CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/828,937 filed Apr. 20, 2004, which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/974,101 filed Oct. 10, 2001 (now U.S. Pat. No. 6,722,637); and is also a continuation-in-part of U.S. Patent Application No. 29/193,554 filed Nov. 10, 2003 (now U.S. Patent No. D497,023). The contents of each of the above-identified references are incorporated by reference herein as if set forth in full.
The field of the invention relates generally to post attachments for railings, fencing, and particularly fencing components constructed of synthetic materials such as plastic and vinyl. More specifically, the invention relates to an apparatus for attaching various components to the top of post, and more particularly, to attaching a solar lighting assembly to the end of a post.
Recently, there has been a tremendous increase in the use of synthetic fencing products. The popularity of synthetic fencing is due in part to its low maintenance; for example, vinyl fencing retains its color and need not be stained or otherwise treated every year to prevent decay. Additionally, synthetic fencing can take on the natural, attractive appearance of wood while exhibiting superior durability. Furthermore, since synthetic posts and their connecting members are hollow, electrical connections can be routed through the fence and hidden from view, allowing electrical accessories to be easily wired along the fence. Finally, synthetic fencing components are less expensive to mass-produce and easier to assemble than their wood counterparts.
Synthetic fencing does present several design challenges. For example, people often desire to mount various accessories on their fence posts such as rain gauges, bird feeders, lights, etc. Unlike a wooden post on which an accessory may be easily mounted using nails or screws, securely attaching accessories to a synthetic fence can be difficult as synthetic fence posts are typically hollow and lack the internal structure to support heavy objects attached to their side using conventional means such as nails or screws. Additionally, the use of nails or screws may cause structural damage to the fence post, possibly causing splitting or cracking. Another design challenge is to provide a means to securely attach decorative or functional accessories to the synthetic fence where the attachment means shares the aesthetic and durability qualities of the synthetic fence such that the appearance of the synthetic fence may be enhanced.
In view of the foregoing, it is an object of the present disclosure to describe an apparatus for realizing enhanced decorative and functional capabilities for fencing, railings (e.g., for porches and desks), and in particular fence posts, and more particularly synthetic fence posts. Moreover, to simplify the terminology herein, the term “fence post” will be used to denote any post regardless of whether the post is part of a fence, a railing, or other apparatus having posts such as lamp posts, mailbox posts, etc. Furthermore, the apparatus disclosed hereinbelow is also denoted as a “post attachment”.
It is a further object of the present disclosure to describe an apparatus for securely attaching accessories to a fence post (more particularly, a synthetic fence post) without structurally degrading the fence post, wherein such fence posts may be more aesthetically pleasing as well as provide additional functions such as lighting, and in particular solar lighting.
It is a further object of the present disclosure to describe a means to enhance the decorative and functional characteristics of a fence post such that even if the fence post is already fixedly secured in place, it can be easily retrofitted so that an apparatus according to the present disclosure is securely attached to the upright end of the post.
In accordance with the above objectives, the inventors have recognized that most synthetic fences include a plurality of hollow fence posts, each hollow post having a simple cap covering an open end of the hollow post. Additionally, the inventors have recognized that by replacing such a cap with attachments that are more functional and/or more decorative or styled, a synthetic fence post can provide more functionality than merely being a support for fence rails. Additionally, such enhanced posts may take on an appearance more like that of a sculpted wooden fence, and more particularly, a wooden fence having posts with lights thereon.
Moreover, the inventors have recognized the need to provide a connection apparatus that allows various sized accessories to interface with (or more precisely, attach to) an end of a synthetic fence post, and provide good structural support for such accessories on the post without degrading the structural integrity of the fence post.
Additionally, the inventors have recognized that such a connection apparatus should be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, easy to manufacture, and should be made such that it may be easily retrofitted onto an in place synthetic fence. The above recited objects of the present disclosure, as well as other objects, are achieved by the post attachment of the present disclosure together with its method of use and method of manufacturer as described hereinbelow.
In one embodiment, the present post attachment provides a synthetic fence post attachment comprising:
- (1.1) a connector member with substantially parallel first and second interface surfaces, the first interface surface for placement on the end of a fence post, and the second interface surface for providing a support for other components of the post attachment, and
- (1.2) a top member for placement on the connector member, wherein the top member adds additional functional and/or decorative features to the post.
More particularly, the connector member is designed such that a first interface surface is provided for engaging the end of a synthetic fence post, and a second interface surface is provided for engaging the top member. Additionally, these interface surfaces have associated therewith engaging means for attaching the connector member to their interfacing structures (e.g., the post and top member). In one method of use, once the connector member is attached to the fence post, a secure base is provided for mounting an accessory (e.g., a solar light assembly) to the fence post without degrading the post's structural qualities.
