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How To Get Started With Solar Power (Simple Solutions!)


solar lighting outdoors

The fundamental rule of home efficiency is simply this – the less you spend on electricity, you more money you have left. Solar is a longterm return-on-investment approach to improving home efficiency.

I have always wanted to take advantage of solar power. The idea of harnessing the power of the sun to power devices around the home is so appealing. But I didn’t want to learn all about inverters and wiring. I wanted simple solutions that I could start taking advantage of immediately.

And I found them!

Simply ways to begin taking advantage of solar include:

  • Outdoor lighting around landscaping, pools, decks, or yard borders
  • Solar Trickle Charger for car, boat, or lawnmower
  • Outdoor Solar Cellphone Charger
  • Solar Powered Animal Deterrents
  • Pool Maintenence & Heating
  • Solar Home Security
  • Solar Battery Packs (aka solar generators)
  • Creating a Power Outage “Safe Room”

Let’s explore each of these and look at some creative ways that you can begin taking advantage of solar power today without feeling like you need to become an electrical engineer!

Solar Is Great. Learning Solar Can Be Complicated.

The idea of running electrical devices off the power of the sun is enticing. Save money on your electrical bill, add lighting in places where you do not currently have electrical capabilities such as a back yard area, and even have emergency power on standby in the event of a power outage.

But it’s complicated, isn’t it? All of the different components that are required to set up a solar system – solar panels, inverter, batteries, charge controller, and understanding how to wire it all up…. It just feels like a lot of work.

The good news is that there are some very simple and easy options available for you to begin introducing the benefits of solar power in and around your home.

Understanding The Long Term Return On Investment Of Solar

As the saying goes, a penny saved is a penny earned. Where implementing simple solar devices into your lifestyle may initially feel like an expense, I prefer to look at it as an investment.

Every electronic device that I can convert to solar in and around my home may cost me a little in the beginning but saves me in energy costs month after month.

Reducing my reliability on the electrical grid helps my pocket book over time as well as providing a sense of peace in knowing that, when there is a power outage, I still have outdoor lighting and other solar powered devices that will not make me look as much like a victim as other houses when the looters come calling.

This is a lesson I learned the hard way as a result of living through three hurricanes in Southeast Texas. I witnessed first hand how society breaks down after only a couple of weeks without power.

But energy savings and security are only two parts of the return on investment that you obtain through using solar powered devices. Ease of installation is a big one that should not be overlooked. Because you are not required to run electrical wires to power them, solar devices can be placed virtually anyway in and around your home so long as the panel will receive direct sunlight. This really opens up opportunities for lighting up your yard or key areas around the outside of your home.

Below are a few very simple ways for you to begin utilizing solar power and easing your dependence on the electrical grid. If you begin incorporating these now, your pocketbook will thank you as the years roll by.

Outdoor Lighting

One of the easiest ways to start taking advantage of solar power is in outdoor lighting. Not only do you gain the benefit of energy savings but you also gain the advantage of having at least some outdoor lighting even during a power outage. This helps not only is seeing your way around the yard but in adding a level of security to your home.

I began my journey into solar with a couple of simple outdoor floodlights similar to this.

This is not the exact model that I have (the one I purchased is no longer available) but the features are pretty much the same. These come with motion sensing so that they turn on automatically when motion is detected. I was thoroughly impressed by how much light this type of floodlight emits.

Best of all, the small included solar panels have been more than sufficient to charge these floodlights with enough power for them to work throughout the night whenever motion is detected. And there is no issue with having them outside because they have full IP65 waterproof rating.

What I love most about these type of floodlights is that they can be placed anywhere, so long as it will have access to sunlight to charge it. No need to worry about electrical wires or loss of power when there is an outage. They just work. Day after day, night after night. That’s what I like and what makes these great for outdoor security lighting.

Even if the power goes out I can still see someone pulling into my driveway or snooping around my back yard. Click here to check the latest prices on Amazon for this solar-powered floodlight.

Bonus Benefit – Critter Control!

These solar floodlights are actually excellent for startling and scaring away critters. I found this out quite by accident one night when I was sitting on the back porch and one of these lights came on. I looked up just in time to see a rabbit scurry away into the darkness, startled by the light.

Since then I have seen this on multiple occasions with rabbits and deer in my backyard. This gave me the idea that if I ever build a garden I could mount one of these on a pole or to the side of a tree to help keep scavengers away. No wires to run, no batteries to replace. Just set them up and forget them.

