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When it comes to emergency lighting, flashlights and lanterns rule. The problem, however, is that they require a power source, be it batteries, propane, or some other type of fuel. There are candles, of course, but candles do eventually burn out, plus, in some environments and especially around children, candles can represent a safety hazard.
The option of choice, for many, is solar lighting. Indeed, I have a SunBell that gives off a lot light and is easily recharged, even on a cloudy day. That marvelous piece of gear comes at a price though. (In all fairness, the SunBell also charges my phone and other portable devices.)
With that introduction, today I am going to show you how to make your own DIY emergency lights from solar yard lights. This is not a new concept and many of you are undoubtedly already using these lights yourself.
Before you yawn off though, let me explain that in this DIY, we will be adding a switch to those ubiquitous solar yard lights, so that once the lights are charged up, you can turn them on then off again, thus mitigating setting them out in the sun each day.
How to Make Emergency Lights from Solar Yard Lights
Using inexpensive solar yard lights for emergency lighting inside your home is an easy deal. Charge them up in the sun, bring them inside, and you have light. The problem, however, is that once the activation tab is pulled on the lights, they have to be put in sunlight each day to ensure that the battery is charged up and ready to go during an emergency. This is not a practical solution.
To get around this, some people do not pull the activation tab until the light is actually needed in an emergency. This essentially is a one time use. Again, not a practical solution. We are going to solve this conundrum by installing a micro switch that can turn solar lights on or off whenever we want.
To begin with, you are going to need a solar yard light. There are various makes and models of solar yard lights available. In this article, I am using a 1 lumen light purchased at Wal-Mart but you can find comparable solar lights just about anywhere, including your local hardware store.
You are also going to need some “Micro Switches”. If you can not find them locally, or from eBay. When shopping on eBay, search for “On Off Mini Push Button Switch for Electric Torch.” They are shipped directly to you from Hong Kong, so allow some lead time to get your micro switches.
First remove the screws holding the base plate to the solar unit. There are 3 screws on the light shown.
Carefully clamp the base plate in a vise. Drill a hole through the base plate, slightly larger than the diameter of the round part of the switch base. A ¼” drill bit was used on the light being modified. It is easier when you first drill a small pilot hole.
Attach the micro switch to the base plate. Shoe Goo (good to have in your preps regardless), works very well. A hot glue gun would also work well.
Turn the switch so that one of the leads is as close to the small circuit board as practical. If necessary, trim the glue the manufacture used above the hole as shown so that the switch mounts flat to the base plate.
Locate the wire that goes to the negative end of the battery. Cut this wire, leaving enough length to attach the wire coming from the circuit board to the closest terminal of the micro switch. Carefully remove enough of the wire insulation to expose a short length of bare wire.
Locate some wire with about the same gauge as the wire cut. Don’t worry about the color of the wire as no one will ever see it. Solder about 1” of additional wire to the wire coming from the ground end of the battery. You can insulate the wire splice if you wish with Shoe Goo or other cement.
Next, solder both ends of the cut wire to the micro switch terminals.
Now you are ready to test the operation of the micro switch. Pull the actuating tab. The LED light should turn on and off when you toggle the micro switch
Bend the micro switch terminal connected to the battery ground and reposition the wire so that they fit inside of the solar unit. Lastly, place the base plate back on to the solar unit being careful not to allow any of the wires to be placed over the screw holes. Re-install the screws that attach the base plate to the solar unit. You are done!
Using Your MacGyver’ed Solar Light
When you want to turn your modified solar lights on or off, simply push the micro switch button.
When turned on, you can expect it to provide light for up to eight hours. Keep in mind, though, that lights having only 1 lumen do not put out a lot of light, That said, if you place several in a dark room, you can see well enough to easily move about without running into things. Also, if you turn the lights upside down, they stand up very well
Something to remember is that you will need to turn the light on when you take the light outside to recharge it in the sun. Likewise, turn the light off when you remove it from the sun light. The beauty of this is that when the solar light is not in use, the battery will stay charged for a long time before needing recharging.
Here is one last additional tip. If you have a lot of lights to charge up outside at once, create a charging stand by drilling holes in a board to hold the lights when the bottom of the solar light has been removed.
The Final Word
To be truly prepared, we all need options as well as redundancy. The beauty of these DIY indoor emergency lights is that they are inexpensive if not downright cheap, and can be used over and over again without reliance on an outside power source. In addition, although they do need to be charged in the sun, most of the better quality yard lights will also charge up in the shade. They just need more time.
Before closing, I would like to thank an anonymous reader in Idaho that submitted the idea and concept for this article. As I tell you often, the readers and fans of Backdoor Survival are the best on the planet!
If you decide to build some of these indoor emergency lights yourself, be sure to check back in and let us know how they worked out for you.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Spotlight: A totally new version of Ron Brown’s best-selling book, The New 2000-Hour Flashlight has been released in both print and eBook format. This is a complete re-write and although I can’t take credit for a lot, I once again did provide input into this new version.
The first edition had 54 photos; this new edition has 128. Not only that, it shows how to modify various brands of flashlights and not just the Eveready.
Bargain Bin: Below you will find links to the items related to today’s article.