The engaging means, in one embodiment, refers to one or more engaging components that extend from one of the first and second interface surfaces, and engages a corresponding one of the post end and the top member. These engaging components may extend perpendicularly from a corresponding one of the first and second interface surfaces, and the engaging components may be slidably received within their respective interfacing structure or slidably receive a portion of their respective interfacing structure. For example, the engaging component(s) that make up the engaging means:
- (2.1) may comprise multiple tabs that fit within a hollow opening of a corresponding one of the interfacing structures (e.g., a hollow fence post or a hollow top member), or
- (2.2) may comprise a continuous wall that fits over and slidably receives the end of a corresponding one of the interfacing structures.
Additionally, the connector member may be configured such that both first and second interface surfaces have the same type of engaging means (e.g., tabs or a continuous wall) or such that each such interface surface is operably associated with a different type of engaging means.
In various embodiments of the post attachment, the top member may be any attachment configured such that it interfaces with, and is supported by the connector member. Note that the top member may include and/or support:
- (3.1) a decorative component, such as a decorative cap (e.g., a ball, tetrahedron, etc.), or
- (3.2) an accessory such as a light generating source; e.g., a lamp, or solar voltaic light generating assembly.
In one embodiment, the top member has a hollow elongate body that, when used with the connector member, allows a synthetic fence post to take on the appearance of having a sculpted wooden top, e.g., having an annular recess cut around the perimeter of the post. In another (or the same) embodiment, the top member may comprise a housing for, e.g., a lamp or other light source, wherein the elongate body contains apertures for allowing light to pass from within the interior of the top member to the surrounding exterior environment. In particular, the apertures may be: (i) along the hollow elongate body, and/or (ii) distributed around, e.g., a perimeter of the elongate body. Additionally, the apertures may be left open or covered with translucent coverings that may diffuse the light as it passes from within the top member while sealing the top member from the elements, e.g., outdoor or exterior environmental conditions.
The use of a hollow top member (e.g., an elongate tube) with the connector member may require using a cover or cap to cover (any) opening at the top member's uppermost end from the elements (e.g., outdoor or exterior environmental conditions). Such a cap may be (or include) any one of various post accessories, wherein the cap is configured to interface with and seal the (any) uppermost opening of the top member from outdoor or exterior environmental conditions. For example, such caps for a hollow top member may be the simple caps that were originally designed for capping the synthetic fence posts. Alternatively, such a cap may itself be a decorative and/or functional accessory. For example, in one embodiment, the cap (also referred to as a “cover” herein) may be a solar light apparatus (also denoted a “solar cap assembly” herein) comprising:
- (4.1) a housing, a solar panel mounted to the housing,
- (4.2) a battery operable to receive an electrical charge from the solar panel, and
- (4.3) a light connected to the battery such that the light attaches to the housing for transmitting light, and in particular, transmitting light on a side of the housing that is substantially enclosed by the interior of the hollow top member when the cap and top member are operably connected together.
As will be appreciated from the description herein, when a cap for the top member (or the top member itself, if the top member is closed at its top) may include, e.g., a solar assembly for generating light, the cover (or closed top member) may be retrofitted onto an existing upright post end using the connector member without providing any external electrical power to the fence post, and without providing electrical wiring to and/or through the fence post.
In at least one embodiment, a synthetic fence post attachment is provided that includes:
- (5.1) a connector member comprising: (i) two substantially spaced apart parallel interface surfaces, wherein one of these interface surfaces is for placement on (and contact with) the end of a synthetic fence post, (ii) an exterior sidewall and an interior sidewall disposed between the interface surfaces, wherein the interior sidewall defines a boundary for an opening through the connector member, and (iii) an internal support mount connected to the internal sidewall within the opening, and
- (5.2) a top member (e.g., as variously described above) for placement on the connecting member.
The connector member's internal support mount may be connected to the interior sidewall using a plurality of interconnecting members that extend from the interior sidewall to an edge of the support mount. The support mount may be configured such that it forms a receptacle for receiving and holding a fence post accessory in axial alignment with a longitudinal axis extending lengthwise through the center of the post. For example, the support mount may be formed as a ring wherein the receptacle is the ring's open interior. Thus, the ring may be used to receive and hold an accessory with a circular cross sectional shape. However, other configurations of the support mount receptacle are possible. Additionally, the support mount may have a pin associated therewith, wherein the pin is slidably receivable within an accessory to be secured to the post. Note that by providing the internal support mount as part of the connector member, the support mount also reinforces the connector member so that an accessory with a significant weight may be supported on the post. In particular, at least some embodiments of the connector member contact the post end in a manner so that the post will carry the entire weight of a mounted accessory in compression across the post's cross section. Additionally, since at least some embodiments of connector member and a mounted accessory can be attached to a fence post without mechanical fasteners, such as nails and screws, such an accessory can be supported on the post end without any degradation of the fence post's structural integrity caused by such mechanical fasteners, which if applied induce a force at a concentrated point on the post's sidewall.
