Garden lights review

More work is needed before solar garden lights become anything more than decorative.
 
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01 .Introduction

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10 solar and 14 12V garden lights priced from $3 to $105 per light

When CHOICE tested solar garden lights nearly three years ago, we were disappointed with the outcome; weak battery life with low illumination was the order of the day. We could only recommend most of them for decoration, which didn’t say much for either the battery or solar technology they used. Fortunately, improvements have since been made in battery life, although not a lot has changed in the solar technology in the 10 lights on test, ranging from $3 to $95 each.

We also tested 14 12V garden lights, ranging from $4 to $105 per light. We compared light intensity across all products and tested the battery life of the solar products, giving them a battery life score. Only the light intensity score is directly comparable between the two types of lights in the results table. There is only a light intensity score for 12V lights, as they don't contain a battery.

There is no What to Buy list as solar lights are not effective enough to light a path or garden area so are purely decorative. Style also plays a large part in choosing 12V lights; however, those with a 90% score for light intensity are capable of lighting a driveway if lights are placed on either side, depending on the number of lights used.

Please note: this information was current as of March 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Brands tested

Solar

  • Brilliant Colonial Twin Pack LED Solar Light 60358/06
  • Brilliant LED Motion Sensing Solar Bollard 60368/16
  • Gardman 4 Solar Post Lights 18071
  • Homemaker Lifestyle Set of 10 Plastic Solar Garden Lights 40-417-103
  • Homemaker Lifestyle Set of 10 Stainless Steel Solar Lights 40-417-264
  • HPM Solar Accent Mini Marker Light Set 5-pack RSLSSSB5
  • Nelson Solar LED Light and Bug Zapper MGLSL027
  • Nelson Stainless Steel Solar LED Tier Light MGLSL020 (A)
  • Solar Magic Solar Garden Lights 2-pack GLCSS2
  • Solar Magic Solar Garden Lights Stainless Steel 12-pack GL12

12Volt

  • Arlec 4 Tier Lights Garden Lighting Kit LV8
  • Arlec Night Glow Garden Light Kit 6 Lights LV67
  • Brilliant Madrid 12V LED Oval Bollard 80983/16
  • Brilliant Vista In-ground Bollard 60106
  • Commercial Electric DIY 12V Outdoor Halogen Light CEHL12SB
  • Commercial Electric DIY 12V Outdoor LED Bollard Light CELED12BLB
  • Horizon Duncan 4 Piece Stainless Steel Garden Light Kit 60336/16
  • Horizon Tierlight 4 Piece Garden Tier Light Kit 60341/06 Black
  • HPM Mackay 2-Tier Pathlight RGLVPL
  • HPM Professional Choice Pathlight Set-Verdigris RGLKV5
  • Magic Garden 12V Extra Low Voltage LED Georgian Pathlight Kit MG3
  • Magic Garden LED Garden Light Kit 10-Pack GLKP10
  • Nelson Broadway Path Light MGLSS07 (A)
  • Nelson Stellar Pathlight MGLSS04 (A)

(A) Discontinued but may still be available in some stores

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Solar light update

We've checked the tested solar lights’ battery and panel durability and found that after five months' continual use in a garden, the majority lost battery life. Although two models battery life score remained identical and one increased 45 percentage points, eight models’ battery life score decreased between 5 and 55 percentage points. We'll test again in another 6 months. See the table, below. 

Brand / model (in order of updated battery life score)
Original battery life score (%)Updated battery life score (%)
Brilliant LED Motion Sensing Solar Bollard 60368/16
100 100
HPM Solar Accent Mini Marker Light Set 5-pack RSLSSSB5
100 100
Solar Magic Solar Garden Lights 2-pack GLCSS2
45 90
Gardman 4 Sunpower Solar Post Lights 18071
90 85
Homemaker Lifestyle Set of 10 Plastic Solar Garden Lights 40-417-103
100 65
Homemaker Lifestyle Set of 10 Stainless Steel Solar Lights 40-417-264
100 60
Nelson Solar LED Light and Bug Zapper MGLSL027
85 50
Solar Magic Solar Garden Lights Stainless Steel 12-pack GL12
55 20
Nelson Stainless Steel Solar LED Tier Light MGLSL020
50 15
Brilliant Colonial Twin Pack LED Solar Light 60358/06
60 5

