I love spending fall evenings in my backyard or having dinner on the patio on a warm summer night. Solar lights can add much needed extra lighting and ambiance to a location, but can they catch on fire?
Since solar-powered lights get their energy from small solar panels that charge batteries, they do pose a low fire risk. Solar Lights with lithium-ion batteries run the highest chance of catching fire, mainly due to highly reactive materials and lithium salts used in their construction.
While the risk of fire is extremely low, there are some things you should know about solar-powered lightning that can help them last as long as possible and make the already low risk even lower.
Can Solar Lighting Get Hot And Catch On Fire?
Depending on the type of bulb inside your lights, solar lighting can put off a little heat. It won’t be nearly as much as a standard lightbulb in your house light fixtures, but some noticeable heat can be generated.
This heat isn’t enough to set your lighting on fire though. If fires happen it’s typically due to the batteries that hold the energy from the sunlight.
Batteries made from volatile or cheap materials can put off more heat than they are supposed to and melt the housing the lights are in. If this housing is located near a brush pile or non-treated wooden structures, then the excessive heat from the melting housing could start a fire.
In the few news articles I found (3 from a few years ago) about solar lighting catching on fire, all of them seemed to have the same thing in common. The batteries were overheating and melting the light’s casing which, in turn, melted or scorched what they were attached to.
It’s also worth noting that there were some recalls of solar lighting from 2018, namely products from Cooper Lighting, All-Pro, and Defiant. However, the most recent recall I found was filed in Canada back in July of 2019 in regards to the Fusion 3 in 1 Solar Powered Tiki Torch. Again, this recall was thanks to the batteries overheating and melting the product.
But are you curious if solar-powered lights can electrocute you? Check out this article: Can Solar Lights Electrocute You? The Shocking Truth
What Are The Most Popular Batteries Used In Solar Lighting?
- Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) – This is the least popular, mainly due to it being older technology that is gradually being phased out. It has a wide range of temperatures it can operate in, which is what made it popular in the first place, but it has a high *memory effect.
- Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) – This was the technology that replaced NiCD batteries. NiMH lasted nearly 40% longer than NiCD batteries but didn’t have nearly the temperature endurance. These batteries still suffer from the *memory effect but to a lesser extent.
- Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) – This is the new player in battery tech. They are more powerful than the other two and show no signs of the *memory effect. Their downside is that they are made with materials such as lithium salts and non-dense metals, making them much more volatile.
*Memory Effect – This is when a battery loses its full use of capacity over time.
For more information about batteries used for solar applications, check out: The Differences Between A Solar And Normal Battery
Don’t Cheap Out On Solar Powered Lighting
Many thrifty-minded DIYers might think that since solar lighting is outside, I shouldn’t spend a lot of money on something that’s going to sit out in the rain and snow half the year. Their sole purpose is to put off light to help light a path or section of the yard, even cheap lights do that.
However, cheap lighting means cheap materials and cheap labor. Solar lighting that uses Lithium-Ion batteries have safety controllers built in to help regulate the amount of charge that’s generated so that the batteries don’t overload. Cheaper products skimp on these safety controls or outright ignore them.
It was Lithium-Ion batteries that caused a few cell phones and laptops to catch on fire or “explode” a few years ago…cheap safety controls DIDN’T prevent the batteries from overloading.
How Do You Extinguish A Solar Light Fire?
Every dedicated homeowner should have several fire extinguishers around the house. If you have a shed, put one there too…have an outdoor kitchen, hot tub, or dining area? Yup, put one out there too.
ABC fire extinguishers are likely the most common household fire extinguishers and can be picked up at your favorite local home and garden center or from Amazon. I like these smaller aerosol extinguishers, but any standard ABC type should do the trick!
If one isn’t close enough or you’re not sure where it is, then water (either from a hose or buckets,) bottles of soda, juice, or milk will do the trick. Just remember to completely soak the light that’s on fire and several feet around the area.
A fire will pretty much be the end of a solar light, but here are a few articles on troubleshooting some other issues:
- Why Your Solar Lights Are Flashing And How To Fix It
- How To Revive Your Solar Lights That Have Stopped Working
What Else You Can Do To Prevent Fires Or Other Hazards From Your Solar Lights?
Every good homeowner should walk around their house periodically looking for leaks, cracks, or bugs. The same should happen out in your yard. Every few weeks walk around out there and take a look at your solar lighting.
Never underestimate the sniff test. If a light looks a little wonky pick it up and study it a little closer and give it a light sniff. If you smell plastic and dirt, it’s likely fine. If you smell burnt plastic, then replace it.
Keep the solar panels that soak up the sun’s energy clean. Dust floats around and gunk gets tossed around as critters and bugs move around your yard. Give the tops and lenses of your lights a scrub every now and then.
While clean lights won’t prevent a fire, it’ll help keep them more efficient and improve battery life. This is something that can easily be accomplished as you walk around your yard, looking for potential problems.
Don’t alter or modify your lighting. Sure, it’s fun to experiment and be a “maker” these days, but be extremely cautious with devices that are designed to draw and store energy. If you think you might want to add to your lighting in the future then buy kits that have an easy-connect that allows you to “plug-n-play” more of the same device.
Don’t install them near your fire pit, outdoor stove, or other areas where you regularly use open flames.
Be careful when mowing your lawn. If you crack the screen or hit the light hard enough to knock it out of the ground, look it over carefully to make sure you didn’t damage the solar panel, lens, or the battery inside. A cracked Li-Ion battery raises the chances for problems
And finally, make sure you keep grass clippings and dried leaves raked up and away from your solar lighting. Remember, most fires aren’t caused by the solar lights catching on fire, per se, they are caused by the batteries melting the casing and the excessive heat from that sets nearby objects on fire.
Solar lights can totally transform your backyard or patio. I’ve put together a list of reasons you should get some solar lighting over here: 7 Benefits Of Using Outdoor Solar Lights and for tips on placing them to get the most bang for your buck, check out this article: How To Place Your Outdoor Solar Lights
Here Are Some Excellent Options For Outdoor Solar Lights
For pathway and driveway lighting, I really like the slightly decorative look of the XMCOSY+ Solar Pathway Lights. These have the solar panel on top of each light, so you don’t have to run any extra wiring to a central solar panel, keeping a nice, slick aesthetic.
Patio and Deck Stair Lighting
When it comes to outdoor stair lighting, I prefer a more minimalistic look so that they blend in more to the step riser. For this, check out ROSHWEY Deck Lights...these cast a wide and bright wash of light, which is perfect for deck stair lighting which can often be difficult to properly illuminate. These also look great on fences or on the side of detached garages.
Pergola and Deck String Lights
It may be on the trendy side of things, but I’m loving the look of Edison bulbs. I think the Brightech Ambience Pro Edison style lighting looks great hanging from the cross beams of pergolas and gazebos. You could also string several of these over an outdoor dining table for an outdoor family gathering…really cool ambiance!