In one embodiment, a post attachment is provided comprising a substantially translucent or transparent connector member and a top member for placement on the substantially translucent connector member. The translucent connector member may include two substantially parallel interface surfaces, each of which may be operatively associated with a corresponding engaging means (of the connector member) for engaging an interfacing structure (e.g., the post end or a top member). The transparent connector member may further include an interior and exterior sidewall disposed between the interface surfaces that integrally define an opening which is axially aligned with the fence post. As will be appreciated, this sidewall area may provide an enclosed space within the transparent connector member for placement of an accessory such as a light. In this regard, the connector member forms a lens having one engaging means for interfacing with the end of a fence post and another engaging means for interfacing with a lamp. The transparent connector member also comprises a diffusing means on the surface of at least one of the interior and exterior sidewall. This diffusing means may be any coating or physical variation on the sidewall surfaces which act to disperse light that may emanate from within the transparent connector member. In one embodiment using a physical variation of the sidewall surface, the diffusing means comprises a plurality of ridges integrally formed on the interior surface. These ridges may be continuously spaced on the surface and may be oriented perpendicular to said first and second interface surfaces. In this regard, the ridges may be easily formed in, for example, an injection molding process.
The connector member may be formed in a variety of geometric shapes as long as it provides a first interface surface for engaging the synthetic post and a second interface surface for engaging a top member. For aesthetic purposes the connector member will typically share the geometry of the fence post (e.g., square post, square connector); however, the connector member may be formed such that it interfaces a post and top member of different cross sectional geometries (e.g., square to circular etc.) and/or diameters.
A method is also provided in accordance with the present disclosure for attaching an accessory to a synthetic fence post. The method includes the steps: defining an opening on the end of a fence post, providing a connector member with two interface surfaces that contain engaging means, positioning the connector member on the fence post such that the engaging means engage the post, placing an accessory on the connecting member such that the engaging means engage the accessory, and securing the engaging means to the post and accessory using a fastening means.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
Further description of the advantages, benefits and patentable aspects of the post attachment (and methods associated therewith) will become evident from the accompanying drawings and description hereinbelow. All novel aspects, whether mentioned explicitly in this Summary section or not, are considered subject matter for patent protection either singly or in combination with other aspects. Accordingly, such novel aspects disclosed hereinbelow and/or in the drawings that may be omitted from, or less than fully described in, this Summary section are fully incorporated herein by reference into this Summary. In particular, all claims of the claims section hereinbelow are fully incorporated herein by reference into this Summary section.
FIG. 1 shows an exploded perspective view of an embodiment of the post attachment 5 as oriented atop a synthetic fence post 10.
FIG. 2 shows a perspective view of the connector member 20 and its internal components such as a support mount 38.
FIG. 3 shows a plan side view of the connector member 20.
FIG. 4 shows an exploded perspective view of an embodiment of the post attachment 5, wherein a light fixture or assembly 80 is incorporated therein.
FIG. 5 shows a perspective view of an embodiment of the post attachment 5 having a translucent lens member 90, wherein the lens member provides the functionality of a connector member, and provides an enclosure for emitting light generated by a solar light cap or cover 100 provided as a top assembly.
FIG. 6 shows an exploded side view of another embodiment of the post attachment 5.
FIG. 7 shows a side view of a connector member 20 utilized in the embodiment of FIG. 6.
FIG. 8 shows an exploded side view of another embodiment of the post attachment 5.
FIGS. 9 a-9 c show an embodiment of the lens member 90 of FIG. 5, wherein a surface finish is shown for dispersing or diffusing light generated by, e.g., the solar voltaic cover 100 of FIG. 5.
FIGS. 10 a-10 d show one embodiment of a solar light cap or cover 100. In particular, FIG. 10 a shows the side of the cover 100 that faces upwardly away from the remainder of post attachment 5; FIG. 10 b shows a cross sectional side view of the cover 100 wherein the cross section view is identified by the arrows labeled “A” in FIG. 10 a; FIG. 10 c an underneath side of the cover 100; and FIG. 10 d shows a more detailed cross sectional view of the housing 101 at a corner 132 of the aperture 74.
Referring to FIG. 1, there is shown an exploded perspective view of one embodiment of the post attachment according to the present disclosure. As shown, a synthetic post attachment 5 is placed on the upper end of a synthetic fence post 10, allowing a homeowner to add a decorative accessory to their synthetic fence posts such that these fence posts look more like sculpted wooden posts with a notch engraved about their circumference. In the illustrated embodiment, the synthetic fence post 10 is hollow such that the upper end forms a cavity 12. A connector member 20 interfaces with the hollow end of the synthetic fence post 10 using a plurality of downward-facing tabs 22 arranged about the connector member's lower peripheral edge and oriented such that they are perpendicular to the interface plane between the post 10 and the connector member 20. These downward-facing tabs 22, only two of which are shown in FIG. 1, are disposed such that they are slidably receivable within the fence post cavity 12. Typically, the tabs 22 will be constructed such that they nest securely within the cavity 12 and thereby prevent undesired lateral movement of the connector member 20 and provide some resistance to removal. To further secure the connector member 20, the engaged tabs may be affixed to the interior post wall using an adhesive or, if removal of the connector is required in the future, a mechanical means such as a screw may be used.
