How can I get outdoor lighting with no power?

Updated Oct 29 2020
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No joke, this balcony is HUGE!
No joke, this balcony is HUGE!
I live on a third floor flat, with a HUGE balcony. The floor space on that balcony must be almost as big as my two-bedroom flat, and can EASILY fit another two, maybe even three bedrooms.

 

Here's the dilemma… we'd love to make more use of the place — except there's no power outlet out there, or even lights (the balcony has no overhanging roof at all). It gets pretty dark out there, so we haven't really made much use of the space at night which is a shame. At the moment we've got a firepit, a heated mushroom, and two fire braziers, which is great on the weekends or when we're entertaining but really too much of an effort to get started up when it's just the two of us on a weekday.

We've also tried solar garden path lights but they're just not enough to light up the entire place! I'm also renting so I'm not allowed to do any structural changes. We've run extension cords for power before, but it would be cool if any of the Offbeat Homies have got better ideas for lighting up the balcony! -Mrs Bakes

Due to size, you'll have to get a lot more lights no matter what, which won't be cheap.

But it'd be a shame not to use the space at night when the weather's good, so consider it an investment in home entertainment 🙂

Solar powered twinkly lights

Solar powered twinkly lights have gotten pretty cheap these days, and you could use them to wrap around the balcony railing, or string them along the roofline. 

These delicate fairy lights are under $20 and have almost 4k reviews!

If you want to go for a more meaty bulb, these Brightech string lights are great, although they are more expensive.

Solar bulb lights

I like these solar lights in our carbana for general lighting – they're made for backpacking & are surprisingly powerful for the small size. Three of them fully light our whole backyard with a string of solar twinkle lights & some LED candles for ambiance.

Make sure to place the lights where they'll do the most good – nearest to seating arrangements, BBQ, tiki bar, whatever you'll be using & spending time near outside.

You aren't going to be reading books on the patio, you just need enough light to socialize, eat & drink, & see where you're going 🙂

What did we miss? Leave a comment!

  1. Using mirrors positioned behind light sources might help multiply the effects if any solar lights or candles you choose to use outside

  2. Oh and we use rope light (on an extension cord) to light up our gazebo. It gives us ambient but not directional light.
    The rope light is allweather so we can leave it cable tied to the gazebo all the time then just run the extension cable out to it when we want to plug it in.
    Because we can screw together multiple lengths of rope light we can light up a large area with just one extension cable and plug

  3. Due to size, you'll have to get a lot more lights no matter what, which won't be cheap. But it'd be a shame not to use the space at night when the weather's good, so consider it an investment in home entertainment 🙂 You'll need a selection of solar & battery-powered LED lights. Hunt around online bec. prices vary. I like these solar lights in our carbana for general lighting – they're made for backpacking & are surprisingly powerful for the small size. Three of them fully light our whole backyard with a string of solar twinkle lights & some LED candles for ambiance. Make sure to place the lights where they'll do the most good – nearest to seating arrangements, BBQ, tiki bar, whatever you'll be using & spending time near outside. You aren't going to be reading books on the patio, you just need enough light to socialize, eat & drink, & see where you're going 🙂

  4. Could you get a LOT of those stick-on LED lamps, the ones that are about the size of the palm of your hand and used to illuminate the insides of warderobes/similar, and stick them to a large board or column, maybe with a reflective surface angled at the top to keep all the light going in the direction you want it? Or even just have the board tilted over slightly to stop half the light disappearing up into the sky.

  5. What about outdoor Christmas lights, and some LED "candles" in jars or lanterns that you bring out/switch on on an as-needed basis? S-hooks and some wire (or ribbon if you're Pinterest-y) around the mouth of the jar to make setup quick should do the trick.

  6. Have you asked if you can hire someone to put outlets out there? Even though you're renting, sometimes the property manager will allow you to make structural changes if they think it's going to be 1.) safe, 2.) not a liability and 3.) a selling point for future renters. I think hiring someone to do it against the covered part of the wall would qualify for all three. Some property managers will even knock the price of doing it off your rent! Even if they won't (it's worth asking once they approve the project,) it might cost less than you'd think. It's not even a terribly difficult DIY project for anyone familiar with electrical stuff, but I think your property manager is more likely to approve it if you have a pro do the job.

  7. When we go camping, we use a car battery with a DC outlet and then AC/DC converter (you can get the parts at any Radio Shack). This runs a radio and 100' outdoor set of LED rope lights for a night. We recharge the battery by jumper cables via the running car battery when we are not home. At home we have a 12v battery charger. You can get a 12v inverter as well, but we went MacGyver on this set-up. It is quiet and as convenient as lugging a car battery outside (I sewed it a double handled koosy) because the lights are weather proof.

    • Ahh, I would totally end up electrocuting myself if I tried this! Then again, I couldn't actually tell you what a 12v inverter *is*, so I suppose my electrical know-how is not spectacular.

  8. How about a solar panel/deep cell battery combo? They can be "inexpensive" ($200-300), collects and store enough power to run some strands of christmas led lights–in conjunction with the other lighting you already have I think you'd have a amply lit space. You could also get a metal gazebo thing (without the canvas top) and wrap the frame with the lights giving you a lit room, light from it will bleed out to provide some ambient light to the surrounding space.

  9. I found lots of battery powered puck-shaped lights and lamps on Amazon. We frequently lose electricity at our house and the batteries last far longer than I anticipated. They are powerful too.

    Maybe put the puck-shaped lights in planters or in centerpieces or on end tables?

