Introduction: How to Make a Solar Powered Walkway

Picture of How to Make a Solar Powered Walkway

I sure loves me some sun jars!  They incorporate several of my favorite things to mess around with:  LEDs, Solar panels, hot glue, man it's all there and they look great to boot!

However, there is one big fat problem:  the sun!  When it's dark out, oftentimes the places I'd really like to have a little extra light are just the spots you can't leave a sun jar due to lack of direct exposure to sunlight. 

The obvious solution to this dilemma is to separate the solar panel from the sun jar.  I extrapolated this a bit further and realized that the only thing you actually need in the jar is the LED, and since you don't have to cram all the other electronics in there, you don't have to stay with the classic sun jar shape.

With this in mind, I combed craigslist for some suitably shaped glass blocks, went to Home Depot for the appropriate solar light, stocked up on speaker wire and came up with the Solar Powered Walkway!

***UPDATE 5/5/10:  If you build this project yourself, or something similar, post some pictures and I'll send you a patch!***

****UPDATE 1-1-11
If you are the first person to post a picture of your completed light-up walkway to the comments, I've got a 3 month pro membership to instructables that's all yours!

Step 1: The Walkway

Picture of The Walkway

Here is the little path that goes from my driveway to the front door.  I decided this was the best place to put the lights, mostly because I wouldn't have to move a bunch of concrete, but also because I'd get to walk the path each night when I came home from work.

I figured I'd put one of the glass blocks in the path first just to see how it would look during the day.  I dug a little hole, just a bit deeper than the end result would be.  I poured a little fine gravel into the bottom of the hole, so you wouldn't just be looking at dirt through the glass.  I filled it back in around the block, and left the top just a bit higher than the surrounding gravel, as I figured it would settle out a bit.  Everyone who saw it thought it looked nice, so it was off to the next step.

Step 2: Solar Power!

Picture of Solar Power!

I found these awesome solar lights designed to clip on to a patio umbrella at Home Depot for about 8 bucks.  I decided to go with these because the solar panel was separable and the batteries drove six separate LEDs.  If I'd used the standard solar lights it would have meant six little solar panels and a lot more wires running around.

I separated the solar panel from the battery/circuit board case and extended the wires that connected them.  The panel went on my roof just over the front door (see picture) and the battery case went under my newspaper box, with wires running discreetly along the corners and the edge of the window.

****Edit 1/30/10:  It has been brought to my attention that this type of light is no longer available, at least for less than $60 each anyway!  Here are a couple of possible alternatives I'm thinking about trying out for the path I'm going to build for my brother:

***Update 4/26/10  --  User Candor has pointed out this alternative to the lights I used, looks like it might be a good one:

***Update 3/2/11  --  IMPORTANT  --  Looks like the IKEA link above is dead, here's a new option from their website:

Also, I did a quick amazon search that revealed some possible good options for this project.

I just want to say that I don't recommend the dealextreme lights for the walkway project, they were a bit dimmer than I would like for this.  They worked out well for the bottle lights instructable I did, but I don't think they'd be so good for this one.

I don't recommend ANY of the christmas light options for this, they are all too dim. All of the other links above are dead or useless . . . 

*** Update 5/8/13  --  Thanks to Liv Laster and wickedq for some more suggestions for solar lights!  <--- I particularly like this one

Step 3: Get to Work!

Picture of Get to Work!

Crack open the solar lights and separate the panel from the body. There are three wires that connect them, so measure the distance from where you'll be mounting the panel to where the body will be mounted, and then add several inches. Extend the three wires by that amount.

Within the body of the light, unsolder the LEDs and replace them with about 6-10 inches of speaker wire. Make sure to seal everything up well with epoxy or silicone! Mount this whole assembly on your house first, make sure it works, then prepare your glass blocks. I used epoxy (because I'm an idiot) to mount the panel to the roof and the body under the paper box, and then stapled the wires in place.

At the corner of each of your blocks, mount an LED of your chosen color, tack it in place with hot glue, then cover the whole shebang in epoxy or silicone. Make sure you leave the leads exposed!

Update 8-3-14: It's been mentioned in the comments that speaker wire isn't really meant for outdoor use--you may want to upgrade to something heavier or use some conduit. Also, silicone might not be the best option for sealing these, as it reacts with solder and copper and could cause problems down the line.

Step 4: Get to More Work!

Picture of Get to More Work!

