Tags: solar lights

4-Piece Solar Light Set

09/07/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Outdoor Living, Lighting, Solar Power

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com/HFRreviews.html

Solar Light
Item: 4-Piece Solar Light Set
Item number: 93863
Retail price: $14.99
Frequent sale price: $12.99
Target price: $9.99
Item Link

We've tested quite a few of these solar-powered lights over the past few years and until recently have been quite happy with them. They seemed to cruise through the first Buffalo Winter Test, survive the second, and begin to drop-off rapidly during the third and fourth summers into our testing. The current failure rate (even with battery replacements) is acceptable but disappointing considering their very strong start. Perhaps we're expecting too much out of an inexpensive (cheap?) set of solar-powered yard lights, but it's our money and we demand what we demand, and we didn't expect to have to replace them all within 4 or 5 years' use.

The good news is that about half of these solar-powered lights have survived their first three Buffalo Winter Tests providing strong lighting throughout the night after a moderately good day of sunshine. The bad news is that around half of the remaining lights fail to come back to life even with battery replacements and that those which do only provide modest lighting after a bright sunny day and have at best a faint flickering light by morning. The actual number of replacement batteries in the lights that are still working well has not yet been tabulated. It seems that at least a few are still on their original factor-supplied batteries, but we need to tally up all of the five 4-piece sets to be certain. We do note and have come to expect that they run much longer than their advertised 8 hours even during the winter months, although at this point it is difficult to recollect if they performed this well on their original batteries (our replacement batteries are rated at 2500 [Chinese] mAh, while the factory-supplied batteries are 600 mAh).

We've mounted most of these solar-powered lights about 2 1/2 feet about the ground along a fence every 8 to 10 feet for the perimeter of our backyard plus a mid-line intersection. This gives the lights plenty of access to sunshine throughout most of the year including the winter months and times the grass seems a little longer than it should be during the hot summer months (actually, it's never really all that high, imo :-/). With an couple of color-changing solar-powered LED lights (one 15 feet and another around 7 feet off the ground) and the addition of a string of 50 flashing blue LED lights stretching across a gate which intersects the area, the backyard has been quite brightly illuminated for the first several years deeming it affectionately "the puppy airport" in honor of Sasha (it's her backyard; see our "Pet Stake" review for a picture of her) and the occasional stray airplane flying overhead en-route to the Buffalo airport. The effect was quite attractive year round but particularly stunning in the quiet winter nights after a light snowfall which reflects the LED lighting brightly illuminating the entire area.

The lens protecting the photocells seemed very fogged after two or three years' use. The lights themselves are a favorite perch for Robbins and other birds and that might expose the lenses to a different type of 'raining acid.' Also, moths and other cocoon-forming insects love the inside compartment around the battery and electronic circuit, probably because it's a warmer (dark colored) protective housing for them too. The problems that we have with these solar-power lights might be related in part to the combined bird and insect attacks, but then we don't live in a desert. At least part of the lens clouding seems to be from the use of UV-reactive plastic for the clear cover protecting the photocell because it won't clean off with soap and water but does scrape off with a razor blade along with a thin film of plastic. (Or maybe it's a reaction to bird-acid, but we aren't planning on running any tests to explore this possibility without the support of a large government grant!)

Bottom line: If you can find them at our low target price, we still consider these solar-powered yard lights to be a good bargain. We've just damped our enthusiasm from the first two years when they seems to work flawlessly except for a few battery replacements. By the end of the second Buffalo Winter Test, they're definitely a mixed lot of the good, the bad, and the shine-only-after-a-bright-day (every with replacement batteries!) lights.


3-Piece Decorative Solar Light set

07/21/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Hot Buys, Outdoor Living, Lighting

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com

Changing Color Solar Lights
Item: 3-Piece Decorative Solar Light Set
Item number: 95588
Retail price: $29.99
Frequent sale price: $15.99
Target price: $12.99
Best price: $7.99 (with coupon)
Item Link

The pricing on this item at Harbor Freight™ varies so much it really demands comparing four different price levels. (Even the "frequent sale price" has increased from $14.99 earlier in the season.) It's a good buy at the target price and can add a bit of subtle charm to your outdoor living space. We loved ours so much that we rushed in to the local Harbor Freight outlet when we received a flier with a $7.99 coupon for this item. But atlas, we were duped by the advertised lost-leader price.

The item itself is great. For those of us who are not in to garden gnomes, this set might seem at first to be a bit cheesy. After all, butterflies, dragonflies, and hummingbirds seem to be close relatives to the gosh little Scandinavian critters found in many gardens. In actuality, however, these solar lights are inconspicuous by day with their transparent ornamental tops and thin 30" aluminum stakes, and they give off a soft, color-changing glow at night in the shape of a butterfly, dragonfly, or hummingbird. With only a single LED contained in each one, they don't really provide any area lighting, just a subtle touch of color to the nighttime garden or entryway. The colors slowly fade from red-to-green-to-blue, and they manage to keep running through much of the night. All-in-all, they add such a nice, soft light that even a garden-gnome hater finds them cool.

