Central Oregonians are proud of their weather. On many occasions, you are likely to hear such exaggerations as, “In Bend, it’s sunny 360 days out of the year.”
Even more often, area residents are harnessing the energy of the sun for reasons of convenience and cost cutting. Many locals have also caught the green fever, empowering them to help save the planet by slashing their own need for man-made power.
Affordable solar garden and pathway lights, which are not particularly bright and may better serve as decorative additions, are one way to add visual interest to the garden without creating an additional strain on the environment — or the pocketbook. This solar lighting often illuminates the edges of the driveway, a garden path or the exterior of the house itself.
Michael Ridden, owner of The Solar Store in Bend, deals in spotlight sets for the home’s exterior as well as multi-light sets intended for pathways, driveways or even a balcony or wall.
While certain lights are fueled by a solar panel directed toward the sun, others have small solar panels embedded on top of the structure.
Most solar lights are easy to install, Ridden notes. Depending on the type, the light could simply be mounted on a wall or stuck into the ground using an attached stake.
“A lot of people like these kind of lights because they don’t have to run wiring to individual fittings, which can be a big expense,” Ridden notes. “I like it because it shows people who haven’t experienced solar power that it actually does work.”
Ridden and his wife live completely “off the grid” — with no commercial electricity — in Central Oregon.
“In addition, we’re not using fossil fuels for our lighting, which is always good,” Ridden says.
A set of lights at The Solar Store could run anywhere from $49 to $149.
One of the most bemoaned disadvantages associated with the still-popular garden lights is their lackluster brightness.
“The smaller accents lights for gardens and patios are not so bright,” Ridden notes. “They’re really better for decorating.”
Ridden says that most lighting stores cannot compete with big-box outfits like Lowe’s and The Home Depot on pricing, so they forgo selling the small garden lights altogether. That goes for landscapers as well.
“Those (accent garden) lights are not very bright and can be cheaper looking,” says Dana Oppenlander, owner of Green Thumb Landscaping in Redmond. “They’re mostly plastic, and you just pull them out of the box and stick them in the ground. It’s a glow more than a light. I’m not aware of many landscapers who use them.”
The lights function by way of either a solar panel attached to the top of the light, a mounted solar panel, or batteries that are recharged by the sun. They charge during the day and illuminate starting at dusk.
“Some people throw out these lights thinking that they don’t work anymore,” Ridden observes. “Most times they just need to replace the batteries, which have a life of three to five years.”
Ted McCabe, electrical sales employee at The Home Depot, notes that the store has been selling the small solar lights for many years with ever-growing success. Most are 4 inches tall and 4 inches in diameter, coming in a variety of styles.
“We sell quite a few now, mostly because you don’t have to run wires all over the place,” McCabe says. “Customers generally have a mixture of lighting. They might put in solar lighting where you can’t easily run wiring.”
For those few cloudy days each year, however, Central Oregonians will be out of luck and in the dark.
“The downside comes if it’s cloudy or rains all day,” McCabe notes. “The light will still charge a bit, but it won’t last as long.”