Perhaps they’re adding a bit of sparkle in your neighbor’s yard. Or you’ve glanced at a display in the aisle of a home goods store.
Decorative solar garden lights are relatively inexpensive and simple to use, but while they are popular with some users, others are less enamored with the look and quality of the products.
The key to the sunshine-powered accessories is understanding the potential and the limits, according to some vendors. They typically don’t flood a yard with anything like the amount of light offered by a traditional fixture or a professionally installed solar set-up. The light is subtle. Depending on the quality of the product, the glow may be quite dim.
“They’re really accent lights at best,’’ said Lou Manfredini, a home improvement spokesman for Ace Hardware stores.
When evaluated from that frame of reference — that they’re typically more decorative than functional — solar lights offer advantages that some users appreciate.
They’re a snap to install. No wires. No electrician necessary. Position them where you want, or re-position them, and allow the sunshine to go to work.
“They just kind of add a little atmosphere. It’s kind of like mood lighting,’’ said Erik Friedli, merchandise manager for Flamingo Road Nursery in Davie. “It just adds a little something to (residents’) outdoor living areas.”
Among the fans is Patty Harris of West Miami, a master gardener who volunteers with the Miami-Dade extension office.
She likes the portability and flexibility of the product, and the extra bit of interest the subtle lights add to the landscaping in her back yard at night. She positions them in areas where she’d like to highlight a specific feature, like a stainless steel globe.
“The solar lights give a very nice ambience,” “she said. “They’re very easy to use. They’re not as stunning as electrical lighting, but interesting, and the price is much kinder to my budget.”
Danielle Morales, manager of the shop at Flamingo Gardens in Davie, also enjoys solar lights as a decorative element at her southwest Broward home. The lights line a path in her front yard and outline the perimeter of a garden in the backyard.
The lights are sold at stores such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Target and some Walgreen’s, as well as various online merchants. Prices range from about $5 to $50 for individual solar lights and sets.
The selection includes solar lights on spikes, lanterns and string lights. Some resemble classic outdoor lighting styles, such as stainless steel and glass pathway lights. Others are whimsical, such as hummingbirds, fairies and dragonflies.
Enrique Sunkel, master electrician for Home Depot in Hialeah Gardens, said the quality, durability and array of styles is widening. The products at Home Depot include solar-powered LED lights that automatically change color. Another set of lights, in a blown glass design, resembles cattails.
The lights are equipped with relatively teeny solar panels that absorb sunlight to power the batteries.
Generally, several hours of sunlight in the day yields several hours of power at night, Manfredini of Ace Hardware said. For best performance, he said, position the lights so they’ll receive sunlight for about six hours a day.
Some solar products may include batteries that function best when they receive a full charge the first time they’re used, he said.
To maximize visual interest, Manfredini and Friedli both suggest positioning lights in groupings rather than scattered individually here and there.
Maintenance is simple. Once in a while, Manfredini said, use a paper towel to wipe off grit and debris on solar panel and the housing.