Granted, not all critters are startled by a light coming on and run for their lives, but anything that helps is worth adding to your arsenal. 🙂

Landscaping

Adding soft spotlighting in a flower bed is a great way to accent certain plants at night. Another great use for these is shining them up against your house to provide a visual backdrop for your landscaping after hours. I use a couple of these to accent the sides of my pool deck.

URPOWER makes an excellent solar-powered spotlight just for this purpose. It has over 8000 reviews on Amazon and is the perfect solution to this type of lighting. Click here to get the latest pricing on this solar powered landscaping light set.


Another way of adding solar-powered lighting to your landscaping is to use a flat surface, in-ground lighting kit. I don’t have any of these just yet but I do like the idea of them. These kits are simply stuck into the ground and generally sit flush with the landscaping cover (gravel or mulch).

The benefits to these are that they provide accent lighting in the bed itself. Relatively inexpensive and easy to use, inground lighting kits are a wonderful solution for solar accent lighting in a flower bed. They also work great in the yard since they can be pushed into the ground and mowed over without fear of damage.You can click here to get the latest pricing.

In-ground lights are also often used as pathway lights for sidewalks and driveways but for those purposes, I’d recommend something more along the lines of decorative stake lights.

The advantage of these for pathway lighting, or along the borders of a flowerbed, is that they are elevated and disperse the lighting evenly across a greater distance. I’ve even seen them installed throughout flower beds to fully illuminate an owner’s landscaping oasis at night. You can check the latest pricing on Amazon for these solar pathway lights by clicking here.

Pool and Deck Lighting

So these next few can really be used anywhere. On the back porch, around a sitting area in the yard. I used them to provide ambient lighting around our pool deck.

First, these small fairy lights that use mason jar tops are excellent for hanging in just about any area outside where you just want a little accent lighting.

I used the included hanger to secure them to the sides of our pool deck and are amazing at night. They come six to a pack and include the lights, a mason jar lid with built-in solar panel and hangers. 

These are the ones I purchased from Amazon. The only other thing you need are the mason jars.

They are long lasting and recharge automatically through the power of the sun. Love it!

I also hung one of these vintage-style LED light strings along the front of our pool shed. It provides a decent amount of lighting but to be honest I really just wanted it for the looks.

I secured the solar panel to the eve and it works great but it also comes with a ground stake option so another really great idea for this would be to wrap the bottom of a tree with it. We have a nice oak tree in the back yard so that’s a possible project for sometime in the future for me. I’ve been extremely pleased with this purchase. Click here if you’d like to get the current pricing on it.

As long as you are adding lighting around an outdoor oasis, patio umbrellas with built-in solar lighting have become very popular in recent years. They provide downward lighting that is perfect for highlighting the area where you are sitting or just for ambiance.

I’m wanting to add at least one of these by the pool. We have an outdoor table and chair set and the table has a hole in the middle for an umbrella. Might as well have the solar lighting. Again, it’s one more way to add lighting outside without adding to your monthly electric bill. Click here to get the latest pricing.

Yard border Lighting

Lighting yard borders can be very difficult without solar. Fortunately, plenty of solar options exist. If you have a privacy fence and would like to add lighting to the tops of each post, Greenlighing makes an excellent solar powered post cap light that fits right onto a standard 4×4 post.

I haven’t used these but they have really good reviews overall and as of this writing they are the Amazon’s Choice for this category. Where I think these could really be handy is if you have a privacy fence built with treated lumber that uses 4×4 posts. I see these fences all the time. How nice it would be to simply put these on the top of the posts and instantly have lighting for your yard borders!


For those fancy light posts that you often see in the front yard, you’ll probably want a solar lamp made specifically for that purpose. These give you the look of a traditional post light without the hassle of running electricity.

This one available on Amazon is really elegant looking and doesn’t look like a traditional solar light. I had to look really carefully at the images to confirm that it is, in fact, solar powered. Very nice design that can be placed on an existing pole or you can purchase one like this to mount it on.

I think this is the type of lighting that you would want in your front yard as sort of an accent or showcase light. It’s elegant and just looks fancy. What I like about it is that you could put it on a pole just about anywhere without having to worry about electricity access or the cost of burning lights all night.

Note: One thing to keep in mind when adding these solar lighting components to your yard is that you must ensure at least some direct sunlight to the solar panel. Always make sure that you don’t obscure the panel.

