The Saturday UK Roundup – and Solar Lights

I have so much to write about and so little time – yet here I am writing about solar lighting (not for the first time). But first – did I step back in time? It’s late 2021 and it seems that Ebay still can’t get their emails right.

Rubbish email from Amazon

This morning I received an order delivery confirmation email from Ebay after buying a new heatsink/case for my main UK Raspberry Pi… and on my bog-standard Windows 10 PC with bog-standard Microsoft Outlook? Judge for yourself…

I think you’ll agree that doesn’t need much explaining – I get dozens to hundreds of emails every day and no others look like this pile of rubbish (right).

Anyway, after 15 months in spain I came back to the UK on Monday for a hopefully short maintenance visit and boy, is there some maintenance to do.

As the subject line mentions solar lights – let’s begin. I have a shedload of different solar lights in our back garden – the front garden never sees the sun so this is about the garden with raised field behind – which gets enough sun to (almost) justify using solar lights (this is the Northeast of England after all – possibly the cloudiest part of the UK? But not today). And on that positive start:

Poundland Solar Lights in the garden
Cheap Poundland Solar Light

These lights came from Poundland(and they recently went bust – coincidence?) – at first glance they look good – and the top of a fence is definitely the right location (to actually get some sun).

At under £1 each they seem like a bargain – but after 15 months use, can you see that yellow tinge? They ALWAYS rust from the inside after a year or so. The solar cell is covered in glass and the black plastic shell is often covered in stainless steel ( right), so they should last forever, right?

Not quit,e as the plastic where the LED light comes out will discolour after a couple of years, that’s if the rust from the PCB doesn’t get to the light first. To explain: the solar panel is held in place by a flimsy adhesive which eventually lets the water in – and Northern England gets LOTS of water.

These lights are also commonly available from Amazon at a slightly inflated price but not improved quality. The water gets to the battery connection, the utterly pointless on-off switch and the control PCB (which invariably gets reduced to a pile of oxides). I’ve tried all sorts of lacquers (over many years) to seal in the solar panel but they all fail.

And so we come to the next level up… the glass+stainless lights as on the left, come from Ebay and Amazon and they cost almost 3 times as much but seem to last longer. At first glance there is no UV-exposed plastic and no way for the rain to get in via the top. But wait! the solar panel is inside? I don;t get a tan when driving so I’d always assumed that glass stops UV rays (the kind that solar lamps find so useful. Worth a thought, though these lights DO seem to work fairly well. The internal plastic in this case sits ABOVE the solar cell so if the glass IS letting UV light through, you can imagine how long that will last.

We have several lighta like the one on the left, fitted last year and up to now atill looking like new – so that’s a start. Maybe at least one manufacturer is switching onto how to make long-lasting garden lights?

Back to the lights at the top of this article, if you look back through my ramblings about solar lighting, several years ago, before they went bust, Maplin Electronics had some much LARGER glass+stainless lamps on special offer for only £6 (UK pricing). We bought 4 of them and took them to Spain, where they are still running and looking OK TODAY, The light output was many times brighter than the lights you see above – and at least over there, they glow all night. Sadly there seems to be nothing like them on the market now.

Here’s another kind of solar light – this time using several orchestrated flickering orange LEDs to achieve a flame effect – and they do it well – but they are not indestructible.

Over on the right so see a lamp which looks like it will last forever. If cost over £20 (I blogged it in here) and indeed it is 18 months old – but look closely – that solar panel is lifting off – or rather it was until I tried the new Gorilla Glue Contact adhesive just minutes ago – time will tell whether or not that lasts. See the original blog here which also showed one of my purple flicker lights and my mains-powered RED garden lighting which still runs absolutely fine in November 2021. I described the lamp, from Bangood, originally as a 360 degree Solar Motion Sensor Light. Sadly I’m not seeing it in Banggood’s listings any more.

Anyway, with 20+ bright white lights, this one has kept part of the garden lit up brightly throughout the pandemic.

Before coming to my LATEST lights I’d like to briefly mention one more model I once raved about.

The garden light over on the left is also not cheap and that end light section is are not dropping off – the two ends can be positioned so for example, this is at the base of my 2-level garden stairs – one side points across to the upper garden and the other side down at the ground. On the surface of it well built but in fact I had 2 of these, one is OK after a year or more in the garden – the other is now in the bin as it simply would not light up despite checking both the solar panel and the battery (3v6 decent, full size Lithium battery (18650) which I kept.

All very good but instead of glass they have a thing lacquer covering the solar panel – what WERE the designers thinking about? Of COURSE the sun is going to slowly rip that apart. The unit also looks well sealed bu that didn’t stop insects getting in not to mention the odd spot of water. I’ve been in there with the WD40, time will tell if I get another year out of this one.

It would be a shame if it died early as the output is certainly bright and not in a cosmetic way – truly BRIGHT.

Orange flicker lights

There are several variations on a theme above, you can get orange flicker or a kind of purple flicker – I prefer the orange as they actually resemble candle-light. There are large and small (also mains-powered orange flicker lights which we use ALL OVER but that’s another conversation), properly designed and badly designed… that is, some have a white intenal dome with the opening at the bottom – where wires from the solar panel feed in. Others have the opening at the top to invite the inevitable rain and hence corrosion.

Set of 4 orange flicker lights

The LARGE orange flicker lights are typically £9 to £14 depending on whether you want to save money and get them from China weeks later or you’re happy to make Bezos even richer and get them the next day (of course, Amazon get them from China so you’re buying the same thing either way).

What we have on the right are the smaller hand-size lamps which I just picked up from Ebay (UK source) for a mere £11.99 for FOUR.

These come in unintentional kit form, that is, firstly top, middle and spike (that’s the intentional bit). The unintentinal bit is due to loosely fitted solar panels which WILL fall off in time if left unattended, letting water into the unsealed electronics and leading to their ultimate demise.

So, in the large photo here you’ll see the insides of one of these four lamps… interestingly simplified design.

Flicker solar lights

On the left aboe, The light – with solar panel hidden near my hand ) – showing the light in operation (I should add a video to show the excellent vertical flickering effect), the solar panel (the gaps around the panel are not obvious but will let water in if left unattended. and the actual circuit with 2-sides of orange flickering LED and 2 sided electronics. I’ve lacquered the lot. Below (as the unit is upside down) is the battery inside that black plastic case along with an on-off switch which is coming off NOW. As to whether these will last any longer than other designs – only time will tell (probably not).

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