Fall is a good time to take inventory of your solar lawn and garden equipment: outdoor lights, fountains, pumps, and other gadgets including some solar pest control devices.
|Winter storage is but one great reason to hold on to your User Manual, which often notes if an item should be stored for the winter. Lost Your Manual: Call the Dealer!|
Many lights can safely stay outside through spring, especially solar lamps, floodlights and most spotlights.
Other lights, water features and even some pest control devices should be taken inside before freezing temperatures arrive.
And if you do need or want to store things in the winter, storing things properly is important so that the lights and other items work properly next spring.
This post highlights:
|Most Decorative Lights Aren't Designed for Winter. A Delicate Glass Gazing Ball is Not a Metal Bird Feeder with Small Beacon LED.|
Take In: Decorative Lights, Accent Lights
Most solar lights will not only survive the winter, they will work well as long as the solar panel is clear of falling leaves, snow, ice or other debris. This is particularly true for solar lamps, spotlights and floodlights.
Better lights cost more and one reason is they are designed for years, not seasons, of use. When you pay more for quality lights, you are buying durable materials that are well built with housing that protects wiring, controllers and other things you can’t see.
In contrast, most decorative lights are lightweight and often made of thinner glass or composite materials that can’t handle cold temperatures, snow and ice well.
Remember: mobiles, gazing balls and other ornamentation are designed to look good in gardens when people will enjoy them. They really aren’t intended for heavy lifting, so it’s better to pack them away when before winter.
Accent lights (including some spotlights) are close to the ground and no matter how durably made they are, you need to protect them not only from rakes and leaf blowers in the fall, but from snow removal during winter. (We’ll update our winter tips in a couple of months.)
Take in Water Features: Fountains, Pumps and Pest Removal Products that Use Water
Many of our solar fountains double as bird baths, and the only types of bird baths that should ever be outside during sub-freezing temperatures are those made of metal or wood.
Plastic, glass, ceramic and composite materials can and probably will crack or break from the simple expansion of freezing water.
|Rule of Thumb: If Water in Your Yard Freezes in Winter, Take Water Features, Pumps Inside and Store Properly.|
The pumps inside fountains also are vulnerable. While a thin sheet of surface ice is okay, any deep cold will cause damage.
When it comes to pond pumps, it’s a bit trickier. Even if the pump is deep enough so that ice isn’t an issue, you have to think about the batteries, solar panel and control units.
Many pumps use battery types don’t work well in cold temperatures, so odds are the pump's performance will suffer and the battery's lifespan will be decreased for some batteries left in cold temperatures for extended periods of time.
That's one reason why so many lights use Lithium Ion or Lithium Phosphate batteries more and more.
Always remember that a small amount of frozen water can severely damage delicate wires inside of pumps or exposed controllers.
When it comes to solar pest control, units that spray water or are placed in water should come in for the winter. Other pest control devices rely on rotating
Anything with rotating parts also should come inside: if a rotating blade is frozen stuck by ice, there is always the possibility that the motor could burn out trying to get it to move. Since these items usualy only work in direct sunlight, odds are sunshine strong enough to power the solar panel should also keep the ice at bay.
Another option: if you can safely reach the item (which definitely means doing so before icy weather is due), you can also turn the items to the "off position" until spring. We know that a lot of these items are used to keep birds from creating nests (and messes) in the spring, so just turn them back on once the birds start returning to your area.
Our advice: take in and properly store ALL solar pumps and fountains if you expect short- or long-term periods of sub-freezing weather.
Most Lights Withstand Winter Well. In fact, The Spotlight on the Shed Will Fare Better Outside than in Cold, Dank, Dark Shed.
One reason we’re writing this post in late September is so that you can take the time to store them the right way. Even though we’ve done it (and often regretted it), please don’t wait until the weather forecast says “sudden cold ahead.”
(If an unusually early cold snap or hurricane is headed your way, it’s fine to bring things inside for a few days. Just make sure you take the time and prepare them properly for winter storage before the weather turns cold for the duration.)
Each spring we get calls from people whose products were damaged by improper storage and almost all damage could have been prevented had they used our best practices for storage.
