It might surprise first time owners to find that their new solar lights come with an ‘on/off’ switch.
For some, this presents an incredible urge to fiddle with, much like the hypothetical but dubious ‘Do Not Press’ button that always seems to get pressed and usually to disastrous end.
But, believe it or not, the engineers behind this on/off switch had a purpose and it’s actually one worth knowing.
Solar lights should be turned off when not in use for any long length of time as this can increase the longevity of your light’s internal battery.
Every battery has a limited number of cycles – charge and discharge – and by turning off your solar light, you stop any unwanted cycling of the battery, saving it for a time where you do desire the light to perform.
It can be also detrimental to your battery for the charge to drop too low.
If you place your solar lights in a dark place for an extended period of time, such as you would for storage, and leave the lights switched to ‘on’ then your solar lights may continue to try and operate.
And without sunlight to recharge them, the charge on the internal batteries could be depleted, adversely affecting the overall capacity of your solar light.
Solar Lights: Pathway Vs. Motion Detect
It’s worth addressing the obvious fact that not all solar lights have the same function.
Some solar lights will illuminate in the absence of sunlight, while others are also designed to engage after nightfall, but only when motion is detected.
These differences in function should be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to utilize a ‘on/off’ switch.
In the case of pathway lights, normal operation is for the light to engage whenever sunlight levels drop. This will happen, day after day, without any input from the user.
However, in some locations, it might be desirable for a user to remove their solar lights from their outdoor location and temporarily place them in storage.
Where I live, for example, it is normal to have several feet of snow fall during the course of a winter. Clearly, my lights would not work well when buried in a snow bank.
More importantly, I would not want to hit one with my snowblower. This would destroy my light and be a potential risk for anyone encountering the many ‘chewed-up’ pieces that would be shot out and spread at random.
In this situation, it is easy to see how I would want to turn off my solar lights as they would be sitting in a box in storage for several months.
Motion detect solar lights generally have a different function than that of decorative pathway lights and as such, the decision to utilize a on/off switch must be approached differently.
For a motion detect light, the battery will not be called upon to discharge its stored energy until both sunlight levels are low and motion in front of the light has been detected.
In other words, it is possible that the light will not come on at all, thusly reducing the risk of battery fatigue by unnecessary cycling.
And as motion detect lights are quite often devices employed year round – rarely put in storage – the reasoning for utilizing an on/off switch becomes quite limited.
When it comes to normal everyday operation, generally speaking, solar lights operate without any major input from their user. Provided the lights are setup correctly and adequate sunlight is present, a homeowner should not have to give them a lot of attention.
However, in the case where the light will not be used – especially for any long length of time – then it would be to your benefit to turn the solar light off as this will save on battery cycles and prevent any low levels in the battery that can cause permanent damage.
For an in-depth look at battery technology and their specific use in outdoor solar lights, check out: Can You Use Normal Batteries In Solar Lights?