Choosing the best pole for your LED solar powered lights can seem easy, but there is much more to it than you may think. There are so many options that it can feel overwhelming. Between steel, aluminum, concrete, anchor base, direct burial, etc., every material and style has its perfect fit for a solar project.
Let's go over some of the pros and cons of each type of pole and look at some information to help you decide which pole will work best for your solar LED lighting project.
First, let's cover why it is crucial to have a custom pole manufactured for your LED solar-powered light systems or remote off-grid power systems. Many solar lighting companies sell a one-size-fits-all solution, including their poles. Unfortunately, in some areas, such as coastal climates or areas where there are special wind loads, these poles can easily blow down, putting people and property at risk.
We design our solar systems to meet the load output requirements, then size the pole accordingly. This is because the poles need to be sized to carry the solar power assemblies' weight and EPA at the top portion and stay standing during high wind events. The size can be a small pole for remote power installations or a tall pole for solar lighting applications.
With a custom pole, you don't have to worry that the pole will have any complications when it comes to holding the solar, especially in windy areas. Plus, a custom pole would be designed to make sure there is plenty of room to mount the light fixture at the correct mounting height.
Bigger isn't always better, but in some cases, size does matter. For example, a solar pole handles not just the weight and EPA of a light fixture but a whole solar power assembly. So even a small system will need to compensate for the added weight and EPA of the unit.
In a high wind event, not having the correct size pole can cause failures and allow for the pole to fall over, leaving you with liabilities, especially if someone gets injured. Having your pole designed to meet the pole size requirements for the weight and EPA of the solar ensures you will not have any issues down the line.
Finally, solar sometimes requires additional space above where the fixture mounts. Therefore, making sure the pole is tall enough to accommodate the solar at the top section of the pole and allowing for the correct mounting height of the fixture is key to keeping the light levels correct.
For example, if the fixture mounts at 15' but has a large decorative bracket, it will need much more space between the fixture and the top of the pole, whereas a smaller bracket may not need as much space.
Direct burial poles are a more cost-effective option in almost every circumstance. Since the pole is constructed of one single piece of pipe, sometimes with a flattened end, it doesn't have some of the added expenses that an anchor base pole would have.
Direct burial poles are also much easier to install than their anchor base counterparts. First, a hole is dug out or augered to a specific diameter and depth. Then, the pole is inserted into the hole, plumbed, and backfill is brought in to secure the pole.
Direct burial poles can be aligned in the field, which is a great option, ensuring that the solar can face due south as it isn't based upon pre-poured foundations. However, sandy or loose soils can require additional backfill requirements, so know the type of soil you are installing the pole.
Direct burial poles do not require a welded base plate, anchor bolts, shims, or double nuts for leveling. Not only is the installation process faster, but the manufacturing process is faster. If a speedier installation is required, look into using a direct burial pole.
Anchor base poles are great in cases where you are concerned about damage, especially in parking lots. They provide the ability to have higher bases above the grade, protecting the pole itself from harm from vehicles.
Anchor base poles can also allow for higher mounting heights without having too long of a pole. For example, if you have a 20' mounting height for the fixture, a 25' anchor base pole is typically ordered; however, for direct burial, you would need a shaft that is probably closer to 30'.
Another benefit is the ability to swap poles if they do get damaged. If you are making a direct switch out, you can order a new pole and replace it, but only if the anchors are not damaged. This doesn't mean you can swap a non-solar pole for a solar pole and use the same foundation, though. In most cases, if you are putting in a solar pole in place of a standard electric light pole, a new foundation will need to be poured since the bolt circle is larger than standard light poles.
Aluminum is 100% recyclable and has a long life, up to 50 years. Aluminum is also rust- and corrosion-free, lighter than its steel counterparts. Aluminum poles are typically satin or powder coated to match the aesthetic need of the project. They can also be more decorative with cast aluminum clamshell bases.
Steel poles are sometimes lower in cost and are made stronger in some cases. Steel poles can handle being much longer in length when needed and still stand up to high winds. Steel poles come in a galvanized or painted finish.
Concrete poles are used along coastal areas where high wind events are more common. This is because concrete can stand up to much higher wind loads and can be much taller than its metal counterparts. Though these poles are typically used for utility applications, lighting applications are using them more often in areas prone to high winds and hurricanes.
Researching the type of pole you need can give you an educated decision on whether or not the pole you choose will stand up to the test of time. Understanding your local AASHTO wind load requirements will also ensure you choose a pole that will handle the solar load and not cause added liabilities to your project.