It’s that startling moment when the lights go out in the middle of the night.
You haven’t had time to mount your flashlights next to your bed. And you can’t find your candles in the complete dark. As you stumble about, you notice a white glow coming from your vegetable garden.
It’s the solar lighting you put out there earlier this year.
Often overlooked as a preparedness tool, solar lighting is something we should all consider. You can use them in many other ways than just looking pretty: from increasing egg production, to charging batteries, to preparing your unprepared loved ones.
Here are six hacks to maximize the usefulness of this green gadget:
1. First, replace the batteries
Yep, manufacturers lower their costs in building solar lights by using low-quality batteries. It’s often why solar lighting gets mixed reviews – it’s not the light, but the battery that failed. Replacing the low-quality ones with higher quality batteries is the secret to both longevity and efficiency of using solar outdoor lights indoors.
There’s a lot of debate out there on whether to use NiCD or NiMH batteries (such as the amazingly awesome Eneloop, of which I find myself collecting). If you live in a climate with moderate temperatures and a good amount of sunlight, a NiMH battery is your best choice. If not, opt for quality NiCD batteries, as they will tolerate a broader range of conditions than a NiMH will.
2. Turn it into a battery charger
Solar lighting can be used as a battery charger. You can use solar lights to charge batteries during the day, and then remove the batteries and use in other devices. Solar outdoor lights then serve double-duty and give you extra flexibility.
When looking for outdoor solar lighting that might be used indoors or as a battery charger, be sure it has an on-off switch. You’ll save energy for other uses and you may not want your house lit all night. Plus, a switch will allow you to convert it into a dedicated solar battery charger.
Most lights house a single battery, but if you get solar lights with at least two batteries, the light output is quite a bit more, and your charging capacity has doubled.
3. Remove the shades
Because the decorative shades impede the light, removing them will expose more light and the difference can be drastic.
4. Duct Tape over the light sensor
Most outdoor solar lights have a small sensor that works to turn off the lights at dawn. When using them indoors,you may also have other light sources that would trigger the sensor, so use some of your massive stock of camo duct tape to tape over it, effectively disabling it temporarily and keeping the light on.
5. Light up your coop and increase egg production
Increase egg production by putting a solar lamp in a chicken coop in winter and get more “daylight” for egg production. The solar lights can be hacked to extend the solar chip outside of the coop, while keeping the light itself inside the coop.
6. Prepare the unprepared
As I’ve said before, one of the best ways to prepare the unprepared is by giving practical gifts that can be used in an emergency. And this is a sly one.
You can’t very well show up with a hostess/birthday/Christmas gift of a Lifestraw (well you can, but you’ll probably compromise your OPSEC in the process), but you can show up with a wonderful treat for their lovely garden or eating area. And the bonus is you won’t have to explain yourself to a chorus of “are you like one of those doomsday preppers on TV?”
Pair the lights with a pack of good rechargeable batteries, and baby, you’ve just set them up with a solar battery charging solution that also runs double-duty as emergency lighting – cleverly disguised as a gift.
Solar Lighting options
So where to get good solar lights? It’s tough: If you buy online, you’ll encounter a lot of mixed reviews. If you pick some up at a dollar store, there’s no reviews at all to rely upon. And buying a cheap light just because it’s cheap won’t get you anywhere, worse yet, it will give you a false sense of security.
I’m a firm believer in doing your research – and online shopping. When I shop online at a site like Amazon, I can review the reviews and do price-comparisons to make sure I’m getting the best option out there. I’ve reviewed about a dozen options and these are my top three picks for outdoor solar lighting for the purposes as discussed:
1. Inexpensive Power-Houses
At less than $2 a piece, these solar lights are an inexpensive solution. I don’t plan on using these lights as a replacement for regular bulbs; and at this price, as one reviewer pointed out, you couldn’t buy the solar cell, battery and LEDs. This is an ideal set to gift to an unprepared loved one as well – the price is low enough to pair with some smashing batteries without busting the budget — and you’ll be preparing a loved one with a sneaky solar battery charger as well.
2. A Spot-On Spotlight
A spotlight is also an excellent choice – they tend to have larger solar panels and charge faster. This one, while it has a few mixed reviews (mainly due to damage in shipment) is the one for me. I just bought a tiny house and plan to use it to light my flag at night until someone I love needs some batteries charged.
3. Hanging tree lights
What can I say? I’m a total girl when it comes to the “pretty” factor. These solar lights for trees have pretty good reviews and well, they’re just so flippin’ pretty. Plus, you can just flip them upside down for indoor use. Perfect for my sister-in-law and her lovely (and useless, non-fruit-producing) trees. She won’t even know that I just set her up with a solar battery charger like a total “prepper”.
So there you have it, 3 options for solar lighting and 6 hacks you can do to them to make them more survival-y. Are you using solar outdoor lighting in a novel way in your preparedness plans? Do tell!