I recently stumbled onto a really cool night-light by Instructable user boddhi15. This got me thinking about building my own outdoor one. I decided to hack a solar power light and add a couple of little lights out the front.
The actual hack isn’t very hard, it does however need a voltage regulator to ensure that the circuit from the solar lights works correctly. The usual voltage that the circuits deal with is 1.2V. This has to be upped to 3.6V using 3 x 1.2V batteries. If you just used the 3 batteries, they would light up the LED’s but not very brightly. The problem comes from the circuit board not coping too well with the extra voltage which causes the LED’s to be on during the day. They LED’s would be very dim, but you don’t want them on during the day as the solar panel won’t be able to charge the batteries to their full potential. The voltage regulator fixes this issue and ensures that they only come on at night.
I’m hoping that the lights will attach some insects for the birds to eat!
No birds yet but it's early days.
For those who want to make their own solar night light instead of hacking one - check out this website
Step 1: Things to Gather
1. Solar Light. Any cheap solar light will work.
2. Voltage Regulator – eBay I can't remember where I purchased the one I used but this one will do the job just fine.
3. 3 x AAA battery holder – eBay
4. 3 x AAA rechargeable batteries – eBay
5. 5.5v solar panel – eBay
6. Switch – eBay
7. 2 x LED's white - eBay
8. Various copper tubing (5mm ID and the other about 3mm ID)
9. Various lengths of wood to build a Birdhouse. You could also just buy one and add the lights in yourself!
Tools and Materials:
1. Soldering Iron
2. Table saw
3. Hand saw
6. Hot glue
7. Super glue
8. Screwdriver/Phillips head
9.mini blow torch
Step 2: Pulling the Solar Light Apart
First thing to do is to pull apart your solar light. I used an old one that I purchased a couple of years ago. Remember, you’re not interested in the outside, only the goodies on the inside.
1. Pull the top off the solar panel. It probably has a couple of screws holding it together.
2. Cut the wires to the solar panel, you won’t be using the one that comes with the solar light – too week. Make sure you take notice of the polarity (it’s probably on the circuit board anyhow)
3. Remove the circuit board from the solar light cowling
4. Lastly cut the wires going to the battery terminals
You should now have a circuit board with 4 wires coming out and an LED on the top of it. The key thing is to make sure that you know which wires are for the batteries and which are for the solar panel. Also make sure you know the polarities.
Step 3: Setting Up the Solar Lights
I suggest that you actually build the whole circuit first. This way you can make sure that everything works as it should before adding the bits to the birdhouse. The below will go through how to add all of the rest of the parts to the circuit board. The pictures added probably won't help all that much, but as long as you follow the circuit in the drawing which is very simple to make, then you won't have any issues.
1. De-solder or cut the LED from the circuit board. Make sure that you take notice of the polarities.
2. Next solder on a couple of wires to the LED solder pads. They don’t have to be too long – about 60mm or so will be fine.
3. Next, attach the wires you just soldered to the LED pads to the input section of the voltage regulator. Again taking note of the polarities indicated on the regulator.
4. Solder on the solar panel and battery holder to the appropriate wires on the circuit board pulled from the solar light
5. Lastly, add a couple of LED’s and test.
***Add some batteries and cover the solar panel. The 2 LED’s should come on. If not, adjust the voltage on the regulator until the LED’s come on. Now take your hand off the solar panel and the LED’s should turn completely off. If not, then check all of your connections and polarities are correct
***The reason why you add the voltage regulator is for a couple of reasons. first it allows you to draw 5v from the 3.6v that the batteries supply. Second, it ensures that the LED's arn't on all of the time. I found that if it isn't added, the LED's stay on even in bright light. I have no idea why this happens, probably because the circuit isn't meant to draw so much voltage, but using the voltage regulator ensures it works correctly.
6. Once you have tested everything, remove the solar panel and LED’s.
Step 4: Getting Inspired
The next step is to decide on what type of birdhouse you
want to make. Below are a few that I got some inspiration from. The things to remember are: you will need to put the birdhouse somewhere where plenty of sun hit the solar panel and the roof can’t be too steep (won’t get enough sun). The rest really is up to you on how you want the birdhouse to look.
Oh and also I decided to add a little shed on mine to store all of the electronics in. You can always put the electronics inside the birdhouse; just make sure that you can access them if necessary. You could put a little door in the back to do this.
If you can’t be bothered to make a birdhouse (or don’t have the tools) you could always buy one and mod it.
Step 5: Building Your Birdhouse - Cutting
Once you have an idea on how you want your birdhouse to look, it’s time to start cutting out all of the pieces. I decided to use fence palings as these are weather treated, are cheap and are just the right thickness to build a birdhouse with. I went with new ones as I wanted to paint my birdhouse but you could just as easily use recycled ones.
