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Dear Jim: I am not good with electrical wiring, so I want to try some solar-powered lights for landscaping and walkways. Do the newer ones provide brighter and more hours of light than the old ones I once tried? - Al M.
A: Trying to wire outdoor path and landscape lighting can be a hassle even if you use low-voltage lighting. There is always a sidewalk or some other obstruction you have to tunnel under to run the wiring to the lights.
Although most solar-powered kits are not as bright as low-voltage lights, the newer solar ones provide adequate light for highlighting plants, marking a path or security. The major advantage is you just stick them in the ground with no wiring and you can move them anytime you wish.
The advances in solar cell and battery technology allow more of the sun's energy to be converted to electricity and stored in the batteries until nighttime. At the beginning of summer, when the days are longest, the new solar-powered lights will stay lit brightly throughout the entire night.
Although the size of the solar cells built into the light is important for charging the batteries daily, don't just compare the cell sizes when shopping. The newer technologies of solar cells produce more electricity with smaller size. These allow for more esthetically pleasing designs.
You will probably want to choose a variety of lighting styles from various manufacturers to satisfy your lighting needs. Some new decorative models are made of die cast metal for durability and styling detail. Several lantern styles can either hang from a 27-inch riser or mount on a post.
Not only are the solar cells and batteries better, but the newer designs use more efficient and brighter bulbs. LED's (light-emitting diodes) are the most efficient light source and the bulbs last very long. They are available in white or amber light. Amber light attracts fewer insects.
Fluorescent bulbs are also very efficient and brighter than the LED's. They are typically about five watts, which is actually brighter than it sounds. Halogen bulbs are the brightest and produce a very white light. They are often used in motion-sensing lights because they are not on continuously.
Four or five-numeral solar-powered street number lights are available. Some are built into a mailbox and others mount on a post. These are visible from 500 feet and can help guests, a pizza delivery person or the 911 life squad locate your home quickly. To light the interior of a backyard shed, there are solar kits with panels for the roof and interior lights. Solar powered emergency/camping lanterns and flashlights are ideal to keep in the car.
Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 514 - buyer's guide of nine manufacturers (30 models) of new high-tech solar-powered accent, motion-sensing security, landscaping lights, mailboxes, emergency street address locators and lanterns, styles available, max. on-times per day, bulb types used, prices and illustrations of many styles.
Dear Jim: I was thinking about installing a geothermal heat pump (air conditioner/heating) system. My yard is small, so I will probably have to drill vertical holes. What is the approximate cost to drill them? - Ken B.
A: It is difficult to estimate the cost because it varies depending on the type of ground, the depth and diameter required. A figure of between $6 and $10 per foot depth is probably reasonable.
Your best bet is to have the manufacturer or the contractor who will install the geothermal heat pump recommend a company to do the drilling. They often can get a better price for you because of their volume business.