  10. Look in camping supplies for lanterns (battery or solar, but battery is probably brighter.) Also, I wouldn't try to light the WHOLE place – set up one area with everything you would need/want, make it cozy, and light THAT area only. A couple table lanterns, and then some solar ones (they make hanging solar, or the strings, you put wrap strings on the railing, etc).
    if you find the rest of the space looks 'creepy' being too dark around the lighted area, put one or two solar things in those corners to keep it from being too black.

  11. Solar lanterns (the ones that look like paper lanterns) and candles or fake LED candles is what I would do. Oversized white Christmas lights on an extension cord, if you're willing, throw a TON of light and can be strung overhead to look like those (far more expensive) cafe patio lights.

  12. I'm a fan of good old fashioned candles. The cheep ones you get at the grocery store throw a lot more light then I personally expected them to, and they are self contained so you don't have to worry about wind etc…

    I get these at my grocery store in just plane white for about $1-$2 each, and they last a good long time and are very bright. I've had no troubles.

  13. Hi everyone, OP here! Thanks for all the suggestions! I love the idea of just focusing on one area of the balcony. Silly question – dont LED lights need power? How do they work?

    Thanks again everyone!

    • Yes, they need power, but they use less of it than traditional (incandescent) lights do, so they'll run longer than their non-LED counterparts would with the same battery.

  14. Candlelight and/or solar powered lighting? I've seen a lot of things intended for a yard that could easily be used on a balcony situation.

  15. Hurricane lamps – the old school kind that used oil? They're not as safe as LED lights but you can still buy them.

    Or go to IKEA and buy piles of candles with containers that will protect them from wind. A couple of cheap "Moroccan" lamps from Amazon or eBay, hung up on stands, set on tables etc. full of tealights will also bring more light than you think.

    Finally, for a bit of good, strong light, have you tried the plug in and go lights from Muji? http://www.looklamp.com/news_2010-6-5/1076.html

    Plug them in in a convenient place, and when you want to go out, grab a few, turn them on and use them for light.

    You could also get a more powerful light with a USB plug-in, and set a laptop off to the side (assuming good weather) with the light going.

  16. there are lots of solar lighting options, not just the path options. there are tons of diy instruction on how to make the tobias wong sunjar. & some portable solar panels that you can plug things like string lights or spot lights.

    there are also rechargeable outdoor lighting options. you can plug them in inside & bring them out.

  17. Hurricane lamps like someone stated above are pretty awesome, and usually surprisingly bright. You could also consider buying a small self-contained fire pit, or a propane fire pit of some kind. (Only if those would be allowed, obviously, but if it's a big open space I can't see why they wouldn't be – most of the non-propane ones come with covers, i believe). Good luck!

  18. I have to agree with the Tiki Torch and candles ideas just because they're really fast and easy to light (for example for the two of you after work). You could probably use zip ties to attach the tiki lamps to your balcony posts semi-permanently and then just light for use!

    Otherwise I'm not sure why you couldn't do some semi-permanent cabling for power – just use a heavy duty (suitable for outdoors) extension cord. We had one laying around outside for literally months (years??) without any problems, although in that case both ends were safely plugged in so I'm not sure what you would do with the male end unless you had an outdoor light that you just left plugged in – would probably be a good idea to protect the connection in that case too, though.

    One last thing: for just the two of you in the evening, maybe it would be good if you could enclose a part of the space somehow so it doesn't seem so big & dark. Maybe you could even do it in a way that would also help you reflect the light to where you want it to be. A mat would help things feel cozier and maybe you could take two taller planters (or planters with poles stuck into them) and then hang one of those net-style Christmas light strands between them.

      • I don't know if you got your answer last year when you posted your question. I'm looking at the comments because I had a similar problem.

        I was told that you can buy and adaptor that plugs into your outdoor light socket. You screw it in just like a light bulb, but it has outlets on it, so you can plug in your lights. Some have both outlets and room for a light bulb, as well. If your outdoor light is connected to a light switch inside your house, then any lights you plug in to the adaptor will also be controlled by the same switch.

        You can get those adaptors at any hardware store. I'm going to try it, myself, this year, for the first time.

  19. If you want to stay away from running extension cords, I'd suggest checking out Aladdin Lamps, which can be found at either Cumberland General Store or Lehman's Non-Electric (both are online). Aladdin's are oil lamps that get as bright as the propane or white gas camping lanterns. But they are safer and much better looking. They are a little pricey though, but the quality and beauty of them is well worth it.

  20. Okay, it seems that you've got some good solutions for larger groups for weekends, but not enough for you during the week just for the two of you.

    If it was me, I'd start looking at the space, and work out how you would use it for the two of you. Do you need to light the entire area, or would a small section be okay?
    Working out what you would use the space for also helps working out what kind of lighting you need. If it's for having a meal, maybe simple, intimate lighting, such as candles would be enough. For reading, I would suggest maybe a book light (battery operated) might be okay just so you can read the page.

    Having an idea of how you would use you're space gives you options for more cost effective ways of lighting. It's something to think about before you start spending big.

  21. Our new apartment has a much smaller balcony (but it's my first balcony ever!!!) and I am so sad by the lack of outlets. I came to the internet for ideas and knew Offbeat Home would have ideas. Thanks to the OP and everyone above for this discussion! <3

  22. Solar powered LED lanterns. These are inexpensive and have brightness settings and at max are very bright. You could hang them on latern hanger poles which look very cool and also are inexpensive.

  23. I have a small Christmas tree that comes with pre-lit lights that I want to put out this Christmas on a plot at the cemetery. Does anyone know how I can go about using a portable solar panel that's also battery operated to connect to my tree. The tree comes with a plug, but I don't have a clue how to go about it. Also where I can purchase it. I've tried looking it up, but to no avail. I would appreciate any ones help. Thank you!

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