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8/13/20 Solar Lights vs. Fairy Lights for Illuminating a Walkway
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Solar Lights vs. Fairy Lights for Illuminating a Walkway

by Felicia A. Williams

With the recent stay-at-home order that came along with the COVID-19 pandemic, I managed to learn quite a bit about solar and fairy lights. Why solar and fairy lights you ask? Well, for some time, I wanted to illuminate my walkway, driveway, and deck. I live in the 1960s built raised ranch that hasn’t been updated. Back in the 60s, having an abundance of electric outlets wasn’t a thing. If you have a few outlets in the room, that was good enough. Outdoor outlets just weren’t happening.

Since I have no outdoor outlets, I wanted to illuminate the outside areas without using electricity. I could have hired an electrician to outfit the house with several outside sources of electricity, but that cost more than I wanted to spend. I had to find a cheaper alternative. After all, during a pandemic, one must conserve resources.

Illumination Alternative #1: Solar Lights

My first illumination attempt was with solar lights. I purchased several types over the years that had several functions.

Walkway Lights

Moonray Solar LightsTo line the walkway, I purchased several sets of Moonray lights. They’re rather attractive and give a magical star-like glow. I found them to be a bit bright, but they did what they were supposed to do. The only problem I had with them is one or two of the solar tops would not sit properly on the base. As such, during inclement weather involving strong winds, the top would fall off thus preventing the light from illuminating at night.

Additionally, the stem for these lights is long, which makes them sit up about a foot off the ground. Having a plethora of wildlife and two rambunctious grandchildren, the lights would get dinged and slant or fall over. Eventually, the stake in the ground would break. When that happened, I had to find a workaround to keep them in place.

Despite the mishaps and inconveniences, I used these lights for four years (they’re still around, just not on my front walkway).

Driveway Lights

Litom Solar LightsSince my driveway is tree-lined and on a steep incline, I thought it would be nice to have motion sensor solar lights that would illuminate when a person or car came down the driveway. To accomplish this, I purchased the Litom lights. They are small solar powered motion sensor lights. I placed them on each tree that lined the driveway. They were great for the first two years. As I pulled in or backed out of the driveway, they would illuminate. Unfortunately, they stopped working. One of the lights went crazy and blinked all night, so I took it down. Eventually, the rest stopped working.

Driveway Lights part 2

Driveway Solar LightsAfter the tree lights died, I tried something different. I purchased a set of 12 small solar lights that insert into the ground. Like the walkway lights, the top of the light sits about 8 inches above the ground. I placed them at the base of each tree. The lights are much dimmer, but they’re good enough to line the dark driveway so folks could see where the grass ends and the driveway begins.

The only problem I’ve had with these lights is lawn maintenance (hubby whacking the heck out of them with the weed wacker) and large trucks backing up the driveway not seeing the lights and running them over. Ten of the set of 12 are still illuminating the driveway as I write this (but not for long).

Driveway Landing

At the bottom of the driveway is a circular landing. The landing is not lined with trees, so I had to come up with something different to illuminate the landing. As such, I purchased CYBERDAX Solar lights that were flat and closer to the ground. The lights worked great, but unfortunately, they were too close to the ground. Between weed whacking and snow shoveling, these lights got pretty beat up. They still work, but they are not pretty to look at.

Front Door

Inarock Solar LightRight outside of the front door, affixed to the wall is an Inarock solar light. I've had it for a few years (4 and a half as of this writing) and it still works. As a matter of fact, it works too well. I think I purchased a light that is too large and too bright for my needs. It does still work after a few years so I know it’s durable. Just the wrong light for me.

Illumination Alternative - Fairy Lights (A COVID Craft)

I’ve got to thank COVID for one thing. It got me to recycle old things and put them to good use. After all, I was stuck in the house for months, might as well be productive. ;)

My first experience with fairy lights occurred last Christmas when I decided to forgo the traditional electric lights. Testing the waters, I ordered various brands of colorful battery operated fairy lights. I found the fairy lights to be a learned success. I say learned because, among other things, I had to learn the nuances of each set and where to strategically place the battery pack on each set of lights.

Having purchased lights from various manufacturers, I needed various remotes to operate the lights. However, I did find that I could control different sets of lights from the same manufacturer with a single remote.

NoteLesson Learned: Buy lights from the same manufacturer to ease the remote control burden.