The top member 50 of the synthetic post attachment 5 interfaces with the connector member 20 and is supported thereby. In FIG. 1 the top member 50 is shown with a hollow elongate body. This top member 50 may be made of the same material as the synthetic fence post 10 and may have the same geometric cross-section. The top member 50 is connected to the connector member 20 using upward-facing tabs 24 on the connector member's upward peripheral edge. These upward-facing tabs 24 are disposed such that they are perpendicular to the interface plane between the connector member 20 and the top member 50 such that the tabs 24 are slidably receivable within the top member 50. In the present embodiment, a cap 70 is placed atop the top member 50 to seal the assembly from moisture and debris. In the illustrated embodiment, the cap 70 contains downward-facing tabs 72 that slidably fit within the top member 50.
FIGS. 2 and 3 show a perspective and side view of the connector member 20 respectively. As shown, the connector member 20 contains a recessed main body 26 (FIG. 3), a lower shoulder 28 with a lower interface surface 29, an upper shoulder 30 with an upper interface surface 31, a plurality of downward-facing tabs 22 and a plurality of upward-facing tabs 24. More particularly, the main body 26, located between the interface surfaces 29 and 31, comprises an exterior sidewall 32 as shown in FIG. 3 and an interior sidewall 34 as shown in FIG. 2. The exterior sidewall 32 and interior sidewall 34 form a boundary about an opening 36 that extends through the connector member 20. In the embodiment of FIG. 1, the exterior sidewall 32 shares the same basic geometry as the exterior perimeter of the end of the synthetic fence post 10; i.e., they may have substantially the same shape (albeit different dimensions, as shown in FIG. 1). Moreover, the lower portion of opening 36 has a boundary defined by the tabs 22. Note that a central axis 16 (FIG. 2) extending through the opening 36 becomes axially aligned with an axis coincident with a longitudinal central axis (not shown) of the synthetic fence post cavity 12 when the connector member 20 is properly positioned on the end of the synthetic fence post 10. Contained within the opening 36 may be a support mount 38 for axially aligning and supporting accessories on and/or within the fence post 10; e.g., the central cylindrical opening 18 (FIG. 2) may be used to align and/or support the light assembly 80 (FIG. 4) when it extends through the opening 18. The support mount 38 is connected to the interior sidewall 34 by a plurality of interconnecting members 40. The interconnecting members 40 are shown disposed in an opposing relationship with one another but may be arranged in any fashion that effectively supports the support mount 38. As shown, support mount 38 comprises a ring; however, this mount 38 may be made of any geometrical shape that will fit inside the opening 36 and provide alignment and/or support for an accessory. For example, if an accessory had an octagonal base, the support mount may be formed accordingly to support this geometry.
The connector shoulders 28 and 30 each contain a respective one of the smooth interface surfaces 29 and 31 on which a corresponding interfacing structure (e.g., a post 10 end, or a top member 50) rests. The upper interface surface 31 supports the top member's lower sidewall 61 (see FIG. 1), while the lower interface surface 29 rests atop the fence post sidewall 11. As shown, interface surfaces 29 and 31 are oriented such that the interface planes defined by each are parallel. As will be appreciated this ensures that an accessory mounted to the fence will be squarely aligned with the end of the fence post. Additionally, the connector shoulder members 28 and 30 are sized such that they match the outside perimeter of their respective interface structures upon assembly. For example, as shown in the side view of FIG. 3, the bottom shoulder 28 and interface surface 29 extend a short distance beyond the downward-extending tab 22. This distance is equal to the sidewall thickness of the synthetic fence post 10 such that when the connector member 20 is placed on top of the synthetic fence post 10 the downward-facing tabs 22 will fit inside the fence post cavity 12 and the shoulder 28 will extend to match the peripheral edge of the synthetic fence post. The top shoulder 30 interfaces in a similar manner with accessories attached thereto.
Connector member 20 and post 10 are shown in the illustrations with a square cross-sectional shape; however, it will be understood that other shapes may be utilized depending on aesthetic preferences. For example, the connector member may be configured such that the lower shoulder 28 interfaces with a post with a square cross-section while the upper shoulder supports a top member with a round cross-section, or vice-versa. Additionally, the connector member 20 may be sized such that it connects a post of one diameter to an accessory of a second diameter. For example, synthetic posts typically come in diameters of four and five inches and various accessories exist for either of these sizes. However, an accessory for a five-inch fence post will not generally fit a four-inch post. Therefore, the connector member may be sized such that the bottom interface surface fits a post of a first size and the top interface surface supports an accessory of a second size, thus increasing the amount of options for homeowners in decorating their fences.
