Solar Motion Light

A while ago, I bought some solar motion light units (also known as solar PIR units) to evaluate how good they are. I wanted lighting around our rear door, at the front of the house and inside my garden shed and the solar motion lights promised all the benefits of mains-powered lighting without the complexity and hassle of wiring and installation.

There was very little information available on the web to explain how good the different PIR solar units were and how they compared to mains-powered lighting, so I bought a few different types and decided to evaluate them myself.

In particular, I was looking for a solar flood light rather than a solar spot light, general lighting to light up an area. After doing some research on the internet, I decided on four different models.

The solar motion light units I bought were:

Having used all these units for nine months from autumn through to summer, I now have a fair amount of experience in using these solar PIR light units on a daily basis.

About Solar PIR Lights

If you are expecting a solar motion light to produce as much light as a mains-powered floodlight, lighting up an entire garden or driveway, you're going to be disappointed. These are not suitable as solar security lighting, unless there really is no other option.

If you need lighting for a much smaller area however, solar flood lighting could be exactly what you need.

On most motion lights, there are two sensors that can be adjusted: one of them adjusts the sensitivity of the PIR motion sensor (i.e. so it doesn't switch on every time a cat walks past it), the other sets the amount of time the light stays on after the PIR motion sensor is deactivated before the light switches off.

It's worth explaining this second adjustment. When a PIR motion sensor is activated, the light switches on. Whilst the PIR motion sensor remains activated, the light will remain on during this time. When you walk away from the PIR motion sensor light, the light will remain on for a certain amount of time before it switches off. It is this time after the PIR motion sensor has been deactivated that you adjust the system won't plunge you into darkness if you're moving around within sensing distance of the solar motion light.

Most solar motion light units have a separate solar panel to the light unit itself. This means the solar panel can be fitted in a south facing position at an angle to capture the most direct sunlight possible, whilst the light unit can be mounted in the best place to provide optimal lighting. So long as you can install the solar panel so that it gets direct sunlight during the day, these panels will provide enough power to run a typical solar motion light, even in winter.

There are two different lamp technologies used by solar motion lights: LED and halogen.

The solar LED light units produce as much illumination as an average hand held torch, although the spread of light tends to be much better: great for finding your keys and putting them in a keyhole, or stop you from tripping over the cat. Solar LED light units give a daylight effect light which can be quite relaxing.

The solar halogen light units are far better, providing a comparable amount of light to a 40w incandescent bulb: which is great for providing a usable light in a shed, porch or across a patio.

In fact, the solar halogen light units are bright enough to be used as working lights in a shed, for instance. Whilst the batteries on these lights wouldn't allow for hours of pottering around in a shed, they would be ideally suited for someone wanting to use their shed for quarter of an hour in the evenings, without going to the trouble or expense of installing mains powered lighting.

Unfortunately when we have looked at updating this page Solar Halogen lights are now unavailable, we would therefore suggest that you purchase a light with as many LED's as possible.

What you get in the box

Typically, when you open the packaging, you will find a two part unit: a box containing a battery, the light and the PIR motion sensor; and a separate solar panel. This means you can fit the light and PIR motion sensor in the optimum place for providing the light, and fit the solar panel somewhere else in order to capture the maximum amount of sunlight.

Solar Mate Secure Motion light

Solar Mate Secure PIR

The first solar motion light I tested was the Solar Mate Secure PIR light. This unit costs around £30 and for that you get a good looking, relatively lightweight PIR light with a separate solar panel.

Two knobs under the PIR motion sensor allow you to fine tune the sensor to the amount of movement that is required to trigger the sensor and how long the light needs to remain on for; from five seconds after the PIR motion sensor has been deactivated up to one minute.

Mounting the light was a bit fiddley and at this point I found the one and only problem I have had with this unit. The problem with this unit is the quality of the plastics used in its production: it is fairly brittle and I managed to break off one of the lugs that clipped the mounting bracket to the rest of the unit. Super glue sorted out the problem but the plastic around that part of the lug appeared to be very thin, so I would suggest that this is a design fault.

In terms of quality of lighting, the Solar Mate Secure PIR light was the best of the LED bunch. I fitted this around the side alleyway of my house and have been pleased with the results.

Solar Twin Motion Light

Solar Twin Motion Light

The second solar motion light I tested was the Solar Twin Light. This cost £49 when I bought it but is now available for under £40 if you shop around.

In terms of construction, design, features and use, this unit is very similar to the Solar Mate Secure PIR light. The big difference is that there are two LED spot lights rather than one big one.

Like the Solar Mate Secure, the Solar Twin can be adjusted to set the sensitivity of the PIR motion sensor and the length of time the light remains switched on after the PIR motion sensor has been deactivated.