Boston Harbor Non Metal Solar Light: These are great lights, with a 8 hour run time when fully charged. A variety of solar yard lights are also available at Wal-Mart.
Micro Switches (10 Pieces): These are readily available.
Shoe Goo: Now really, Shoe Goo belongs in every emergency kit. Why did I not tell you about that sooner? This stuff will repair, boots, shoes, gloves, broken heels and a whole lot more.
Surebonder Mini Dual Temperature Glue Gun: This is nice little glue gun and something else that has lots of uses.
SunBell Solar Lamp: The SunBell Solar Lamp is a very cool portable lantern that does whole lot more than sit on a tabletop. I love the fact that it can be used as a task lamp or flashlight and that it can charge my phone. The fact that it charges my mobile device, too, is a bonus. For more information, read my review SunBell and Little Sun Solar Lamps.
Dorcy LED Wireless Motion Sensor Flood Lite: Don’t let the price lead you to think this wireless flood light is wimpy. I have two of these and feel that these lights are worth double the price. Using D-cell batteries, the Dorcy floodlight will light up a dark room or a dark stairway in an instant. I can not recommend these enough.
FordEx Group 300lm Mini Cree Led Flashlight: FAVORITE! Here we go with another flashlight. It is super mini sized, bright and waterproof. Plus, it uses a single, standard AA sized battery.
Blocklite Ultra Bright 9V LED Flashlight: I now own six of these little gems. There is a similar flashlight called the Pak-Lite (which is more expensive) but it does not have a high-low switch like this one. These little flashlights just go and go, plus, they make good use of those re-purposed 9V alkaline batteries that you have recharged with your Maximal Power FC999 Universal Battery Charger.
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8 Responses to “DIY Emergency Lights from Solar Yard Lights”
Sounds like a good idea BUT without the Walmart lights. I bought a couple of this model from Walmart last summer and put them in a window to try them out. They were in full sunlight from noon on. One wouldn’t light without being shaken and then it went out. The other provided less light than you would get from a birthday candle…and nothing after 2 in the morning. Don’t waste your money.
For $6.00 each you can buy solar yard lights at Lowe’s that come with an on/off switch and save yourself lots of grief trying to reinvent round wheels. Look around. Lots of solar yard lights come with an on/off switch these days. The idea of solar yard lights in a SHTF situation is a good one. I am sure Home Depot and maybe even WallyWorld have similar lights at similar prices. Solar lights seem to be going the way of digital watches. Maybe most of you are too young to remember, but when they first hit the market they were $300 each. A guy in my office bought one. I thought he was crazy. I was right. Within a year they were $50.00. Now you can buy them at the 99 cent store. Be sure to check that the battery is not soldered in and can be replaced with an ordinary rechargeable battery and the light has an on/off switch and pay less than $10 and you are good to go.
I just bought a pack of the 1leuem lights at wallyworld this week. The had a unique niche to fill. I drive a full size Toyota Tundra that I love but absolutely hate to park. I need to back it into its home and while there is enough space, I fear backing into something. So I took spray marking paint and marked where the tires stop and a line to line up the beast as I pull it in. But lately there have been several times where I came home after dark and couldn’t see the lines. Now thanks to the lights I have my nighttime lighted markers directing me in. Somewhat similiar to airport VASI lights at the end of the runway. Now if I can keep from running them over…..
For outdoor use at a higher/raised level, find a piece of pvc pipe that the spike end of these things will fit in. Placing a charged yard light about three feet off the ground provides a surprising amount of light that can be stuck into the ground anywhere needed and is extremely portable. Placing one on both sides of a camp chair at night provides me enough light to read by. A light on the top of a pvc pipe stuck into the ground also makes a great outdoor ‘night light’ for security or a night visit to the outhouse.
I look for the lights that have a small door over the battery. That way if you have to replace the battery, you just open the door and replace it without having to take the screws out each time. It also allows you to remove the battery for long term storage, such as in a Faraday cage.
I found strings of lights at Christmas time ($25) that have on/off switch and the charger is removable from the strands, that means you can put up (and leave up) strands only needing to recharge if/as used.
Use a mirror under or behind lights/candles for better illumination.
These are pretty cool, no batteries or external energy source required (except for your lifting capacity) and no DYI required: //gravitylight.org/
I have one of the trial units. I don’t think they are available for general sale yet, so I don’t know how much they will cost. So far I’ve only used it as a night light when the power is out. It would work better in a smaller room than my great room but it does give off enough light that I can move around the great room without running into anything.
Great idea for the solar lights, we have used them as night lights for years in our motor home, problem was, you couldn’t turn them off, as soon as it got dark they came on and many times too early…excellent idea! Another thing I did, instead of turning them upside down, was ..I cut some pieces of 1 inch oak about 3 inches square, sanded a little and finished with Deft satin spray…I pulled the stem off the solar light and used a piece about 4 inches long, drilled a shallow hole in the center of the oak and it made a nice little stand that looked like a mini lamp….it was also easier to store in the motorhome as the stem would come off the lamp, the oak would come off and I only had the 3 pieces to store in a drawer…long winded, hope I made myself clear here!