Solar lights results table

Solar lights PERFORMANCE SPECIFICATIONS
Brand / model (in rank order) Overall score (%) Battery life score (%) Light intensity score (%) On / off switch Number of lights per pack Number of batteries Type / size of battery Height (cm) Price ($) Price / light ($)
Brilliant LED Motion Sensing Solar Bollard 60368/16
www.blinklighting.com
88 100 60 1 3 Ni-Cd, AA 40 95 95
Homemaker Lifestyle Set of 10 Plastic Solar Garden Lights 40-417-103
www.kmart.com.au
79 100 30 10 (B) 1 Ni-Cd, AAA 37 25 3
Homemaker Lifestyle Set of 10 Stainless Steel Solar Lights 40-417-264
www.kmart.com.au
79 100 30 10 (B) 1 Ni-Cd, AAA 37 35 4
HPM Solar Accent Mini Marker Light Set 5-pack RSLSSSB5
www.hpm.com.au
79 100 30 5 3 Ni-MH, AA 13 95 19
Gardman 4 Solar Post Lights 18071
www.brunnings.com.au
78 90 50 4 1 Ni-MH, AAA 51 40 10
Nelson Solar LED Light and Bug Zapper MGLSL027
www.nelsonlamps.com.au
69 85 30 1 1 Ni-Cd, AA 30 20 20
Solar Magic Solar Garden Lights Stainless Steel 12-pack GL12
www.merlindistribution.com.au
54 55 50 12 1 Ni-Cd, AA 28 39 3
Brilliant Colonial Twin Pack LED Solar Light 60358/06
www.blinklighting.com
51 60 30 2 1 Ni-Cd, AA 40 35 18
Nelson Stainless Steel Solar LED Tier Light MGLSL020 (A)
www.nelsonlamps.com.au
50 50 50 1 1 Ni-Cd, AA 34 30 30
Solar Magic Solar Garden Lights 2-pack GLCSS2
www.merlindistribution.com.au
41 45 30 2 1 Ni-Cd, AA 24 10 5
 

Using the table

Solar scores The overall score is made up of:

  • Battery life: 70%
  • Light intensity: 30%

Table notes

(A) Discontinued, but may still be available in some stores.
(B) Available in other kit forms.

Price Recommended retail, as at February 2009.
Price ($) / light Rounded to the nearest whole dollar.

12V lights results table

12V lights PERFORMANCE SPECIFICATIONS
Brand / model (in rank order) Light intensity
score (%)
Type of light Wattage
stated (W)
Full kit Number of
lights per pack
Height
(cm)
Running cost
per year / light ($)*
Price
($)
Price/light
($)
Brilliant Vista In-ground Bollard 60106
www.blinklighting.com
90 Halogen 50 1 60 17.90 99 99
Commercial Electric DIY 12V Outdoor Halogen Light CEHL12SB
www.commercialelectric.com.au
90 Halogen 10 1 30 5.40 18 18
Horizon Duncan 4 Piece Stainless Steel Garden Light Kit 60336/16
www.bunnings.com.au
90 Halogen 10 4 30 5.00 155 39
HPM Professional Choice Pathlight Set-Verdigris RGLKV5
www.hpm.com.au
90 Halogen 20 5 20 9.90 129 26
Nelson Broadway Path Light MGLSS07 (A)
www.nelsonlamps.com.au
90 Halogen 20 1 50 8.70 40 40
Nelson Stellar Pathlight MGLSS04 (A)
www.nelsonlamps.com.au
90 Halogen 20 1 47 9.10 50 50
Brilliant Madrid 12V LED Oval Bollard 80983/16
www.blinklighting.com
70 LED 2.9 1 50 2.80 105 105
Arlec 4 Tier Lights Garden Lighting Kit LV8
www.arlec.com.au
50 Incandescent 4 4 31 1.70 59 15
Arlec Night Glow Garden Light Kit 6 Lights LV67
www.arlec.com.au
50 Incandescent 4 6 31 2.20 90 15
Commercial Electric DIY 12V Outdoor LED Bollard Light CELED12BLB
www.commercialelectric.com.au
50 LED 1 1 50 2.60 55 55
Horizon Tierlight 4 Piece Garden Tier Light Kit 60341/06 Black
www.bunnings.com.au
50 Incandescent 5 4 25 2.60 69 17
HPM Mackay 2-Tier Pathlight RGLVPL
www.hpm.com.au
50 Halogen 5 (B) 1 32 4.00 5 5
Magic Garden 12V Extra Low Voltage LED Georgian Pathlight Kit MG3
www.merlindistribution.com.au
50 LED 0.46 5 35 0.60 90 18
Magic Garden LED Garden Light Kit 10-Pack GLKP10
www.merlindistribution.com.au
30 LED 0.21 10 46 0.50 40 4
 

Using the table

12Volt scores The overall score is made up of:
Light intensity: 100%

Table notes

* Running cost per year/light was based on usage of five hours every day for a year. Also includes transformer power usage, so costs may vary.
(A) Discontinued, but may still be available in some stores.
(B) Available in other kit forms, contact distributor for details.
Price Recommended retail, as at February 2009.
Price ($) / light Rounded to the nearest whole dollar.