Bottom line: A good buy at the target price or even slightly higher and a near steal if you can find a set at the "best price" (with coupon). Annoying to have been advertised at an incredibly low price and then continuously "out-of-stock."


10 Piece Stainless Steel Solar Light Set (#66249)

07/14/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Outdoor Living, Lighting

Link: http://www.HarborFreightReviews.com

Stainless Steel Solar Lights
Item: 10-Piece Stainless Steel Solar Light Set
Item number: 66249
Retail price: $39.99
Target price: $24.99 or less
Best price: $19.99
Item Link

Their stainless steel construction with a dull copper finish compliments most yard/entryway decor. The light output is from a white LED bulb (13,000 micro candelas) powered by a single rechargeable 1.2 volt (600 mAh) AAA NiCd battery located in each fixture. This puts off a nice, soft, bluish-tint illumination characteristic of this type of LED light. The output seems somewhat lower than that found with some of the more expensive solar lights, but they are perfectly adequate for most path/entryway markers and for soft accent lighting.

Price warning: With the summer fully underway, our local Harbor Freight outlet is again pushing these solar lights for the FULL retail price of $39.99. At this price we do NOT recommend purchase of this light set because of its high failure rate noted in the review which continues below. Buy at the target price or below, and they're a good deal; otherwise, hold-off purchase until they go on sale for $25 or less later in the season.

The solar lights have a convenient auto/off/on switch easily reachable underneath their caps. This is especially important for charging the NiCd batteries to their full capacity before allowing them to discharge through their normal cycle (NiCd batteries have a 'memory effect'). We typically allow our batteries to charge via the solar cells for two to three days before using them in their normal function, or we remove the batteries and charge them directly with a NiCd battery charger to insure maximum charge before first-use. Most of the lights work throughout the night until morning during a typical Buffalo summer and last at least half-way through the night during our overcast winters. Be careful with the plastic stakes that break-off rather easily in hard or frozen soil (don't try to straighten them during the winter). Otherwise, they are physically sound except for the lens fogging issue noted below. (Hint: if you find that the lighting duration has become unacceptably short after use and you don't have a battery charger, you can switch the lights "off" and let the solar cells recharge them for a couple of days to regain a full cycle if the batteries are still good. Running through a few fully discharged/fully charged cycles often rejuvenates the battery's capacity.)

The lenses covering the solar cells on many of our test lights clouded-up after only a year and some of the rechargeable batteries failed prematurely (batteries should last two or three years with solar lights). In fact, of the several sets we purchased at a local Harbor Freight retail outlet about 20% have failed right-out-of-the-box and nearly 40% have various problems by the second season. At the low sale price of under $25, we simply purchase additional sets for replacement rather than return the lot for another batch which may have the same failure rate. And the replacement batteries we buy directly from China are inexpensive and boast a higher mAh capacity (e.g., typical nominal value of 2,000 mAh but actually 1,000 mAh or less) than that originally supplied with the lights.

Other online reviewers have been uniformly pleased with these solar lights, a few noting problems but most asserting they were trouble-free. It's interesting to note that many of the people that haven't had problems are from California. Perhaps the drier climate and the milder winters prolong the life of these lights. The low humidity could be a factor in why others haven't seen the lens fogging, or perhaps the outdoor air quality is just better than what we experience here in Buffalo, New York (EPA Air Quality Rating of 3 out of 10 being the best). Overall for the cost, these solar lights are the best value around if they fit your need. The quality control issue is somewhat frustrating, but the value remains in the low purchase price which allows economical replacement of defective units.

Bottom line: Not a bad buy but not the best Harbor Freight has to offer. Aesthetically pleasing the first year but reliability falters after only one season outdoors. We still recommend their purchase because of their low price (only when on sale) and their aesthetic appeal. You won't find a better value on a stainless steel solar light anywhere.

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This review and discussion forum was created for those of us who love Harbor Freight(tm). It's well known to those who frequent the store that the prices are always cycling up and down, and most of us usually accept it as a personal challenge to get the lowest price possible. It's also well appreciated that some products at Harbor Freight are good, even very good, but that many others are also substandard, yes, even junk. This review and discussion forum is dedicated to the savvy Harbor Freight shopper and is intended to provide some guidance to the best and the worse buys. Similar products from other retailers will also be reviewed from time-to-time. Please be advised that everyone's experience is unique, and what works well (or doesn't work at all) for the reviewers here may or may not suit your personal needs. With this caveat and with notification that Harbor Freight Reviews assumes no liability for the accuracy of information provided here for educational purposes, enjoy the forum and good 'sa(i)ling' at Harbor Freight!


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