Solar Powered Pool Maintenence

Ah, the joys of cleaning a pool. Few things can compare to the satisfaction one feels in spending hours of their Saturday cleaning a pool….

Yeah, right.

Cleaning a pool is no fun. It’s just something that has to be done. You can minimize the time you spend manually cleaning it by running the pump and letting the skimmer catch most of the floating debris.

Unfortunately, that pump uses quite a bit of electricity and you can definitely see a hit on your electrical bill. Plus, if you have a power outage that lasts for a couple of days, it can really have a negative impact on the look and cleanliness of a swimming pool.

One of the best ways to use solar in your pool is with a solar powered pool cleaner. These waterproof, motorized devices move around in your pool all day long collecting debris.

No electricity, no power cords, just the energy from the sun powering the device all day. This is the type of device that literally pays for itself over time.

These are not cheap but considering the burden that a pool pump can put on your electrical draw day after day, they are definitely worth considering as a long-term cost-saving investment.

I’ve been reviewing these for several months and have decided that when I’m ready and able to buy I’m investing in the Solar-Breeze NX2 robotic solar pool cleaner. I have read a lot of reviews and watched product videos on it and there are some key features that really make it stand out.

For example, the wheels in the front keep it from pushing against a wall and sitting still. So it is always moving about the pool, cleaning and picking up debris. Take a look at this customer review and how it saves him both time and money.

I’m really sold on this solar powered product as I believe it would provide a reasonably fast return on investment considering the ability to run my pool pump less each day. I could even run this thing during the day and if I needed to run my electric pump for a couple of hours at night during off-peak hours. Here’s a link to Amazon’s page for the
Solar-Breeze NX2 robotic solar pool cleaner.


In addition to debris collection, there is also the matter of preventing algae in your pool. Instead of pouring dangerous chemicals in over and over to create an environment that nothing can live in (and then having your family swim in it!), consider a solar ionizer.

These devices float on the surface of the pool and create a natural algaecide to prevent growth. I love the idea of these and I have looked at a lot of reviews on them. They seem to be really effective and would definitely be a welcome replacement to the costly and irritating chemicals that I am constantly having to add to our pool. Here’s the one in the image above, avaialable on Amazon.


Beyond cleaning, you also have the ability to heat your pool via the sun. There are a number of options out there but the SmartPool S240U Universal Sun Heater is one of the best, especially for an above-ground pool.

If you have an inground pool, the process is a bit more complicated to set up but not nearly the undertaking of a full-blown solar array. Heaters like the Smartpool S601P SunHeater Solar Heating System route the water from your pump through a series of tubing that you install on your roof and as the water flows through them it warms up.

Note: These pool heaters are not solar in the traditional sense of using solar panels to create energy but they do use the power of the sun to warm the water so technically they are considered solar products. 

Again, the point is always to reduce the ongoing electrical load commitments of your home. Any practical way to meet this end is worth exploring. Always consider the longterm payout in savings, not just your upfront costs.

Home Security

Security cameras keep getting smarter and more advanced. They can transmit their signal wirelessly and only activate recording when there is movement. One thing they cannot do, however, is run without power. It can be a real hassle to route electricity to an ideal location for a security camera.

Many wireless security cameras on the market now offer solar-powered solutions. If you have a CCTV set up, a solar-powered wireless security camera like this one on Amazon can be the perfect solution to expanding your cameras without running a new electrical cable through your attic.

What I really like about this idea is that it would be so easy to mount one of these against an eve or on a tree. So long as you can get direct sunlight to charge the battery and it’s close enough for the WIFI signal, this would be an excellent approach to using solar in a unique way to solve a wiring problem.

Not sure how much it would save on electricity as I can’t speak to the cost of running one of these cameras, but it is at least something to consider if you have the need.

If you prefer to see your wireless feed on your cellphone or have other smart-home devices, Ring makes a solar panel for their Ring Spotlight Camera. A lot of people love this security camera as it includes two-way talking capability and even works with Alexa. Here is a link to the solar panel and this link will take you to the Ring Spotlight Camera.


Solar Battery Packs (AKA Solar Generators)

When you really want to step it up and take full advantage of solar power but don’t want the hassle of a DIY solution, solar generators are simply the best way get there.