Best Practices for Storage
Make Sure All Parts Are Clean and Dry
Rinse off any dust, pollen, leaves/plant debris or bird droppings before storage to remove any risk of damage to the finish, housing or solar panels. It’s also much harder and takes longer once to clean things after gunk has dried and/or hardened over the winter.
Solar lights are made to get wet, but they also spend a lot of time in or near direct sunlight so nothing is continuously wet or moist. Even submersible items should be thoroughly dried before storage, since air PLUS water can cause corrosion.
Make sure all parts are thoroughly dry before storing them. Take pumps out of the water and leave them in the sun for day or so to makes sure no inner components retain moisture.
When Possible, Remove Batteries
Any battery is most likely to leak most the product is not being used. By removing batteries, you eliminate any possibility of damage from leaking chemicals. Most batteries will be fine, but why take a chance. It’s a lot cheaper to buy new batteries than new products.
Best bet: remove all batteries and store them in individual envelopes with the name of the product written on the envelope. Labels make it easy to match up all batteries with the proper fixture come springtime.
Storage Areas Should Be Dry with Moderate Temperatures
One customer called us this spring when she couldn’t get her pond pump to work. We couldn’t cover the warranty because she took the pump, panel and controller units directly from the pond and into a dark, unheated shed and likely somewhat dank shed.
Unfortunately, the battery had frozen as had water inside the pump. The battery didn’t hold a charge properly and the pump had cracked. This year, she’ll be drying all parts and storing it in a box in on a mud-room shelf since she doesn’t have a basement and her attic, shed and garages all are uninsulated and unheated.
Basements usually are fine choices, unless there is excessive dampness. Garages are better than sheds or attics, but make sure the temperature isn’t too low. Along with extreme cold, many attics can get very hot well into the winter.
The best way to judge a storage area: if a plant can’t survive there for more than a few days, don’t use the area to store solar products, or any electric light or any garden product with electronics. Lights and pumps are very different from mowers, blowers and other landscaping tools.
Not everyone gets cold winter weather, but most regions do need fall clean-up.
We’ve covered this in past posts, so here our top recommendations.
Even if you will be the one doing the cleaning, take note of where all solar lights and other products are before taking out the rake or leaf blower.
Make sure non-moveable items are clearly noted. One idea: tie a bright, colored ribbon or strip of tape to the items, marking them and the general area as needing “special attention.”
If you’re hiring someone to clean up your landscape, either take stock and remove items at-risk from rakes or blowers before the team arrives.
Are Lights Safe During Clean-up?
Along With The Type of Light,
Consider the Location.
Make sure workers know where all lights are and that you expect them to be safe and sound when after the work is done. If you can, stow things away properly before the workers and rakes hit the scene.
- Look Up! Don’t forget to protect lights or solar panels mounted on buildings, fences, posts, etc.
A pebble, acorn, small sticks and otherwise harmless items become dangerous once they are thrown into the air by blowers or a fast rake.
The risk: break glass panes, dented housing, and smashed solar panels.
- Cover Up! Seems silly, but you may want to cover fixed lights and solar panels with padding before the blowers and rakes go to work. Old blankets, comforters, or pillows all can be put to good use to protect items that could be hit by flying debris.
While you’re doing inventory, think about whether an item has seen better days because you sometimes can get great deals on quality items in the fall.
And even though many decorative lights, fountains and pumps shouldn’t be left outside during sub-freezing weather, they do make great holiday gifts.
The problem: come November, lots of things are out of stock until spring. If you see something that would make a great gift now, buy it while you can.
Some solar products are sold year-round, others seasonally. Decorative lights, in particular, tend to come in and sell out faster than most other types.
The supply of some decorative lights dry up for a while in the fall, and some will come back for the holidays, but most won’t be back until spring. Others: once the supply runs out, manufacturers discontinue the item for newer designs or technology that will show up late February through April of next year.
If you really want it, or know someone who does, get it now. If you need lots of things, ask the store (insert contact page), if you can get special deals by buying several items.
Since so many products have “Minimum Advertising Prices” (meaning a store can’t LIST the price below a certain point), dealers often can and will sell the items for less.
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