Generally, the connector member 20 will be made of a plastic material such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or other suitable plastic material such that it shares the durability and aesthetic qualities of the synthetic fence. Additionally, for structural integrity the support member 38 connecting members 40 and the interior sidewall 34 may be an integrally formed unit.
FIG. 4 shows an exploded perspective view of another embodiment of the post attachment 5. In this embodiment, a hollow top member 50 includes a plurality of apertures 52 about the top member's elongate body to allow light to pass from within the enclosed space 51 to a surrounding area external to the post attachment 5. Translucent lenses 54 may be attached to these apertures 52 to seal the top member 50 from the elements and diffuse the light as it passes through. Further, a light assembly 80, supported by the support mount 38 (not shown in FIG. 4, but shown in FIG. 2), extends into the top member 50 upon assembly such that the light bulb 81 is nearly level with the apertures 52. As will be appreciated, the embodiment of FIG. 4 allows for an enclosed light assembly 80 and light 81 to be mounted on the end of a synthetic fence post 10 wherein all wiring 82 may be routed through the post and thus, hidden from view. If desired, the connector member 20, the top member 50, and the cap 70 may be made of the same material and color as the fence post 10, providing an aesthetically pleasing light assembly that is easily retrofit onto an existing synthetic fence.
FIG. 5 shows an exploded perspective view of another embodiment of the post attachment. The present embodiment includes a lens member 90 (which in FIG. 5 may be considered as an embodiment of a connector member 20). The lens member 90 may be used to interconnect the synthetic fence post 10 and an embodiment of a (non-hollow) top member 50 (which also is a post cap, and denoted as cover 100 herein). As will be described further below, the cover 100 includes a solar voltaic lighting capability for generating light. Moreover, to allow the generated light to illuminate an area surrounding the post 10, the lens member 90 is substantially transparent such that light may pass from within the lens member to an area exterior to the lens member. In this regard, the lens member 90 forms, in effect, a lens for transmitting light generated by a light source 104. Additionally, the lens member 90 includes placement/mounting functionality for attaching the post attachment 5 on the end of a post 10, wherein the lens member is capable of supporting a light mounted thereon (e.g., a light 104 provided by the cover 100). To provide the post mounting functionality, the lens member 90 contains downward extending tabs 22 that are disposed such that they are slidably received within the post cavity 12. However, note that the main body or sidewall 92 of the lens member 90 (this sidewall corresponding to the main body 26 of the connector member 20 of FIG. 3) is not recessed in relation to the upper and lower shoulders 30 s and 28 s (these shoulders corresponding to the upper and lower shoulders 30 and 28, respectively of FIG. 3). Additionally, in place of upward facing tabs 24 (FIG. 3) for engaging a top member 50 or accessory (as in FIG. 4), the lens member 90 has a continuous upward-facing end wall 94 connected around the periphery of the upper shoulder 30 s. In one embodiment, the end wall 94 may fit over the outside perimeter of the cover 100. Alternatively, the upward-facing end wall 94 may be slidably received within the cover 100 such that the cover rests on the upper edge 93 of the upward facing end wall 94. In this configuration, the cover 100 may be attached to the upward-facing end wall 94 using an adhesive or mechanical fastener (e.g., one or more screws).
In the embodiment of FIG. 5, the lens member 90 has an exterior sidewall surface 95 a and an interior sidewall surface 95 b (these sidewalls corresponding, respectively, to the exterior and interior side walls 32 and 34). Accordingly, note that the interior sidewall surface 95 b defines an enclosure (equivalently, enclosed space or cavity) 98. In this embodiment, the exterior sidewall surface 95 a contains a plurality of continuously spaced ridges 97 oriented perpendicular to the interface plane formed by the lens member 90 and the fence post 10 upon attachment of the post attachment 5 to the post. As shown, the ridges 97 extend between the lower shoulder 28 s and the upper shoulder 30 s. These ridges 97 are designed to diffuse any light emanating from within the assembly 5.
FIG. 5 also shows a solar voltaic cover 100 as an embodiment of the top member 50. The solar voltaic cover 100 comprises: a housing 101, a solar collector 102 that is mounted on top of the housing 101, a battery (not shown) in electrical communication with and charged by the solar collector, and a light 104. The light 104 may be configured such that it only operates at night using energy stored by the battery during the daylight hours. As will be appreciated, if the solar voltaic cover 100 is used with a translucent lens member 90, a lighting assembly results that may be retrofitted onto a fence post (e.g., synthetic fence post 10) without the requirement of any wiring. In addition, the downward facing engaging means of the lens member 90 (i.e., tabs 22) may be replaced with a continuous downward facing wall that is operative to fit over and slidably receive the end of a fence post. With such a downward facing wall, this lens member 90 (and other embodiments with such a wall) may be retrofitted onto, e.g., a wooden fence post that lacks an internal cavity to slidably receive an engaging means such as tabs 22.