I marked the spots on my path where I wanted the bricks, and measured the distance from there to the case of the solar light, and added about a foot.  I found out the hard way that I probably should have added more like three feet just to be safe! 

Cut speaker wire to these lengths.  Make sure you label them for easy installation later.  Strip the ends of the wires and solder up one end to each of the bricks.  After these are attached, epoxy or silicone any exposed wire or solder. 

As described in step one, dig the holes in the path, fill the bottom with gravel, and install your blocks.  In addition, you'll need to dig out a little trench between each block, to run your wires through.  For this reason, I started with the one that was farthest from the solar light, accumulating more wires in the trench with each brick I added.

Eventually I ended up at the solar light and soldered each of the block wires to one of the loose wires installed where the LEDs used to be in the solar light.  Let me tell you, soldering outdoors in the dark is a little bit trickier than doing it at the workbench!  Make sure you coat all your exposed wires in epoxy or silicone to keep the rain out.

When you're done, bury all the wires, flip the switch, and enjoy your Solar Powered Walkway!

Step 5: Final Thoughts

Picture of Final Thoughts

I guess the one downside (if you see it as a downside) to having a glowing path in front of your house and visible from the street is that it seems to draw in weirdos like moths to a flame.  I have on two separate occasions gone out of my garage for a smoke and caught someone on the path--one guy was just standing there staring, and one lady (who was in her forties and clearly on LSD or maybe extasy) was hopping from brick to brick.  On the other hand, everyone oohs and aahs over it when they come to visit and I like walking on it, so on the whole it's a good thing.

This was one of the first electronics projects I did after we bought our new house last spring.  I'd been moving and unpacking and fixing up little things for a month and a half and was just sick of neglecting my more eccentric hobbies, so this was a nice entry back into doing strange things with multicolored lights. I haven't posted it until now because I had other projects going, and then somewhere during the month of October while I was busy making my proton pack extra awesome, a big wind storm came through and knocked the solar light out from under the newspaper box, banging it up a bit.  It's still attached, but the lights don't work all the time.  I finally rigged up some battery power for the lights so I could take some decent pictures of the path.  My plan is to either repair it or replace it with one of the other ones I picked up.  I hope I can repair it, as I'd like to add more lights around the yard once I've done more with the landscaping.

As always, thank you for looking!  Please take the time to leave a rating and a comment, they are always appreciated.  I would also love to see pictures if you decide to make something like this yourself.  If you post your pictures in the comments section, I'll send you a DIY patch!

****UPDATE 1-1-11
If you are the first person to post a picture of your completed light-up walkway to the comments, I've got a 3 month pro membership to instructables that's all yours!


gwendolyn.gettemy (author)2014-10-22

I have a suggestion for waterproofing the connections. They make plastic shrinkwrap sleeves for waterproofing electric connections. Just slide tube over wire BEFORE soldering them together. After soldered just use hairdryer to shrink the cover and it will be waterproof. It also will not react with the solder or wire as it is meant for electrical connections. Hope this helps everyone.

They also sell tape that is for under water use. It's made by 3M u can get it at a part store. It comes in a box good stuff.

Great suggestion, I'll flag this to the top of the list!

jfarro made it! (author)2017-10-12

Hey, thanks for this idea, you paved (sorry, pun) the way for my walkway! I added an Arduino and RGB leds to mine, but in the end it all started when I found this instructable. Huge thanks for posting this! Below are some of the images of mine, and I have an instructable for the electronics portion if anyone's interested in going RGB to add colors. Thanks so much!

narendra4u (author)jfarro2017-11-28

Hello jfarro, Can you provide instructions of your instructable or a link if it is there. I would like to do a similar project with Arduino.

lilmagill (author)2017-10-03

Can you actually walk on the glass blocks like stepping stones? Will they break?

depotdevoid (author)lilmagill2017-10-03

Yeah these blocks are pretty sturdy. The real issue is slippage, if they're even a little wet they become really slick!

edelaex (author)2017-03-25

You're surely bored...

elsiecamping (author)2014-12-28

I love this project. Its so pretty to look at and who doesn't love lights around the yard that free. I love LED's and Solar ANYTHING. Great Job.

depotdevoid (author)elsiecamping2014-12-29

Thanks! It was a fun project and the community response has been fantastic!

CindyH117 (author)depotdevoid2016-09-30

What type of glass brick is this and where can u get some like that ? I would love to try this idea .How u did it ?

ChadH33 (author)2016-04-01

At this point you could just buy some LED's off ebay and wire them to a low voltage transformer with a timer for probably $20.

