to the capacity and quality of the battery, it is essential how much sunlight falls on the collectors during the day. If the lamps hang in the shade, this ensures less runtime than when they are in the blazing sun. In practice, however, this is not really tragic, especially with new devices. We were able to get lighting from lamps hanging in a tree shade for several hours during the day.
Chinese lantern, chain, glass
If you want to beautify your balcony or a seating area in the garden, you will probably use hanging solar lamps. Basically you have the choice between three types:
- Chinese lanterns
- Fairy lights
- LEDs in (canning) glasses
All three have their advantages and disadvantages, as we learned in the practical test. Chinese lanterns are large and catch the eye quickly. Several lanterns, hung high, provide a cool impression and a real lounge feeling. The disadvantage, however, is that the large screens around the LEDs magically attract dirt. We had several lanterns in trees that were more or less deliberately soiled by birds. The next problem is space. Especially if you want to hang up several lanterns, it quickly gets tight. For the best effect, they should hang a little higher, the good places for the hooks quickly become tight.
Fairy lights bring many small lanterns at once, which can be hung flexibly and only need a few fixed hooks. In addition, most lampion chains have an external solar module that can be placed several meters from the lights. So you can ideally place it in the sun. In the test, however, we had the problem that the cable on one or more lanterns was defective at some point. This causes parts of the chain to fail and it looks kind of stupid.
The glass variant also looks very cool, especially if you hang several at different heights. Unlike lanterns and fairy lights, there are versions here that provide enough light to read a book, for example. The glasses are significantly heavier than the lanterns or fairy lights. So you need solid hooks to hang them up. But they are much easier to clean than the lanterns. If you like, you can fill the glasses additionally and provide more flair. But be careful, because condensation forms inside. So you shouldn’t use paper or similar materials.
Plugs with LEDs and solar are less suitable for the seating area, but can achieve very good effects in the garden. With this, for example, flower beds or ponds can be marked well in the dark, and a rough marking of the path is also possible. However, the light output should be sorted in the direction of fireflies rather than a headlight.
The advantage of the products is the great variety in design. Whether glass ball, butterfly or the like, there are almost no limits to the taste. The downside is that they’re more or less disposable products that are over after one or two seasons. More on this in the section on sustainability.
Protection classes: weatherproof or waterproof?
The solar lamps are mostly exposed to the elements all year round. Accordingly, when buying, you should pay attention to how robust the products are. Many formulations may be similar, but they do not always mean the same thing. If a lamp (or its cover) is weatherproof, it does not necessarily have to endure a downpour.
Those who want to be on the safe side are looking for products with IP certification. These indicate how well the products are protected against dust and water, the higher the number, the better the protection.
For the practical test, we tried several lanterns, chains and glass lights from different manufacturers and price ranges. The place of use is a shady outdoor area in which we sat longer in the evening. Most products started automatically at dusk, depending on how much light came through the canopy. This works reliably and looks very good with multiple products. The sun lens can be activated by hand and then shines directly downwards. All other products tend to rely on LEDs that are attenuated by larger or smaller screens, or on an LED chain. However, what we just noticed about the lanterns was the very cold, white light. The next time we bought it, we would rather go for a warmer light color.
Despite the shady location, all products could charge enough during the day to give enough light the next evening. Clever: if that is not enough, you can charge the sun lens via micro USB.
An important point is how long you can use the products. Unfortunately, this goes hand in hand with the prices. The cheaper the lights are, the less likely it is that components can be replaced. The integrated battery is particularly vulnerable. Temperature fluctuations as well as frequent charging and discharging ensure an early end. Technical defects are also likely to occur, especially the cheap devices are often not reliably processed. This particularly affected the solar plugs for plant beds, several friends reported that they replace them more or less annually.
Most products now offer a replaceable battery. Depending on the processing, this can already ensure a significantly longer operating life. We want to highlight the manufacturer Sonnenglas as a positive. Its solar lights are not only properly processed, Sonnenglas offers a free two-year guarantee, for which you have to register the device up to two months after purchase. If a breakdown occurs during this time, you can contact customer service and get spare parts.
As is usually the case with these devices, the price range is up to several 100 euros for designer items. We spent almost 100 euros in the test to get a reasonable mixed lighting of glasses, lanterns and solar chains. For most products there are matching devices in the price comparison, with the exception of Mason jars with LEDs. These are mainly available from Amazon.
LED chains and lights in mason jars quickly became our favorite. They are significantly more robust than the lanterns and give off a very nice light. The products from Sonnenglas are particularly bright, they are not only decorative lighting, but are also good for illuminating a dining table in the evening, for example, or for providing enough light in the reading armchair. In addition, the company offers very good support, you get replacements for two years. This is unknown to most other providers. We also liked the fairy lights. You can use it to decorate a wall quickly and easily and create a mood.
There is nothing wrong with driving a mix of different products. Lanterns could flank the entrance or the corners, sun glasses provide the necessary light above the dining table and other LEDs in glasses or on a chain further enhance the mood.
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