Nothing could be easier to use than a solar light. Each unit consists of three basic components which include an LED bulb, one or two rechargeable batteries and a photovoltaic panel to keep the batteries charged. The internal wiring is simple, and there is no external wiring. However, even easy-to-use accessories will wear out quickly or fail to perform properly if you don't use them correctly, and the same is true for solar lights. You don't have to understand how a solar light works to use one properly, but it doesn't hurt, and if you do have a grasp of the basics, you'll be able to perform more complex repairs.
A Simple Lighting Circuit
The basic circuit inside a solar light is similar to that of a flashlight. The battery terminals are connected to the LED in a simple loop circuit. Take out the batteries and the LED won't function, period. In addition, there's a circuit that connects the PV panel in the top of the light to the battery terminals, and there's a switching device that turns off the bulb when the sun is out and the batteries are charging. The switching device is a tiny light sensor that is usually located next to the panel. Most solar lights also have a manual switch located right next to the battery compartment. You may have to disconnect the light from its base to access it. It has to be on for the light to function.
Putting Your Light Into Service
Most people who purchase solar lights unpack them from the box and stick them in the ground as soon as they get them home. If you do this, you might notice that the light doesn't stay on all night, and that's because the batteries didn't have a chance to charge fully.
To get the maximum amount of illumination that lasts all night, as simple procedure must be followed. Remove the plastic tabs from the battery and set the light out in the yard in full sun. As soon as the sun goes down, either turn off the light switch or remove one of the batteries to prevent the light from coming on. Repeat this procedure for two or three days before leaving the light on at night.
Choosing a Location
The PV panel needs full sun, so if you can, set the light in a part of the yard or garden unhindered by tree branches or other sources of shade. If you want to place a light in a shady spot, consider buying one with a remote panel connected to the light with external wires. Place the light where you want it and put the panel in a sunny spot, such as the top of a fence post.
Avoid placing the lights or remote panels close to street lights, garden lights or any other source of illumination that could trick the sensor into thinking the sun is out. If your light isn't burning brightly, and the panel is near an external light source, try tilting it away from the light and toward the sun.
Keep the Panel Clean
Besides making sure the panels are facing the sun, you should clean them periodically with soap and water, or they won't charge the batteries completely. The covering is plastic, so avoid using solvents, such as acetone, that can turn the plastic cloudy. The plastic will degrade in the sun and rain and turn cloudy by itself after a year or two. You can usually replace the plastic, but because solar lights are inexpensive, it's probably just as cost effective to replace them when this happens.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.