FIG. 6 shows another embodiment of the fence post attachment assembly 5 that includes a cap 70, a lens member 90 (in the present figure considered to be an embodiment of a top member 50), and a connector member 20 for connecting to a fence post 10. As shown, the embodiment of FIG. 6 utilizes a substantially transparent lens member 90 to form a lens for a lamp assembly. In this embodiment, the lens member 90 is not directly connected to the fence post 10. Rather, a connector member 20 is disposed between the bottom surface of the lens member 90 and the fence post 10. In this regard, a standardized transparent lens member 90 may be interconnected to a variety of differently sized fence posts 10 utilizing differently configured connectors 20.
To fit the lens member 90 to differently sized fence posts 10, the connector member 20 may be formed in a variety of different sizes. In this regard, the connector member 20 may have a first interface surface 31 having a first size and a second interface surface 32 having a second size. See FIG. 7. Further, it will be noted that the interface surfaces 31, 32 may be differently shaped (e.g., square and round, respectively) and may utilize different methods for connecting to their corresponding interfacing structures. For instance, the lower interface surface 32 may incorporate a continuous sidewall for placement around the fence post 10 (e.g., for use with solid fence posts) or, may utilize downwardly extending tabs for placement within hollow fence posts 10. Likewise, the upper interface surface 31 may utilize any applicable means for engaging the lens member 90. What is important is that the connector member 20 provides an interface for interconnecting a standard lens member 90 to a variety of differently configured posts 10.
FIG. 8 shows a further embodiment of the post attachment 5. As shown, the post attachment 5 includes a cap 70, a lens member 90 (considered to be an embodiment of a top member 50), connector member 20 for connecting to a fence post 10. FIG. 8 is included to show that while the individual components of the post attachment 5 may be differently shaped, they are still considered to be within the scope of the embodiments of the post attachment disclosed herein.
FIGS. 9 a-9 c show one embodiment of a surface treatment that may be formed on an inside surface, or, an outside surface of another embodiment of the lens member 90. As shown in FIG. 9 a, a surface of the sidewall 92 of the lens member 90 includes a surface treatment (e.g., a physical variation on the surface of the sidewall 92) for use in diffusing light that may emanate from within the lens member 90. FIG. 9 b shows a cross-sectional view of the lens member 90, and FIG. 9 c shows a close up view of the inside surface 95 b of the lens member 90. As shown, the inside surface or interior sidewall surface 95 b of the sidewall 92 is formed with a series of horizontally aligned ridges 96 (when the lens member 90 is operably positioned on a post) which are provided in a stair step configuration. Of note, each ridge 96 is formed continuously around the perimeter of the inside surface 95 b (i.e., around the cavity 98, FIG. 5) of the lens member 90. Furthermore, each ridge 96 has a perimeter that has a length around the inside surface 95 b that is longer than the perimeter of the (any) ridge below it. In this regard, ridge 96 c has a perimeter larger than ridge 96 b, which has a perimeter larger than ridge 96 a, etc. Further, it will be noted that the lens member 90 is generally tapered from its bottom surface to its top surface. This allows for injection molding of the lens 90 wherein a tool having an outside surface tapered in an opposite manner of the lens member 90 can be retracted from the cavity 98 after formation of the lens member 90. Such a tool may include a corresponding stair step of ridges about its perimeter. In this regard, the lens member 90 and a diffusing surface finish for the lens member 90 may be formed in a single injection molding process.
FIGS. 10 a-10 d show one embodiment of a solar cover 100 that may be utilized in various embodiments of the post attachment 5 for covering or capping a post (e.g., synthetic post 10). The cover 100 includes a housing 101 having an aperture 74 (FIG. 10 a) through the top or exterior surface 130 of the housing, wherein the aperture is sized to receive a solar collector 102. Preferably, the solar collector 102 will be sized larger than the aperture 74 such that the solar collector may be retained within the housing 101. When utilizing a solar collector 102, it may be desirable to prevent water from accumulating on top of the collector 102. Accordingly, the cover 100 as shown (FIG. 10 d) has been designed to allow water to drain through the corners 132 of the aperture 74 and down the sloped exterior sides of the exterior surface 130 of the housing 101. In this regard, the corners 132 of the solar collector may be chamfered to produce an opening between the solar collector 102 and the exterior surface 130. Additionally or alternatively, small channels 78 (FIG. 10 d) may be formed in one or all of the corners 132 of the aperture 74 to provide a fluid path between the exterior surface 130 and solar collector 102. Further, use of such channels 78 may allow for diverting water from electrical components that may be located beneath the solar collector 102 as shown in FIG. 10 b.