How we test

Solar

  • Battery life Our tester conditions the batteries for 48 hours under direct sunlight prior to conducting the battery life test. He then exposes the lights to various lighting conditions, such as full and filtered sun, and cloudy conditions, over 12 days. At night he brings them inside and electronically measures how long they stay lit, up to a maximum of 12 hours.
  • Light intensity He also assesses the intensity of each light in a dark room.

12Volt

  • Light intensity He assesses the intensity of each light in a dark room and how easy the lights are to install. He also calculates the yearly running cost based on using one light.

Garden light essentials

  • Lighting kitScrew in placement means more security, otherwise garden lights can be easily pulled out and stolen.
  • Buying your lights in a kit makes for easier installation – solar kits contain multiple lights, while 12V kits include the lights, cables and a transformer.
  • A separate solar panel makes it easier to place solar lights under a shade structure, as the separate panel can be placed in the sun.
  • Motion sensor is useful for temporarily lighting up an area more substantially when something passes by.
  • Halogen lights in 12V systems tend to give more light intensity, however they use more energy than LEDs.
  • Dusk/dawn sensor detects the sunset/sunrise light and, if it’s too low, turns on the garden light.

 

 

Installing and using solar lights

Installing most solar garden lights usually involves pushing or screwing the lantern into the upright post and then inserting the whole assembly in the ground. The ground may have to be watered first to make sure the stake can be driven in easily without breaking.

The Brilliant LED Motion Sensing Solar Bollard 60368/16 comes with three screws and plastic plugs so it can be fixed to a hard surface. It also had the best light intensity score out of the solar models.

The HPM Solar Accent set comes with only one solar panel and five lights, each with a 3m cable that can be plugged into the panel. This means the lights can be installed in a shaded area so long as the solar panel is in a sunny position.

The Nelson Solar LED Light and Bug Zapper does what its name suggests – there were a few bugs on the coil after three nights of exposure.

If the solar lights fail beyond their usual 12 month warranty period, it’s worth replacing the rechargeable batteries that come with solar lights. The originals may be the cheaper, nickel-cadmium variety which have a limited recharge value and are quite toxic. Nickel-metal hydride batteries are more expensive but last longer. Check our test of rechargeable batteries.

Installing and using 12V garden lights

It’s not difficult to install 12V lights but it takes more time than installing solar lights as they need to be plugged into a mains power supply via a transformer. You need to position the lights where you want them in the garden, lay out the cable, connect the lights to the cable, connect the system to the transformer and check all the lights work. You then install the lights and bury the cable under the soil.

There are a number of excellent performers for light intensity in the 12V range, with the Horizon Duncan kit having the lowest energy usage of the excellent performers. The Arlec Night Glow Garden Light Kit comes with a light sensor that detects sunset light and, if it’s too low, switches the system on for two or six hours, or from dusk to dawn. A dusk-to-dawn sensor can be purchased separately from hardware stores for the other models.

When you don't purchase a kit

Buying individual 12V lights rather than a kit means you will need to buy the cable and a transformer as well. Cabling prices depend on length and quality of the cable. We found adequate cabling for $35/20m. If you need to get long runs of cable, say 18m–25m, you’ll need heavy duty cabling; otherwise the lights at the end of the run will get less voltage.

The size of the transformer depends on the number of lights connected to it and their wattage – five 50W lights require a transformer that can provide at least 250W of power. The higher the output of the transformer, the more expensive it will be. As a guide, we found a 105W transformer for $60 and a 500W one for $250. It may be worth shopping around, and keep in mind that some are waterproof while some need to be kept out of the weather.

You might want to get a quote from an electrician to see if a mains-connected system compares with an extensive 12V installation.

For information on each model, see the tables. Here's what they look like if you're searching for them in store.

