Here, you will learn about 10 quick fixes and one major one that should help your outdoor lights to shine again.
Is It Really Broken?
The first thing you need to do is test your solar lighting to check that it is in fact actually broken. Simply cover over the solar panel, giving the impression that it’s night and thus forcing the lights to come on if they are operational.
The way how a solar lighting device works is that it’s off when there is daylight. This time is used to build up a store of energy in the batteries. The energy then powers the lights when it gets dark. If your lights aren’t working, it may be that there is an alternative light source hitting the panel, giving a false impression that it’s still daytime.
Sometimes the fix can be as simple as moving the panel ever so slightly so that it’s reading of whether it’s day or night is accurate. You moved the lights to a different spot but it still did not help? Well, it does look like your lights are broken. Try these 10 fixes to repair outdoor solar lights that stop working.
10 Quick Fixes
Replacing the batteries
Some solar lights have rechargeable batteries, which charge during the day and then discharge at night.
As time goes by and the lights go on night after night, the batteries will naturally lose their charging ability.
If the lights stay on for increasingly shorter periods of time at night, even after charging on the sunniest of days, it’s a good indication that you need to change the batteries.
A good battery should work for at least two years, or maybe longer, before needing replacement.
Check battery strip! Another easy check is to make sure your batteries haven’t come loose from their strip. If they don’t touch the contacts of the terminal they won’t charge. If you found that a battery has come loose, allow it a couple of days to recharge before using it again.
Avoid shadowed areas especially where they reach over the solar panel in the few hours either side of noon when the sun is at its height.
Check your panel every few months just to make sure the panel isn’t being hit by shade during these hours.
If you placed your solar panel in the middle of summer, the shadows were at their shortest. However, with the change of seasons, the sun gets lower in the sky and the shadows are getting longer. You may need to move the lights to a different spot to take the shadows into account.
Check the solar panel angle
The runtime of your light can really be affected by the angle of your solar panel. This is especially true in winter when the sun is at its lowest. If the angle of your panel is easily adjustable then having it positioned at 45° will give it access the most sunlight available.
Does it face south?
As with satellite dishes, solar panels are at their most effective when they are pointing the right way.
The sun rises in the east and sets in the west so if the solar panel is facing south it will get the sun from morning through to evening. The light will still work if not positioned to face south but just not to its fullest potential.
Check for water infiltration
Solar lights may occasionally be affected by water intrusion or ingress. If your light is designed and manufactured well this shouldn’t be so much of a problem.
The ingress protection (IP) rating of your product will tell you how well protected against moisture it is. Aim for one that has a high IP rating to get the best possible protection.
Water might not necessarily be a problem, with many units capable of allowing water to run off without going anywhere near the electrics, but in the event that it is water that has caused the fault in the light there are things you can do to remedy the situation:
- Take off any cover that could potentially be storing moisture and put the light in an airing cupboard for a few days to dry it out. Put it back together ensuring the batteries are properly positioned, let the light charge over a couple of days, then resume use.
- Always check the manufacturer’s instructions. A correctly installed solar light that has a warranty which may include a stipulation covering water ingress. It means that you can simply contact the manufacturer to get your light replaced. You may be required to provide photographic evidence of the problem.
Verify the power switch
Too obvious to even mention? Believe it or not – no! It’s not every solar light that has a power switch but if it does then just make sure it’s on.
Here are a few things to verify:
Have you plugged it in?
It’s a thing – really! A remote solar panel separated from the lamp needs to have its solar panel cable plugged in properly and if it has waterproof connectors they must be tightened completely.
Some solar lights have their batteries stored inside the panel while others have the batteries stored inside the head of the light but it all comes down to the same thing – if the batteries can’t be charged or the amount of charge getting from the battery to the lamp isn’t sufficient you’ll only ever be disappointed in the outcome.
Using grid power
Using a line power charger or taking the batteries out to charge them by the electrical grid is only a good idea as long as you use the power charger that came with the light.
Solar panels have a very specific voltage which is compatible with the circuitry and voltage of the battery. There’s a chance that the wrong grid power charger could damage the circuits or charge the batteries too much. This may damage your light irreparably and will void the warranty. If you are taking the batteries out, make sure to charge the unit using the correct charger.
Motion Detector Lights
Some of the more advanced solar lights have finely tuned sensitive motion detectors which can be programmed so that small animals don’t set it off. These are called passive (PIR or infra-red) solar lights.
When planning to install solar lights with this kind of feature, think about the following factors:
- The height at which you want to install the unit
- Its proximity to the movements you’re aiming to have it detect; for example, how far away the lights are from the walkway or driveway
- Whether the PIR light motion detector sensor points to the area where you expect the motion to occur; for example, if it points towards the walkway
All of these have an effect on where you place the lights.
Basically, if your solar light isn’t going on when it needs to, set it up on the highest level of sensitivity. Then, reduce the strength bit by bit until you’ve got the light working at the level you want.
Charging behind glass
This may happen if your solar lights are completely or partially shadowed by the glass, for example, a glass roof of a patio or outdoor room. Also, it happens if you charge your lights behind a window.
Although we may be able to sit at a window and get benefits from the sun, the same rule doesn’t necessarily apply to solar panels.
More often than not, modern glass has double and even sometimes triple glazed surface to protect human being from harmful rays. However, it makes the sun rays hitting the solar panel completely useless. Outside is always the best place to position the panel. Choose a spot with good access to direct sunlight to allow it to fully charge.
Muddy solar panel
Sometimes, you might find the performance of your solar panel declining over time. One of the reasons is a buildup of dirt and dust. Simply give it a quick clean using a damp cloth once in a while and enjoy the bright light again.
Cleaning the lights’ cover
Clean the see-through casing both inside and out with soapy water, get rid of any bugs, and dry it off.
If, after all this, your solar light still doesn’t work, you might want to consider contacting the company the unit was purchased from. If the warranty is not expired yet, you shouldn’t have any difficulty in getting a replacement.
A Major Fix*
If it none of these quick fixes work then it may be that the issue is more serious. It may require you to take the solar light apart.
Be aware, though, that interfering with the workings of the solar light and panel will invalidate any warranty currently in place.
If you’re confident that you can repair it yourself then follow these steps:
#1. Take the light fitting apart
Most of the lights that are sold at home improvement stores are held together with screws fitted around the edges.
Remove the screws. The covering of the light which is usually glass or plastic may twist apart so don’t forget to check for that.
Once you open it, take away any large removable parts.
Make sure you take note of how to reassemble them for when you’re finished. If the unit has rechargeable batteries, remove these as well. If they are soldered into place then leave them where they are.
Recharge the batteries if you have managed to remove them.
#2. Check the circuitry and LED
Check the electrical circuit for any damage.
Look for something that could be preventing the circuit from working. It could be broken wires, rust, or loose parts. If you can, try to replace the damaged pieces.
If you don’t have a soldering iron to solder the wires, use wire cutters to strip the insulation from the wires (If you do not have wire cutters, follow these instructions). Then, twist the bare ends together.
If you have a broken switch, cut it out and again strip and twist the wires together.
If the LED is dull, consider removing it and replacing it with a similar LED.
#3. Reassemble it back
Put the now repaired and cleaned parts together again
Put back in the batteries, which, at this point, should be at least partially charged.
Put your finger over the resistor which is usually found next to the panel, then switch it on. If the LED lights up, it means you have successfully fixed your solar light.
*Taking the unit apart will void your warranty, so think carefully before proceeding*