Solar-powered garden lights might be easy to install – you just stick them in the ground – and cost nothing to run, but our test of 25 outdoor lights found the cheapest ones only put out pitiful amounts of light.

Seven solar garden lights were included in the test. Solar lights that cost $6 each or less offered no more than a dim glow.

Most of them only just met the Building Code requirement for emergency exitways. That’s not enough to highlight steps, changes in height or other tripping hazards, so they’re not a safe option. They also only worked for a few hours after dusk.

However, the more expensive Duracell solar garden lights were much better performers. Duracell Solar Path Lights, available from Mitre 10, are a good option for keeping dark, winding paths illuminated into the wee small hours, while Duracell Solar Spot Lights are great for highlighting individual objects.

However, they cost upwards of $20 each, so lighting a big garden is an expensive proposition, and they’ll need replacing after a couple of years once their rechargeable battery fails.

While 12V lights were generally more expensive and require you buying a transformer and stringing cables through your garden, they had much better light output and offer a longer-lasting solution than solar lights. The top garden light was the Accent 12 V Stainless-Steel Spotlight, exclusive to Lighting Plus.

When it came to security lights, mains-powered lights were four times brighter than solar lights on average. However, we think solar security lights are worth looking at if you want to avoid expensive electrical installation and aren’t trying to illuminate a large area.

This report is available free to all New Zealanders.