1. Start by making the front and back. If you have a drop down saw then this will make the job pretty easy. My roof slops at 30 degrees
2. Next cut the sides.
3. Lastly cut out the pieces for the shed. My shed roof slopes at 22.5 degrees.
4. Next you have to decide on the floor. I Wanted a larger than usual floor so I could add a little bird feeder to one side. All I did was to cut 2 equal lengths of wood and then added a piece underneath to hold it all together
4. Once you have cut all of the pieces it’s time to start gluing and nailing. Start by making each building individually. You can glue them together later.
Step 6: Building Your Birdhouse - Gluing and Nailing
1. Nail together the sides, back and front of the birdhouse. Don’t forget to add some non-toxic glue as well.
2. For the shed I decided not to add any nails and just glue. Add a clamp to ensure enough pressure is added. Leave for 12 hours.
3. Once everything is dried use a nail punch and push the nail heads into the wood.
4. Fill-in the holes with some wood putty.
5. Sand back the wood and give everything a good clean.
6. Lastly drill a hole into the front to create a bird entrance.
Step 7: Building Your Birdhouse - Painting
1. I decided to go with a vibrant red for the house (mainly because I had just painted my front door with this colour and had some left over), and white for the shed.
2. Give everything a couple of coats and leave for a few hours to dry. There isn’t any need to paint the inside, plus it probably wouldn't be too good for the birds nesting in the birdhouse!
Step 8: Building Your Birdhouse - Making the Roof's
For the roof I went with some old, rusted tin that I took off a 1930’s ford!
1. First measure and then cut the tin to the size you need. I used a grinder to do this.
2. Next clean-up the rough edges of the roof with a file and make sure that there aren't any burrs – you don’t want to cut yourself!
3. You'll probably have to trim up the roof a little and adjust so it sits that way you want it to.
**Don’t attach it yet though, you have to add a couple of holes and wires before you do this.
1. The piece of tin that I used had a curved end and I used this to give the shed roof a nice finish. Measure and cut the tin to size
2. Do the same as you did with the house roof and file down any rough edges.
**Don't attach yet either - this roof will need to be removable in case you ever need to access the electronics
Step 9: Adding Some Extra Biits
To give the birdhouse a little more character I added a couple of extra bits that I had lying around. For the shed I added a round, rusted cap which kind of works well as a faux window.
For the peg at the front of the entrance I added an old rusty bolt that I had in my rusted parts collection (yes I have one of those!). All I did was grind the end down a little on the bolt, drilled a hole into the birdhouse and man handled it in. ,
I also added a little awing on the side. This was made from some rusted tin which I bent to give it a "V" shape.
Step 10: Adding the Electronics - Making the Holes
Once you have made your birdhouse it’s time to add all ofthe electronics inside (and on the outside).
1. Decide which side of the roof that you want to install the solar panel. It really depends on where you are going to put the birdhouse as to what side you add the panel. You want it to get as much sun as possible during the day. Drill a small hole in the roof for the wires to go through.
2. Solder on the solar panel to the wires and attach using some outdoor mounting tape. This is double sided tape which will hold the panel down through all weather.
3. Lastly, you need to add the 2 lights to the front of the birdhouse. Drill 2 small holes on either side of the hole in the front of the house.
Step 11: Adding the Electronics - Making the Lights
Initially I wanted to use some model railway lights I found on eBay. The problem was, when I tied to use them they just weren’t bright enough. In the end I decided to make my own lights with some copper tubing and white LED’s.
Below is how I made mine but it’s up to you on how you want yours to look.
1. You will need 2 pieces of copper tubing, 1 should be about 5mm ID and the other about 3mm ID.
2. Cut 2 lengths of the larger tubing (about 30 to 40mm long) and drill a hole through the tubing as below. The hole should be just big enough to fit the 3mm ID tubing into.
3. Next cut 2 lengths of the smaller tubing (about 30mm long) and carefully place one into the hole of the 5mm ID tubing.
4. Solder into place. Do this for both.
5. Next thread 2 lengths of wire through the smaller tubing and have it come out through the top of the larger tubing.
6. Solder on an LED and add some heat shrink tubing
7. To finish it off I used a couple of diffusers that I pulled from some old Christmas lights. If you want to use the same thing you can buy the lights on eBay
Step 12: Finishing Up
Finally - you're now ready to add the electrical bits and pieces and screwing down the roofs.
1. Drill a hole where the shed is and thread the wire from the lights through.
2. Connect the wires to the voltage regulator.
Next drill another hole (or use the same one for the LED's) and thread through the solar panel wires.
3. Glue down the wires inside the birdhouse so they are secure.
4. Lastly attach the roofs with some screws.
5. Test and make sure the lights come on when the solar panel is covered.
6. lastly you'll need a way to be able to hang the birdhouse. I used a ... so I could easily hang the birdhouse on a fence. Remember, you have to make sure that it gets plenty of sun so the batteries will charge each day.