If you’re like many Americans, you’re probably living a more sustainable lifestyle today than you were a decade ago. You’ve probably unscrewed your last incandescent bulb and made the switch to CFLs or LEDs, a simple change that can save Americans almost $6 billion per year and significantly reduce energy usage. Perhaps you’ve replaced your windows, added insulation or bought a hybrid vehicle — all moves designed to use less energy while allowing you to live the kind of life you want to.
In addition to using less energy, Americans are also using more renewable energy sources than ever before. About 13 percent of electricity in the United States comes from renewable sources, and solar power, in particular, is enjoying a major boom, with a 30 percent increase in production in 2014 over 2013 levels.
Even if you don’t have a suitable rooftop for hosting solar panels, you can still make use of this completely renewable technology in your home. Solar lights are easier than ever to find at your local hardware or home good store, and they’re a great way to make your landscape more sustainable — and beautiful.
How Solar Lights Work
Solar lights have a photovoltaic cell — a miniature solar panel — that captures energy from the sun and stores it directly into a small battery inside the light. While the sun is shining, the battery is charged. Most lights also have a light sensor that triggers the light to come on at dusk and remain burning until dawn. As the light shines at night, the battery is drained, but it is recharged in the morning as the daily cycle starts again.
Solar Lights in the Sustainable Landscape
Most people think of sustainable gardening as an organic practice, and this is certainly a major part of it. Using compost instead of chemical fertilizers, collecting water in rain barrels and using natural controls instead of pesticides are all hallmarks of eco-friendly landscaping, but why stop there? Solar lights offer the possibility of making just about all of your home’s outdoor lighting completely sustainable. Some ways to light up the landscape include:
Path Lighting: Decorative lamps on stakes are easy to insert into the lawn along walkways, adding an element of safety and interest to light the way to your door or patio.
Step Lighting: Small, low-profile solar lights attach to the riser of your outdoor steps and shine a light down on the treads, making tripping in the dark a thing of the past.
Lamp Posts: Tall solar lamp posts can flank your driveways, light a mailbox by the street, or add a touch of elegance to a patio or other outdoor seating area.
String Lights: Always whimsical, a string of fairy lights or lanterns add a festive air to your backyard when strung from trees, the rafters of a pergola, or along a fence.