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I need outdoor security and landscaping lights, but I hate to run wiring because of the sidewalk and damage to my gardens. Has solar light brightness improved to the point where it is usable?— Ann K.

New designs of brighter solar-powered lights are a perfect match with your security and landscaping needs. With no wiring required, you will not have to dig through any of your gardens and landscaping.

Solar-powered yard lights are simple devices. They have three basic components—a light bulb, a rechargeable battery, and a small solar cell panel built into the top of the light.

To install one, just attach it to your house wall, a deck rail or steps, or push a mounting post into the ground. Generally, it is a good idea to let the sun charge it up for a couple of days first and then switch it on. All models have electric eyes that switch on automatically from dusk to dawn.

The styles of many of the new solar-powered lights have gone contemporary. For versatility, and because they are so easy to move as you change your landscaping, select ones that can be mounted either on a post or against a wall.

If you tried older solar lights before and were dissatisfied, you will be surprised at the much brighter light output, styles, and features of the new ones. The older dim incandescent bulbs have been replaced with high-tech white LED (light-emitting diode), fluorescent, and halogen bulbs. Not only are they brighter, but their higher efficiency provides more hours of light at night on a single day’s recharge from the sun.

Although not for your garden, the newest designs are solar-powered street number lights. One design that I use is a solar mailbox with my lighted red street numbers on each side. I also have another solar address locator, with 4-inch amber LED numerals closer to my front door. The numbers are visible up to about 100 feet away.

These not only ensure that the pizza delivery person finds your house before the pizza gets cold, it also enhances security. If you ever make a 911 call, the rescue squad or fire department can find your house immediately. From what paramedics say, finding the proper house quickly can make the difference between life and death.

Solar-powered lights that use LED bulbs provide the most efficiency and most hours of light at night. After a sunny day, eight to 10 hours of light is possible that night. LEDs are most effective for landscaping accent lighting and marking pathways and steps up to a deck. As a reference, they are generally not bright enough to read by at night.

The brightest solar-powered lights use small compact fluorescent bulbs. These actually produce some usable light that you can work or read near. They typically use four- or five-watt bulbs. This may not sound like much light, but at night with no other lights on, it is quite bright. The fluorescent bulbs, like LEDs, last a very long time.

For a combination of security and landscaping lighting, select an LED/halogen motion-sensing model. At dusk, the electric eye automatically switches on a dim amber LED for accent or pathway lighting. When motion is detected within 20 feet of the light, a bright halogen bulb comes on for three minutes.

Security-only, bright motion-sensing solar lights are also effective. These typically use a remote solar panel so that the light itself can be located in a shady area, like under a roof overhang. The solar panel, less than one foot square, is attached to the light with a tiny wire. These can cycle on and off more than 100 times on a single day’s charge from the sun.

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