As shown in FIGS. 10 a-10 d, the cover 100 includes: (i) a housing 101, and (ii) a light assembly having a solar collector 102, an integrated circuit board 106, a light 104 (e.g., LED), and a battery 108. As shown each of the light assembly components 102—108 are mounted to a light plate 110 of the light assembly, wherein the light plate 110 is, in turn, mounted to the underside of the cover 100. As shown, the light plate 110 includes four recessed screw cups 112 on its bottom surface 138. Each screw cup 112 includes an aperture through the bottom surface 138 sized to allow a screw 114 to extend through while preventing a head of the screw 114 from passing through. On the other side of the light plate 110, opposite of each of the screw cups 112 are stud cups 122. The stud cups 122 on the top surface of the plate 110 are sized to receive corresponding studs 120 formed (e.g., molded) onto the bottom of the housing 101. The studs 120 each include a central bore sized to receive the screws 114 extending through the aperture of the screw cups 112 in a threaded engagement. As will be appreciated, the use of the stud cups 122 on the light plate 110 allows for positioning the light assembly relative to the housing 101 during assembly, thereby facilitating assembly.
The top surface 140 of the light plate 110 further includes four standoffs 116 (FIG. 10 b, only two shown) that are utilized to hold the solar collector 102 in place relative to the aperture 74 through the top of the housing 101. In this regard, it will be noted that the solar collector 102 may be held in place by a simple compression fit. That is, the solar collector 102 may be not directly interconnected to the housing 101. However, this is not a requirement. Further, note that the size (e.g., length) of each of the standoffs 116 may be different to account for differences on the top surface 140 of the light plate 110. For instance, the standoff disposed on top of the battery may be shorter than the other standoffs.
The circuit board 106
controls the storage of electrical energy obtained from the solar collector 102
, and the dispensing of electrical energy from the battery 108
to the light 104
. Accordingly, as one skilled in the art will understand, a high efficiency circuit board 106
that is able to utilize substantially all of the solar energy received by the solar collector 102
is very desirable. In one embodiment, the integrated circuit board 106
may be a circuit board (part # LZ173F), manufactured by Intermatic Inc., 7777 Winn Road, Spring Grove ILL 60081. The Intermatic circuit board is particularly advantageous in that uses a step-up direct current to direct current (DC-DC) converter that controls the charging of the battery 108
- (a) Can start up and operate with low input voltages;
- (b) Has ultra low internal current usage;
- (c) Provides efficiency of up to 94% of the solar energy collected; i.e., up to 94% of the solar energy contacting the solar collector 102 is able to be used to generate light from the light source 104 once such energy is stored in the battery;
- (d) Includes an internal MOSFET for the output switch, increasing efficiency and reducing external parts;
- (e) Incorporates feedback signals to allow precise current regulation and control of the output signal;
- (f) Allows the output current to be externally programmable to allow for a range of performance values;
- (g) Incorporates battery protection circuitry; and
- (h) Includes low ambient light sensing circuitry to provide better turn on light level control.
This DC-DC converter replaces many discreet components such as transistors, capacitors, Quad-Nor Gates, which operate as the unregulated oscillator circuitry traditionally found in typical small solar circuits. The advantage of the DC-DC converter is that it more efficiently uses electrical current than the components that it replaces. This translates into more power that can be used to operate the solar light.
It is believed an early or related embodiment of the above described DC-DC converter for charging a battery by a solar cell is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,274,044 (the '044 patent herein) filed Jun. 4, 1979, which is incorporated herein by reference. The DC-DC converter disclosed in the '044 patent is of a blocking oscillator type, for charging a battery from a solar cell. The '044 patent discloses the use of a field effect transistor for enabling an oscillation process to be started by the voltage from a single solar cell, even if the battery is fully exhausted. The overall efficiency of the circuit is improved by the use of the base-emitter junction of a switching transistor of the DC-DC converter as a rectifying element for the battery charging current.
The DC-DC converter of the '044 patent can also be characterized as including a transformer, with a first end of the primary winding of the transformer connected to the collector of a switching transistor, having its base connected to a first end of the secondary winding of the transformer. The DC-DC converter of the '044 patent may be further characterized in that a field-effect transistor is provided having: a drain electrode connected directly to the collector, a source electrode connected directly to the emitter, and whose gate electrode is connected, via a resistor, to the base of the switching transistor. In addition, the second end of the primary and the secondary winding are respectively connected to a first and a second output terminal of the DC-DC converter, between which output terminals the battery to be charged can be connected, while the solar cell can be connected between the first output terminal and the emitter of the switching transistor. The transformer is provided with a third winding which is connected to one of the battery terminals via a diode. The use of the field-effect transistor enables the DC-DC converter to be started at the voltage supplied by a single solar cell. Use is then made of the variation of the drain current as a function of the gate-source voltage of the field-effect transistor. Moreover, by charging the battery by the voltage appearing across the transformer secondary winding and by using the emitter-base junction of the switching transistor as a rectifying element, a substantial improvement in the efficiency is obtained as well as an automatic adaptation of the circuit over a wide range of values of the current supplied by the solar cell.