VartraA (author)2016-03-03

A few cheap, but reasonable options (If you don't mind the extended shipping, usually around 6 weeks) for solar panels, some with battery packs attached, some you'd need to add one to. I'm linking just the search page followed by two I'd suggest.

JenniferK72 (author)2016-02-03

Not the best pic but i just used weed liner and layed the blocks over a 16 foot lenght of solar rope lights then fill around it with rubber mulch

depotdevoid (author)JenniferK722016-02-04

Very cool, thanks for sharing! Patch and pro membership are on the way!

JenniferK72 (author)2016-02-02

I made a similar project but just used a16ft solar rope light

depotdevoid (author)JenniferK722016-02-03

Cool! I don't suppose you have pictures you could share?

JamesKB2 (author)2015-12-16

I have a few ideas here. One, use a small diamond bit to create a hole in the glass block and insert the LED into it then seal it with a high quality polyurethane sealant. Two, paint the perimeter edge and perhaps even the bottom of the glass block with while spray paint to create a 'light box' effect, which would illuminate the top surface very well.

CarinH (author)JamesKB22016-01-09

I think that would give a different look, more "light fixture" and less "glowing glass." By placing the LEDs directly against the glass, the light travels through the glass, rather than emanating from the space inside it.

PandoraFlora (author)2015-12-28

Now thats called a creative diesign!


DIY_Crafty_Owl (author)2015-11-02

I haven't tried it yet but do you think if I took outside lights apart and somehow attached the solar panel and light in it would work. They would have their own charge then and no wires.

Yep, you could certainly do that! In my case that wouldn't have worked though, the walkway is shaded for most of the day.

NanceR1 (author)2015-06-07

Thank you so much, Ian, for the wonderful idea! About 2 years ago, I bought ~32 of these glass blocks from Craigslist for another project. That project was not possible due to architectural issues. I've been wondering what to do that would be useful for my house as well. There are so many craft-type projects, but didn't want to add more junk I don't need. Once I purchase my solar panel and LEDs, I will definitely start on this project!

depotdevoid (author)NanceR12015-10-31

Cool, I'd love to see the results!

farimant (author)2015-10-25

Excellent! it's a very great project. I wish I have time to do! Enjoy it!

AdbA (author)2015-06-14

Amazing idea I'll be incorporating this into my patio at my new house for sure although I think I'm going to use color changing leds

bobbyset1 (author)2015-05-19

Sounds great and I would like to do it. BUT how about a step by step (photos) on doing it?

penster52 (author)bobbyset12015-05-24

What do you do just lay the light on the ground underneath the block"?

gravityisweak (author)2015-05-04

I realize this is a little old, but Plasti-Dip makes a great waterproof rubberized coating for pretty much anything you want to protect from the weather. If you don't have the best wire for the job, you could always just use what you have on hand, then give it a few coats of Plasti-Dip.

joe.capell.1 (author)2014-12-28

So u used glass blocks like out of bathrooms the privacy glass

depotdevoid (author)joe.capell.12014-12-28

Yep, those are the ones!

testmonkey (author)2014-12-18

Instead of gravel under the glass blocks try crushed (different color) broken glass....not too many colors or it will look gaudy. I use to build Redwood and other burl wood tables and used the glass to fill the void in the tabletop before using the polymer resin to put a high gloss on the table top. Its a great effect.

depotdevoid (author)testmonkey2014-12-18

Hey, that's a cool idea! I bet broken up ceramic tiles or plates would look pretty good too.

Eeloie (author)2010-01-25

I loooove this project and I really want to make it for my backyard.  However, I have never done any electrical projects or soldering.  I am a quick study, though and I think I was able to follow most of what you described.  But is there anyway you could explain more to a beginner the parts about separating and connecting the electrical parts or maybe more detailed pics?
I know it may not be possible since you've already completed the project, but to anyone else who is making the project, pics would be appreciated.  Thanx.

testmonkey (author)Eeloie2014-12-18

When soldering try to touch the materials as little as is oily.

Also try to think of soldering as heating the two (or more) materials to be joined NOT dropping hot solder on the cold materials. Heat the materials and flow the solder away from the tip of the heat. SORRY I just noticed you asked 4 years ago?? I hope the project went well. ;-)

depotdevoid (author)Eeloie2010-01-25

Thanks a lot Eeloie, I'm glad you liked the project!

The bad news is I have no pictures of the detailed electronic work.  The good news is, this is a super simple soldering project.