These all-in-one solutions come with the inverter, battery, and all the wiring already setup and packaged into a nice, portable solution. Most can be charged using a traditional wall outlet in your home or even using the cigarette lighter in a vehicle but the real power of these devices is in their ability to be charged by solar power. With a few solar panels and a solar generator, you literally have your own little off-grid perpetual energy source!

Goal Zero is an industry leader in this field and has all-in-one solutions for just about any power need or budget. While you cannot power entire homes with these devices, they are excellent for extended power outages when you need to keep a few essential electrical devices going.

Starting with the Goal Zero Yeti 150 Watt system which uses a traditional lead-acid battery, all the way up to the Goal Zero Yeti 1400 watt system which utilizes the much more efficient and lighter lithium battery, there is a portable solar solution for everyone.

There is even a 3000-watt option but the pricing for this is way out of reach for most people. I believe the vast majority of us would benefit from having the 400-watt system on hand in case of an emergency.

This offline power generating system can power up to seven devices at once with continuous 300 watt output. You can keep cellphones charged, watch television for important weather updates, and run a few fans if you need to. Best of all, it can be chained with other batteries to provide even longer run times.

Couple this solar generator with Goal Zero’s 100 watt solar panel briefcase kit and you have a true all-in-one solution for powering devices when the grid is down!

While these are generally thought of as offline power solutions for camping, and they are great for that, there is another fantastic use of these portable generators….

Creating a Power Outage “Safe Room”

When Hurricane Rita raved Southeast Texas in 2005, I learned a lesson about dependency on electricity that I would not soon forget. That lesson would be reinforced in 2008 with Hurricane Ike and again in 2017 with Hurricane Harvey.

When a massive storm destroys your community and power lines go down throughout the area, it can take a long time for those to be repaired and power restored at your home. Depending on the time of year, the weather can be harsh and even dangerous.

With the hurricanes, we suffered extreme heat in the weeks following. Many people had gas generators but gas was not available for purchase due to the grid being down. So one by one you could hear those generators in the community begin to choke down and die from lack of fuel.

I remember walking outside late one night, sweating from the heat and taking note of just how quiet and dark it is when there is no electrical lighting or noises. It was downright eerie.

Then came the looters. People pilfering others belongings for fuel and anything of value. Since the homes were all dark they looked to be easy targets. As it turned out, the sound of gas generators, for those who still had fuel on hand, also brought thieving as the need for power was in high demand.


Setting up lighting around your house that is not dependant on electrical power is essential. Beyond that, establishing a safe room in your home where you can gain some level of relief from the harsh weather conditions is another critical step.

you have to remember that when the grid is down you cannot power your entire house but you can power a few essential items. In the summer, fans are a Godsend. In the winter, electric blankets. Just being able to maintain some level of comfort until the power is restored is more than worth the investment in a solar generator and some portable solar panels.

At my home we use my bedroom for summer relief and the living room for winter relief. The reason the living room is for winter is because we have a gas fireplace and if the power goes out during an ice storm (as it has on several occassions), the whole family knows the routine.

We bring out pillows and blankets to the living room. I hang a thick blanket over the doorway to keep the heat in the living room and lay on couches and on the floor to stay warm through the night.

Add a portable solar generator to this scenario and we could charge our cellphones and watch television, maybe even make a cup of coffee or two. And as long as the sun shines tomorrow, we can replenish the energy we’ve used in anticipation of another grid-down night.

Conclusion

These are just a few ideas. There are countless other ways to begin using solar in and around your house without setting up and connecting inverter and all of the other components needed for a traditional solar setup.

I would encourage you to think beyond the initial costs of these items and consider the long term return on investment for establishing independently powered devices around your home. In the long run you stand to save a lot of money and perhaps more importantly, you may be able to keep yourself comfortable during an extended power outage. I truly believe that preparing for and having emergency offline power can be a lifesaver in extreme weather disasters. Add to that the security of having lighting around your home at night when the power is out to deter looters, and month after month energy savings on your electrical bill, you have a really solid reason to consider incorporating solar into your lifestyle.

I wish you the best and hope to hear how you utilize solar to make your home more safe, comfortable, and efficient!

Paul

As a homeowner, I am constantly experimenting with making the structure of my house more energy-efficient, eliminating pests, and taking on DIY home improvement projects. Over the past two decades, my family has rehabbed houses and contracted new home builds and I've learned a lot along the way. I share my hard-learned lessons so that you can save time and money by not repeating my mistakes.

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