Post Lights and Other Tall Solar Lights for Outdoor Illumination

Solar post lights, pole lights and column-mount lights put a lantern- or globe-like light fixture 5 to 6 feet above the ground. If the tall solar light is bright enough, then it will provide outdoor area illumination – especially useful along a driveway or where the front walk begins.

If the light is dim, then the light will function as a marker, which still may be useful, such as for a light atop a pair of roadside columns to indicate the opening of the driveway to the road.

Tall lights (compared to close-to-the-ground path lights) are available in many shapes and designs, several of which are described in this article.

Benefits of tall solar lights

Tall solar lights share the benefits of solar outside lights generally. They are not connected to the household electrical wiring, so installation is simple. You can easily mark the entrance to your driveway or install pole lights along the edge of a driveway for illumination without having a long run of wires.

You don’t need to remember to turn them on or turn them off, and their electricity comes free, converted by the fixture’s components from sunlight.

Maintenance is minimal, requiring only that you change the rechargeable batteries every 6 months to 12 months and wipe clean the photovoltaic panel on top of the unit once in awhile. The lamps (bulbs) in solar fixtures are LEDs, which will last for years.

Tall light styles

Post-mount solar lights (post lights) replace wired lanterns atop posts, which are typically used at the sidewalk end or driveway end of a walk. The post may be made of wood, painted to match the trim of the house, or painted white. The fixture may sit on top of the post or on an arm.  It may be a traditional lantern or  a contemporary post cap light.  Either way, it will lend a distinctive look to the front landscape. Post cap lights glow and tend not to illuminate their surroundings, however.

Pole-mount lights work well along a driveway. They may be in a traditional street lamp style or an austere contemporary style in copper, stainless steel or aluminum.

Column-mount solar lights are set on existing brick or stone columns, used in pairs at the end of a drive. If the column is traditional stone or brick, then a traditional lantern would be a good match.  A contemporay stone column could be matched by a contempory light fixture.

Brightness of LED lamps

Brightness has been a challenge for LED lamps in the past, but recently the problem has been overcome in some types of solar lighting. With a large enough number of LEDs, large enough PV panel and a large enough battery, solar lights are capable of providing floodlight illumination. That doesn’t mean that a particular post light, sitting 5 feet above the ground, will illuminate the area as brightly as you would like. You need to look carefully at the description of the components and specs for the light output in lumens to verify that it will be bright enough to meet your needs.

How bright is bright enough? LED arrays tend to have a narrow light spread (up to around 140 degrees). To light their surroundings their light will probably be directed upward and then reflected out to the sides. Some of the light will be absorbed inside the fixture. For area illumination from a single post light, you will probably want at least 800 lumens, about the light output of a 60-watt incandescent bulb.

For driveway illumination from a set of pole lights, each should output at least 200 lumens (equivalent to a 25-watt incandescent), and you will need several of them.

Lux: A measure of brightness

The most useful measure of brightness is the amount of light that falls on a surface, measured in lux (lumens per square meter of surface area) at some specified distance from the light. You are unlikely to find any solar light manufacturer that specifies the brightness of its fixture in lux. So you will be left to decide subjectively whether the light you buy is adequate for your needs. While the lumen figures above are not absolutes, they are least an indication of what to look for. Lights that output this quantity of light will not be cheap because they must have many expensive bright white LEDs and corresponding PV cells and battery to light them for a few hours each night.

If the lights you find for this application have no specification of lumens, then either pass them by or be sure you can return them.  A specification of watts tells you very little, since watts are a measure of power going into a light, not a measure of light output. So a manufacturer gets away with saying its light is “similar to a 100-watt incandescent bulb”, when in fact its power consumption is 8 watts and its output is about 450 lumens – that of a 40-watt bulb. Even less useful is the description, “Contains 8 super-bright LEDs,” with no indication of its power consumption, light output, PV power or battery capacity. Why would you pay $150 or more for this pig in a poke?

Misrepresenting brightness

Our personal favorite is the line, “Our lights make better use of their lumens,” to justify their misrepresentation. In fact, LEDs are directional; they shed light in one direction or in a narrow spread. So they will be more efficient in their watts per lux (not lumens) than a standard incandescent bulb, which glows in all directions, when put in a fixture that is open in only one – a downlight. But the statement is laughable when it is used in a comparison to a higher-wattage incandescent. Properly they should compare their bulb to a PAR reflector bulb, which is also designed to shed light in one direction. A lumen is a lumen is a lumen.

We have found just one manufacturer in the US that appears, based on its specs, to be making post lights with enough light output to be useful, and we are happy to pass on the name to our readers: Solar Illuminations, a solar light maker that sells to the public, but not your usual web retailer. Be sure you can live with their terms of sale and returns. Hopefully, other vendors will make similar lights available to consumers in the future.

There is a wide variety of outdoor light styles for every situation and taste. A tall light such as a post light, set of pole lights, or pair of column-mount lights makes a distinctive impression in the yard, and a tall solar light makes for easy living and no electricity cost to run, so it’s a smart choice to add elegance — provided it is also bright enough to add outdoor area illumination. LED lights are a wonderfully useful product in some applications, but consumers need to make sure they are suitable for their particular use.

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