Embodiments of components for a circuit board for use with the solar cover 100 may be also disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,041,952, filed Jul. 31, 1989; U.S. Pat. No. 5,086,267, filed Jan. 4, 1991; and U.S. Pat. No. 5,221,891, filed Jan. 31, 1992, each of these U.S. patents being fully incorporated herein by reference. In particular, a photovoltaic panel (e.g., solar collector 102) is disclosed in these references, wherein the panel charges a rechargeable battery (e.g., the battery 108). Switching circuitry is provided that detects a drop in output voltage of the photovoltaic panel as ambient light decreases, and connects a light source (e.g., light source 104) to the rechargeable battery. Conversely, the current through the light source is blocked when the voltage of the panel is high. This dual use of a photovoltaic panel both for charging the rechargeable battery and for controlling the operation of the light source allows for a reduction electronic component such as a photo cell to detect darkness. In particular, the rechargeable battery is supplied with a charging current by a photovoltaic panel through a diode (D1) in the presence of sufficient ambient light. The panel will charge the battery at all times when the voltage across the panel less the voltage drop across the diode D1 is greater than the instantaneous voltage of the battery. Accordingly, the diode D1 prevents the photovoltaic panel from discharging the battery when the panel is in diminished light. However, when the ambient light level is sufficiently high, the voltage across the panel causes a first switch in the form of a transistor (Q1) to conduct, thereby pulling down the voltage at the base of a second switch in the form of a transistor (Q2) to a voltage level sufficient to prevent Q2 from conducting.
When the ambient light level falls, the output voltage of the photovoltaic panel drops. Eventually the voltage at the base of Q1
becomes sufficiently low that it prevents Q1
from conducting. This raises the voltage at the base of Q2
sufficiently that Q2
begins to conduct. The current flow from the emitter of Q2
in turn begins to drive a third switch in the form of a transistor Q3
through a drive resistor R6
. As Q3
begins to conduct, the voltage at its collector drops, providing positive feedback through R3
, drawing down the potential at the base of Q1
, thereby hastening turn-on of the lamp and providing hysteresis. Accordingly, the circuitry can:
- 1. Charge a rechargeable power source anytime that ambient light is present in sufficient strength to place a potential across the battery that is greater than the instantaneous potential of the battery;
- 2. sense a decrease of voltage across a photovoltaic panel in the presence of diminishing ambient light and cause a load to be placed across a rechargeable power source;
- 3. Prevent the load from being energized when the ambient light level is sufficient to re-charge the rechargeable power source;
- 4. Provide positive feedback at turn-on of the load, hastening the turn-on and providing hysteresis in order that the load does not cycle on and off repeatedly;
- 5. Provide for adjustment of the hysteresis bands, or shifting the turn-on and turn-off thresholds, or both, through selection of resistances; and
- 6. Provide an adequate shunting current to guarantee turn-on when using low leakage photovoltaic panels.
In accordance with the above embodiments of the present disclosure, a method is provided for connecting an accessory to the end of a fence post using a connector member. In particular, the method requires defining an opening on the end of an existing synthetic fence post. As will be appreciated, this is typically a simple process, since most synthetic fence posts are hollow and the (any) existing caps may be pried off; however, in some instances, this may entail cutting the synthetic post's sidewall about its circumference such that the existing cap may be removed. Next, an embodiment of a dual interface connector member 20 containing engaging means on each interface is provided.
The connector member 20 is positioned atop the synthetic fence post such that the engaging means are properly aligned with the post. For example, in the case where tabs 12 (e.g., FIG. 1) are used, the end of the tabs can be oriented to be received within the interior of the post (e.g., inside the post sidewall). Once the engaging means is properly aligned, pressure is applied such that the engaging means seat with the fence post. Once the connector member 20 is securely interfaced with the fence post (i.e., flushly mounted), an accessory may be placed on the connector member's second interface surface such that a second engaging means of the connector member is properly aligned with the accessory. Again, force is applied to secure the second engaging means with the accessory. Additionally, in the case of an electrical accessory, the step of placing may further entail routing wires through the connector member 20 and into the hollow of the post so they are hidden from view.
Once both interface surfaces of the connector member 20 are flushly mounted with their respective interfacing structures, they may be secured thereto using a fastening means. Generally, an adhesive or mechanical means will be used to secure the connector member 20 to the interfacing structures. As will be appreciated, if further access is required to within the accessory, a removable mechanical fastener such as a screw is preferable.
The embodiments described above are for exemplary purposes only and are not intended to limit the scope of the present invention. Various adaptations, modifications and extensions of the described assembly will be apparent to those skilled in the art and are intended to be within the scope of the invention as defined by the claims that follow.