Firefly Solar Lights Set Portable Restrooms Aglow

Carrie Fox King, President and co-founder of Aglow Systems, first realized the need and idea for a solar powered portable restroom light at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in 2008. According to King, “We started questioning why the port-a-potties didn’t have lights.” What began as a question, led to a more serious conversation, and eventually turned into a two-and-a-half year project for the couple.

The idea, she says, actually came from her husband, Chris. “It was interesting timing,” King says, because he happened to be researching environmental lighting issues and LED light sourcing. King said her “a-ha” moment came while she was using the portable restrooms at Bonnaroo, at night, in complete darkness, “It’s really not as big of a deal to men. But for ladies, we want to see what we’re doing in there!”

She and her husband returned home, discussed and formulated the idea, and King made the decision that she wanted to go for it. She spoke to a portable restroom operator in her area who thought her idea was a solid one, and that was all she needed to run with it. She knew the industry was looking for ways to illuminate portable restrooms, and she was also aware of one solar light already on the market, but it required that a hole be cut into the ceiling of the unit.

Manufacturing the lights in the United States was something that was important to King, as was supporting American industry, despite the fact that she knew manufacturing them overseas would be cheaper. With the electronics sourced from Illinois, Firefly Solar Lights are built in the Kings’ Knoxville, Tennessee hometown.

To help cover some of those manufacturing costs, King launched a Kickstarter project. “We’re a start-up, and it’s expensive to develop a new product,“ she says. Kickstarter is a fundraising platform on the web that allows people to pledge money from “backers” while still maintaining complete ownership and creative control. It’s an all or nothing site—if a project doesn’t meet its pledge goal, it doesn’t get any of the money, and King is trying to raise $23,000 by mid-June. She says, “Firefly is kind of unusual for Kickstarter projects, but I thought I would give it a shot.”

King and her husband went to the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo two years ago with a prototype and willingness to learn even more from those in the industry who would be buying their product. Over the next year, their prototype saw many changes, and May 2011 saw Aglow Systems ship out their first round of Firefly Solar Lights.

Based on the feedback they received, King says, “The light had to be tough, shock proof, waterproof, weather proof, motion light activated…” and those are only a few of the suggestions King and her husband took away from the Pumper Show. But they listened.

The Firefly Solar Light absorbs sunlight via an oversized, extra-large solar panel, eliminating the need to cut a hole in the ceiling of the portable restroom. Instead, theirs has the capacity to absorb light through the translucent plastic roof.

In addition, King says, “It has a little brain.” The light has a mini-processor inside it that can read and monitor energy levels. Their engineers conducted a study measuring how much sunlight each state in the U.S. gets at various points during the year. The mini-processor has the capacity to read how much energy the solar light is receiving, and if the energy level gets low, the light can expel less energy in order to continue to working through the night, “It’s really reliable,” King adds.

The light attaches to the restroom ceiling using a semi-permanent cement adhesive, adding a measure of safety from vandalism and theft, which was another big issue the Kings heard from industry people. For even more security, there are two rivet holes in every light so they can be secured to the ceiling, in addition to the cement adhesive.

The sheer fact of having a portable restroom that can light up once the sun goes down is another measure of security, in and of itself, “We’re hoping it will deter vandalism since there’s some sort of illumination,” she says.

“We’ve gotten wonderful feedback,” and says they are marketing the Firefly Solar Light to all genders, but says, “For women, this is a great thing.” The Kings would also like to see their lights used in handicap portable restroom units.

King and her husband were only dating when they attended the Bonnaroo Music Festival that would prove life changing for them. Since then, they’ve gotten engaged, started a business and gotten married. “It’s been an interesting year,” she laughs, “It’s been sort of a crazy time, but it’s been really great.” And that’s only so far: surely there’s even better to come for the Kings and Aglow Systems.

For more information on Aglow Systems visit or call 865.312.7312.

Story by Megan McClure

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