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Outdoor LED lights can help you save energy by providing exterior lighting that consumes very little energy. But before you go stocking up on solar-powered LED landscape lights or LED security lights, you should first think about the product life cycle energy costs of what you are buying, and how much you really need the outdoor lighting. If you're going to light up your back yard so that it looks pretty for the ten seconds each evening that you glance out at it, you might want to do a cost-benefit analysis. And as for security lighting, did you know that having security lights on all the time not only causes light pollution (for those of us inclined to gaze at the stars) but can actually make it easier for someone to break into your home? We can divide outdoor LED lights according to their power source, their voltage, and their purpose. For power source, the choices are solar powered (all-in one unit, or separate solar panel with wiring to connect to the light), grid connected, or battery powered. LED lights come in a variety of voltages, with 120 volt grid connected the most popular, followed by 12 volt DC since this is a common power source for solar electric systems. The purpose can range from security, to safety/utility, to setting. Solar power is one obvious power source for outdoor LED Lights. There are plenty of inexpensive products that combine a solar panel, a battery, and outdoor LED lights so that sunlight captured during the day is released at night. You have probably seen the old-style incandescent or fluorescent solar landscape lights, typically green or stainless steel plated. They consist of a stake you shove in the ground, a lamp above, and a small, cheap-looking photovoltaic module on top. They also typically throw off very little light, and only early in the evening. Why is this? There are actually three reasons: 1. The photovoltaic modules low-quality - how else can anyone sell them for $2.50 each? 2. The rechargeable batteries are also low quality, so they stop holding much of a charge after a few weeks. 3. The lights are incandescent or fluorescent. Fluorescent is better than incandescent but neither is anywhere near as efficient as LED's. Good-quality solar LED landscape lights solve these problems with higher quality solar modules, improved battery technology, and above all, less electrical demand from the LED's. Of course, if

you buy LED landscape lights at $2.50 each, they're still likely to fail early on. There's no substitute for quality. Solar powered floodlights and security lights typically come with higher quality, higher capacity batteries and solar array than LED landscape lights. But they also need more sunlight, so if you buy one of these make sure you have a spot that gets several hours of full sunlight a day to charge it. Some LED flood or security lights come with a length of wire between the panel and the fixture to give you more flexibility over where the panel goes. But remember that outdoor LED lights consume so little electricity, that a grid-connected LED light may make more sense. For example, a 50-foot long LED rope uses just 40 watts - if it's on just 3 hours a day throughout the year, it will cost less than $5 a year for the electricity. Spend the money you saved on a solar panel and batteries, on some other, more profitable energy efficiency upgrade. Safety/utility lights are any lights that help you make safe and effective use of outdoor areas. For example, LED flood lights can be used to light up a garden or yard for evening dining, and a solarpowered LED shed light helps you light up a dark shed without having to run wiring to it from the house. Outdoor LED lights for creating a setting or mood can be low-intensity ground-level lights to light up a garden path, trees or plants, or other yard features. Or they can be rope lights or bulb strings along a fence, garden border, or in a tree. Security LED lights with motion sensors can light up an outdoor area brightly when movement is detected at night. Because the LED's use little electricity and are typically not on for very long (unless you have a particularly determined burglar on your porch, or a very hungry raccoon), you can get a lot of light even from a solar-powered LED security light with a small solar panel and small built-in battery unit. The simplest option for a security LED light, if you already have an outdoor security light, is to switch the existing incandescent bulb to a compatible LED bulb. Again, a solar module makes a good conversation piece at a patio party but it isn't the most energy efficient use of your money. If you want to light up your outdoor spaces so you can eat outside, find your way to the garage at night, barbecue in the dark, or otherwise turn your yard into an extension of your indoor living place, there are a number of great outdoor LED light options. LED rope lights can light up an outdoor area brightly enough for a social setting. You can string LED rope lights up along fences, attach them to house walls, or line a pathway with them. They can easily be connected to the grid (just plug them in) and you can buy lengths anywhere from 8 feet to 150 foot reels. LED barbecue lights are simple solar- or battery-powered LED lamps you can use to see what's happening on the barbie when it's dark out. They clamp to an unheated area on the barbecue unit and you can direct their light down on the grill to check that those grill marks are perfectly aligned, or to test meat for doneness.

LED shed lights are typically solar-powered modules where you place a small solar panel on an outside wall or on the shed roof, facing the main path of the sun, and the light itself at the doorway to, or inside, the shed, so you can find what you're looking for. Of course, just putting a transparent plastic section of roof material down instead of plywood and asphalt will give you plenty of light from dawn to dusk, so the shed light is really only needed if you use the shed after dark. The line between safety/utility and setting is a bit blurry, since being able to see the plate of food in front of you could be a safety issue, while the subdued lighting of a candle at your dinner table could be more for the mood. Since we're at the dinner table let's start with options for dining. LED candles are a great choice for gentle lighting at the table, both indoors and out. These candles are made of translucent plastic that has the appearance of real wax; they have a small black wick on the top; and an LED light inside flickers inside, giving the appearance of a candle. LED candles are battery powered and a single battery can last 200 hours or more. Umbrella LED's are another battery-powered option. They mount on the shaft of your patio umbrella, and light up the table below. LED landscape lights are the sensible replacement for those ever popular but always dim solar landscape lights sold over the past 10-15 years. LED post cap lights are a new addition: caps you can put on the top of 4x4 wooden posts along your patio edge. They are capped like a standard post cap and have a solar chip embedded in the top of the cap to charge the battery during the day. The light is emitted from a glazed section below the cap. These protect your posts from rain damage better than a wooden post cap and provide free lighting at night for years. We'll be seeing more and more LED technology over the coming years, as quality improves, costs come down, and electricity prices go up. I'm pleased by this development for two reasons: we need to cut our energy use as much as possible to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, so LED's can help there; and for those of us who have already started the migration to lowerwattage lights by installing fluorescent lighting, we've had to suffer through the typically unattractive, glaring light of our fluorescent bulbs and tubes, and LED's, unlike fluorescents, can truly provide a more natural, muted light.

Robin Green is the owner of, a website dedicated to helping people save energy on heating, cooling, lighting, and other energy uses in their homes. For more information on LED lights for both indoor and outdoor use, see his pages on LED house lights and Outdoor LED lights.

BY ronald van dijk.

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Lighting Up The Outdoors With LED's.  

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