Unfortunately, the PIR motion sensor on the Solar Twin Light is fixed in place, rather than adjustable as it is with the Solar Mate Secure. This is a limitation on this light as it means the sensor doesn't switch on the light if you approach from one side. For a unit with two lights rather than one, this is a big disadvantage.

The main benefit of the solar twin light is that it has two lights rather than one. Unfortunately, however, the quality of light just isn't as good as the Solar Mate Secure, which does rather limit its use.

The quality of plastics did not appear to be any better than the Solar Mate Secure, but at least I didn't break it when I installed it.

In use, the Solar Twin is comparable to the Solar Mate Secure. However, because of its significantly higher price, I couldn't recommend it over its cheaper alternative.

Solar Welcome Motion Light

Solar Welcome Motion Light

The last of the LED-based solar motion units I tested was the Solar Welcome Light.

Compared to the other solar motion units I tested, on paper this should have been the worst of the bunch: it is an all in one unit with the solar panel built into the top casing, meaning you can't optimise both the lighting effect and the solar charger at the same time; it only has one LED rather than multiple LEDs; the PIR sensor cannot be adjusted for sensitivity, and finally, the solar panel isn't big enough to allow this to be used constantly unless it is positioned somewhere where it can get plenty of direct sunlight.

However, in reality, this has been the solar motion light that I have used the most and the one I really wouldn't want to be without.

Because it is an all in one unit, it is an absolute doddle to install. Even better, it can be unlocked from the wall mounting and used elsewhere if necessary, which has been a huge boon when we've had power cuts.

It has a surprisingly wide PIR range, it lights up at whatever angle you approach it from, and it's far better than any of the other PIR sensors I've tested.

In terms of lighting, it isn't as powerful as the other solar motion units I tested, but it is still acceptable: before I got around to installing this, I left it on the kitchen window-sill so that the light switched on whenever I walked in during the evening. This was great it saved me fumbling around for the light switch at night and gave me enough light to make a cup of tea or find the fridge.

Incidentally, I have seen this light advertised as having a light output similar to a 60w incandescent bulb. It hasn't. It gives a similar light output to a hand held LED torch, only with a better spread.

Now the light is installed by the door on our caravan. It provides a useful and welcome pool of light when we approach the caravan. It looks smart, works well enough, is an absolute doddle to install and I like it, even if the light isn't the brightest around.

Solar Sensor Light with PIR sensor

Solar Security Motion Light

Having tested all the LED options, it was time to try the only halogen solar motion light on my shopping list, the Solar Sensor Light.

The Solar Sensor Light was the cheapest of the solar motion units I bought. It cost just under £30 when I bought it and is now available for around £27.

This unit uses halogen bulbs rather than LED. The light isn't as white as LEDs but it is an awful lot brighter: I would suggest it is about as bright as a 40 watt bulb.

There is an excellent spread of light and the PIR motion sensor works at a wide range. As with the Solar Mate Secure and Solar Twin Light, the solar panel is separate to the light itself, making it easy to install.

The unit itself feels robust and solid, with robust switches. It is larger and heavier than the other units, thanks to a heavy-duty lead acid battery rather than rechargeable AA battery cells.

As a solar motion light it works really well, the problem is the quality of the light is so good that it can be used for other lighting as well as the main light in a shed or small lock-up garage, for instance.

I've installed this in my shed where it works really well as a work light: I can go into the shed and potter about doing shed-type things without a problem. I couldn't even consider doing this with any of the other solar motion light units I tested.

The only problem with this is that the system hasn't been designed for providing hours of light at a time. The batteries and the light itself are up to the task, but the weak link is the solar panel: if you only need a few minutes of power each day, the system works well. If you want half an hour or more of light every single day, the solar panel isn't large enough to keep the batteries topped up.

To be fair, the same problem would affect all the other solar motion light units I've tested as well. You just wouldn't have the problem with the other lights, however, because you wouldn't be tempted to use them in this way.

Summary

I tested four different solar motion light units and found three reasonable units and one lemon.

In last place has to be the Solar Twin Light. Despite having two lights rather than one, the lighting itself was weak and the spread of light was poor. The fixed positioned PIR motion sensor meant that I couldn't adjust the angle at which movement was picked up, which meant that it didn't pick up movement at the extremities of the light it gave. It was also the most expensive of the four and really wasn't worth the money.

Next has to be the Solar Mate Secure PIR light. This gave the best spread of light of all the LED lights I had tested. I have marked it down because of the quality of the plastics, which broke when I installed it.

The Solar Welcome Light is in second place. It's flawed in many ways, but despite its shortcomings with its solar panel, battery life and light output, it's the light I use most of all: its all-in-one design makes it a useful all-purpose light.

But first place is easy. It's the solar motion light with the best quality light, the best construction, the best battery life and amazingly the lowest price: the Solar Sensor Light. (It is so good you can use this for so much more than just a motion light and as a result this is now in regular use in my shed. It's a superb product at a very good price.

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