I also learned that there are various types of battery packs. Some were heavier than others, while other battery configurations lasted longer. Some lights were better “protected” than others. For Christmas lights that were entwined in pine needles, I found it easier to decorate using lights that were encased in a plastic covering. The true fairy lights that are basically drips of lights on copper wire were more difficult and delicate to navigate around the tree. They all worked and survived, but I preferred a hardier light set for the tree.

NoteLesson Learned: When decorating a Christmas tree use plastic-encased lights.

Some sets were basic with only an On/Off switch. Others had up to 8 different functions. Among those functions were features such as twinkling, blinking, color selection and much more. It took me an entire Christmas season to finally nail down what I preferred. Fortunately, the 8-function sets had remote controls.

Walkway Lights - Learning Past Experiences

Having gone through the Christmas fairy light experience somewhat prepared me for the task of illuminating the front walkway. First of all, I knew I didn’t need twinkling colored lights. I opted for warm white non-blinking lights to illuminate the outside of the house. However, there were still other features to consider when using fairy lights. As such, I experimented again with different brands that had different features. Here are the brands I chose:

  1. Large battery pack with basic on/off switchANJAYLIA 10' set of lights. The Anjaylia lights use 3 AA batteries and has a basic battery pack with an On/Off switch. This 10-foot long set of lights do not claim to be waterproof. Because of the lack of waterproofing, I used them on the indoor screened-in porch. These lights work,and are functional, but I found I could get the same function and more for less money. I paid around $8 per set for these lights.

    I use rechargeable batteries so I won’t have to purchase new batteries constantly.
  2. Small battery packLife Glow 12 pack. I purchased a pack of 6’ fairy lights from WalMart that were much less expensive than the basic lights mentioned above. A set of 12 only cost about $15. The battery pack is compact and uses 2 flat CR 2035 (3Volt) batteries. I like these lights because the battery pack is smaller and less noticeable. They, too, only have an On/Fff feature. They are not advertised as waterproof, but I’ve hung these fairy lights out on the deck and the rain doesn’t seem to affect them (they survived tropical storm Isaias). What I like about them is they’re cheap and functional and apparently rainproof.

    These lights came with batteries (unlike the other fairy lights I purchased), but the batteries are not rechargeable. The fact that the batteries are not rechargeable isn't a deal breaker because the batteries seem to last and they're not expensive to replace. I purchased a pack of 10 batteries for about $5.
  3. Yihong Fairy LightsYihong set of 4 fairy lights. I like these fairy lights the most because the lights can be operated via remote control or battery pack. In addition to the remote control, the lights have a timer function. The warm white 16’ strand comes with a 3 AA battery pack. I paid about $15 for a set of 4 lights. The battery pack is large and bulky, just like the ones I describe in #1 above, but the pack is waterproof. The On/Off switch in addition to 8 lighting options can be controlled both on the battery pack and remote control. That I like.

    Since the timer function is limited to only 6 hours on and then off for 18, I set the timer to illuminate the fairy lights at 8 PM. They remain on until 2 AM and then turn off. They turn on again at 8 PM the following day.

    I’ll have to change the timing to coincide with the seasonal changes. I’m writing this in the summer, so it starts getting dark here around 8:30 pm. As the fall and winter roll in, the start time will get earlier and earlier.

Rechargeable Batteries

Another lesson learned with these lights is the efficiency of rechargeable batteries. I charge the batteries using an EBL charger. While the EBL charges the AAA batteries quickly, the AA takes longer, as one would expect.

PowerOwl BatterySince using the outdoor lights, I’ve switched the brand of my AA rechargeable batteries from Amazon Basics to PowerOwl. PowerOwl batteries have 2800 mAh power (average hour) while Amazon Basics High-Powered battery has 2400. I’ve also tried Duracell rechargeable batteries but was very disappointed. They ran out of juice and required recharging more frequently than the Amazon Basics or the PowerOwls.

Bottom Line:

Although I used three types of fairy lights to illuminate the outside of my house, my preferences in order are as follows:

  1. Waterproof battery pack with timer and remote control (Yihong)
  2. Small battery pack. Low cost but effective (Life Glow)
  3. Large battery pack with on/off switch. (Anjaylia)

How I Made My Fairy Lanterns

Deck LightsNow that I’ve given you all of the reasons why I use the lights that I do, next, I’ll show you how I made my fairy lanterns. Wait...this article is entirely too long. I’ll share the light-making process in the next article.

About the Author: Felicia Williams is a wife, mother and grandmother who likes to write about a host of topics.

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Last Modified: 13 August 2020

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