For equipment, don't use one of those big gun looking soldering irons--go to Radioshack and buy the cheap-o 25 watt pen style iron and the thinnest solder you can find.  Practice soldering and desoldering on some broken electronics, or something you can pick up for cheap at the goodwill or salvation army before you start this project.

When you remove the LEDs, I find it's best to put gentle pressure on one side of the LED and melt the solder on one of the leads.  The LED will push up a little bit.  Repeat this on the other side, going back and forth until the LED comes off the circuit board.

It's also important to realize that LEDs have a positive and a negative side--almost without fail the negative side of the LED itself will have a flat spot.  When adding the speaker wire to extend the LED, make sure that you keep track of which side is positive and which is negative--I always use the silvery side of the speaker wire for negative and the coppery side for positive.

When soldering the wire to the board, you simple put stripped ends of wire through the circuit board and solder it to the copper pad on the circuit board.  This is usually very simple, as the solder will adhere both to the pad and the wire nicely.

The only other soldering work you'll have to do is extending wires, splicing wires, and soldering LEDs on the ends of the wires.  I like to simply twist the bare ends of wire or LED lead together, dab on a little solder, and since this is an outdoor job try to protect the bare wire with both epoxy and electrical tape (to keep the water out).

I suspect this will be a good beginner soldering project.  It's pretty straightforward and easy to do.  The first soldering project I ever attempted was the Magnetic Fridge Lights instructable, and let me tell you, that was HARD!

Good luck on this, Eeloie!  If you have any more questions or if I haven't answered everything here, just ask.  If you do end up building something like this, please post some pictures!


testmonkey (author)2014-12-18

Instead of gravel under the glass blocks try crushed (different color) broken glass....not too many colors or it will look gaudy. I use to build Redwood and other burl wood tables and used the glass to fill the void in the tabletop before using the polymer resin to put a high gloss on the table top. Its a great effect.

terry.suchma (author)2014-12-13

I would like to make these for my yard. I need some directions on the led and the solar panel. Would you kindly share? What do I need? What do I ask for at HomeDepot? Pls respond

depotdevoid (author)terry.suchma2014-12-14

Well, I'm not sure if Home Depot carries them, but ask them if they have strings of solar powered Christmas lights. That ought to do the trick.

MitchB2 (author)2014-10-07

Vert nice! Thank you for the idea!

connie.callenderbrown (author)2014-10-02

I love, love this idea! Just have to find time and stuff to get er done! LOL

cagstorm (author)2014-08-04

Am I the only one who now has Billie Jean stuck in my head?

Cool walkway BTW!

DeniseG2 (author)cagstorm2014-09-24

I got Alien Ant Farm's version of Smooth Criminal lol

mchambers5 made it! (author)2014-09-21

Finally finished my variation of the walkway. I used 2x2 for the framing, redwood plywood for the base and plexiglass for the top. I mounted the LED lights in a hole I drilled in the base and mounted the panel on a tortoise shelter I had built earlier this year. The lights are on the initial charge of the batteries, so tomorrow will be the first day of solar charging.

mchambers5 (author)mchambers52014-09-21

I totally forgot to take pics before I actually "planted" them.

andreinst made it! (author)2014-08-06

Hello. I saw your instructable and decided to make my own. I added some photos. You can see that I made work the led inside the glass brick but also the original one from the solar lamp. I also used white gravel, I think it's nicer like this. I don't have very explicit photos because I just wanted to try and see if I can do it. Now that I made it work I will do at least 6 more.

depotdevoid (author)andreinst2014-08-08

Hooray hooray! The first completed "I made it!" of my walkway! I can't wait to see the completed version, but in the mean time, a digital patch and a pro membership are on their way!

andreinst (author)depotdevoid2014-08-09

Thank you very much! :) Im planing to finish this project the next week. Anyway, I will come back with more photos and explications. I also was thinking that some of this glass bricks can be part of a child's room wall and at night you can have there some light. Or even around the house. Many ideas in my head right now. When I will do something I will post an let you know. Thank you again.

Andrei from Romania :)

ovation6 (author)2014-08-08

This is really an excersise of thinking outside of the box. What a wonderful idea and I may attempt this myself. As an artist I can appreciate this from an artistic viewpoint.

Thanks for sharing and wish me luck when I get to trying myselt

Dale Augustson

Springfield, MO

depotdevoid (author)ovation62014-08-08

Good luck indeed! I can't wait to see the results!

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