Introduction: Solar String Lights - Repair and Improve
My first instructable - comments welcome
These string lights were down to being lit for just an hour or so, some not at all. Knowing absolute nothing about how they work, I went searching on the internet and found a lot of info, some great, some totally wrong
Thanks to all these instructables, with a special thanks to Josehf, I'm learning a lot and fixed the lights "my way".
I know there are probably some better ways to do some of this, but I improvised and mostly used things I already had.
What I used:
Solar light string with 20 LEDs
4 AA Battery Holder Case Wired ON/OFF Switch Cover
3 (4 with extension) sets JST Male Female Connector 22AWG Wire
3mm shrink wrap for wire
Small screw in cup hooks w/clip
Larger screw in hooks
Wire cuter /stripper
New solar panel 3V 240 mA
Light switch cover
¼ inch drip tubing
24 gauge speaker wire
Water proof plugs if you want to put the lights where the plugs will be exposed to rain, etc.
The battery case cost about $2.50, the solar panel 3.49. The rest of the things I had already.
I have 6 sets of lights on the covered patio, so total fix was about 36.00.
These lights are all alike, same brand name, all bought at the same store, 4 one year, and 2 more the next year. In spite of that, some had a bigger case, and they have 3 different circuit boards in them.
So some of the pictures I took may seem to be from something else, but they are all from the solar rose lights.
Be gentle, these wires come loose pretty easy
Test things after each step so you don’t get all done and it doesn’t work.
Step 1: Disassemble
Take out the battery
Open the battery/board case for the solar lights
If your lights have an on/off switch on the circuit board, set it to on
Taking pictures of the circuit board and wires will really make it easier if you are a newbie like me
Mark the “on” side position of the switch with red marker.
Mark each spot of solder where a wire is attached with a magic marker - makes it easier to figure out where a wire goes if it comes off.
Mark the wires that go to the lights for positive and negative
Mark where each wire goes on the circuit board - I colored each solder spot with red or black magic marker.
Step 2: Remove the Circuit Board
Cut the wire that goes to the lights about 8” OUTSIDE the box
Cut the solar panel wires about half way
Cut the battery wires close to the battery terminal, as you will be putting the panel and battery in the new battery box
Remove the circuit board from the case – there may be 1 or 2 small screws holding it in place
Step 3: Prepare the Battery Case
This case will go under the patio roof where it is protected from rain, etc.
Open the 4 AA Battery Holder Case Wired ON/OFF Switch Cover and “wiggle” off the inside piece that covers the wires and switch
Pull the wires that are going outside it to the inside.
Remove the 3 “double” battery terminals (my lights only use 1 AA NiCd 600 mA battery each)
Move the “single red wire” terminal at the end to the slot opposite the negative terminal with the switch
Might have to remove the (now) extra dividers to fit the circuit board into the case
Might have to make the hole where the wires feed out of the case bigger – some of mine had a hole that was large enough, some didn’t,
Step 4: Put the Circuit Board and Battery in the New Case
If the circuit board has a switch, leave it in the on position
Slide wire shrink wrap onto the wires before twisting them together (I forgot that so many times, I put a big pink note on my worktable to remind me)
Hook up the battery wires.
Feed the Solar panel & LED wires thru the hole to the outside of the case.
Put plugs on the LED (female) & Solar panel (male) wires
Make sure the switch is still in place on the outside, then put the inside cover piece back in place
(if you are not adding a new solar panel, skip to step 7)
Step 5: New Solar Panel
Adding a new Solar Panel:
Solder wires to the new solar panel
Glue the new solar panel to a light switch cover, putting the wires thru the switch plate hole
Make a hole it the front of the original case, big enough for a female plug to pass thru, and pass the wires thru it (making the hole big makes it easier to replace eventually)
Put a female plug on the end of the wire
Measure the total distance from the roof of the patio to the top middle of the big beam holding up the front of patio roof.
Mine measured 26” so I cut wire at 36” to have some slack & extra because the wire is small and sometimes breaks off when trying to strip it.
Attach a male plug to it on the end.
Your case may be different, probably is, so you will have to improvise here
Make a hole in the bottom back of the old case (this spot is based on mine facing south on the front edge of the patio roof, and the hole doesn’t show from the ground. You might want the hole in the front if the front of your lights face the roof)
Put the wire you cut in step 7 thru it with the male plug inside the case
“Plug” any extra holes in the case with hot glue or caulking, etc.
Screw the case back together
Make a small square cut out at the top of the pole that holds the solar panel case.
Thread the bottom wire thru the pole, line up the wire with the square cut out, put the pole on.
At end of wire that comes out of the bottom of the pole, put a plug with short wires on the end, but don’t shrink wrap or solder it on yet.
Measure the length of the wire from the top of the pole to the end of the wire
Cut a piece of ¼ inch drip tubing about 3-4” shorter than the total length
Take off the plug, and slide the drip tubing on the wire all the way to the bottom of the case, including inside the pole
There should be enough wire hanging out the end to attach the plug.
Put the plug back on and solder/shrink wrap it
Then slide the drip tubing down until it meets the plug. I wrapped a small piece of blue painters tape around the wire a bit above where it meets the plug – just enough to make it stay together and not let it slide up & down the wire, but easy to pull out if need be.
Put everything together and test it in sun and dark.
String the lights on the patio – I used small screw in cup hooks w/clip because the wind can get bad here and actually blow the lights out of the hooks. And the wires on these things are so flimsy, hanging them with the rose covers on them is like asking for it to get messed up.
So I put a hook on each light.
Hanging the first 10 to the one side of the hook, and the last 10 to the other, and alternating the direction of the hooks, helps hold them in place also.
You have to do this one light at a time because they are not all evenly spaced, but it is worth it in the end.
When you get to where you want to put the battery/circuit box, cut the wire to reach the beam with some slack and put a male plug on it.
Step 12: Solar Panels and "conduit" Tubing
I wanted all the panels close together so they are easy to get to, so I put them in the middle of the roof. There wasn’t enough left over wire to reach the end sets of lights, so I used cheap gold/silver speaker wire to reach them.
I put it inside ¼” drip tubing and use drip tubing clips to attach it to the beam
Cut the tubing the length you need, and lay the tubing out straight in the sun for a day or so and it will be easier to put the wire inside it.
The first section of tubing has 2 wires inside, the second continues 1 wire to reach the last lights.
It’s hard to explain how I joined them together, so I’ll just post a picture
You can see the tubing going off to the left in this picture.
Step 13: The Results:
New solar panels with 225mA output, batteries better and lights stay lit all night long !
Easy to take down suspected part if a problem comes up, as all the “sections” unplug from each other.
Rose lights shown unlit during the day, and lit up at midnight.