Brilliant LED Motion Sensing Solar Bollard 60368/16

Brilliant LED Motion Sensing Solar Bollard 60368/16

Price: $95 / light
Overall score 88%


 

 

Homemaker Lifestyle Set of 10 Plastic Solar Garden Lights 40-417-103

Homemaker Lifestyle Set of 10 Plastic Solar Garden Lights 40-417-103

Price: $3 / light
Overall score 79%


 

 

 

Homemaker Lifestyle Set of 10 Stainless Steel Solar Lights 40-417-264

Homemaker Lifestyle Set of 10 Stainless Steel Solar Lights 40-417-264

Price: $4 / light
Overall score 79%


 

 

 

HPM Solar Accent Mini Marker Light Set 5-pack RSLSSSB5

HPM Solar Accent Mini Marker Light Set 5-pack RSLSSSB5Price: $19 / light
Overall score 79%


 

 

Gardman 4 Solar Post Lights 18071

Gardman 4 Solar Post Lights 18071

Price: $10 / light
Overall score 78%

 

 

 

Nelson Solar LED Light and Bug Zapper MGLSL027

Nelson Solar LED Light and Bug Zapper MGLSL027

Price: $20 / light
Overall score 69%

 

 

 

 

Solar Magic Solar Garden Lights Stainless Steel 12-pack GL12

Solar Magic Solar Garden Lights Stainless Steel 12-pack GL12  Price: $3 / light
Overall score 54%


 

Brilliant Colonial Twin Pack LED Solar Light 60358/06

Brilliant Colonial Twin Pack LED Solar Light 60358/06

Price: $18 / light
Overall score 51%






Nelson Stainless Steel Solar LED Tier Light MGLSL020 (A)

Nelson Stainless Steel Solar LED Tier Light MGLSL020 (A)

Price: $30 / light
Overall score 50%







Solar Magic Solar Garden Lights 2-pack GLCSS2Solar Magic Solar Garden Lights 2-pack GLCSS2

Price: $5 / light
Overall score 41%



(A) Discontinued but may still be available in some stores.

For information on each model, see the tables. Here's what they look like if you're searching for them in store.

Brilliant Vista In-ground Bollard 60106

Brilliant Vista In-ground Bollard 60106

Price: $99 / light
Light intensity score 90%


 

 

Commercial Electric DIY 12V Outdoor Halogen Light CEHL12SB

Commercial Electric DIY 12V Outdoor Halogen Light CEHL12SB

Price: $18 / light
Light intensity score 90%

 

 

 

Horizon Duncan 4 Piece Stainless Steel Garden Light Kit 60336/16

Horizon Duncan 4 Piece Stainless Steel Garden Light Kit 60336/16

Price: $39 / light
Light intensity score 90%


 

 

HPM Professional Choice Pathlight Set-Verdigris RGLKV5

HPM Professional Choice Pathlight Set-Verdigris RGLKV5

Price: $26 / light
Light intensity score 90%


 

 

Nelson Broadway Path Light MGLSS07 (A)

Nelson Broadway Path Light MGLSS07 (A)

Price: $40 / light
Light intensity score 90%


 

 

 

Nelson Stellar Pathlight MGLSS04 (A)

Nelson Stellar Pathlight MGLSS04 (A)

 Price: $50 / light
Light intensity score 90%


 

 

 

Brilliant Madrid 12V LED Oval Bollard 80983/16

Brilliant Madrid 12V LED Oval Bollard 80983/16 Price: $105 / light
Light intensity score 70%


 

 

Arlec 4 Tier Lights Garden Lighting Kit LV8

Arlec 4 Tier Lights Garden Lighting Kit LV8

Price: $15 / light
Light intensity score 50%

 

 

 

Arlec Night Glow Garden Light Kit 6 Lights LV67

Arlec Night Glow Garden Light Kit 6 Lights LV67

Price: $15 / light
Light intensity score 50%


 

 

Commercial Electric DIY 12V Outdoor LED Bollard Light CELED12BLB

Commercial Electric DIY 12V Outdoor LED Bollard Light CELED12BLB

Price: $55 / light
Light intensity score 50%

 

 

Horizon Tierlight 4 Piece Garden Tier Light Kit 60341/06 Black

Horizon Tierlight 4 Piece Garden Tier Light Kit 60341/06 Black

Price: $17 / light
Light intensity score 50%

 

 

HPM Mackay 2-Tier Pathlight RGLVPL

HPM Mackay 2-Tier Pathlight RGLVPL

Price: $5 / light
Light intensity score 50%


 

 

Magic Garden 12V Extra Low Voltage LED Georgian Pathlight Kit MG3

Magic Garden 12V Extra Low Voltage LED Georgian Pathlight Kit MG3

Price: $18 / light
Light intensity score 50%


 

 

Magic Garden LED Garden Light Kit 10-Pack GLKP10

Magic Garden LED Garden Light Kit 10-Pack GLKP10

Price: $4 / light
Light intensity score 30%




(A) Discontinued but may still be available in some stores

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