Monday, June 21, 2010

Non-Electric Lighting

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Non-Electric Lighting

I had a comment recently inquire about non-electric lighting...

"I was hoping that perhaps you'd be willing to answer a preparedness question for me. How do you prepare for emergency, non electric lighting? We had an extended power outage this winter, and I found we were totally unprepared in this area. I ended up burning all my decorative candles!! And there was not one drop of lamp oil, nor a flashlight, left in our small town, which was kind of creepy. We were snowed in for about 5 days, so there was no leaving town for more supplies. It was quite an interesting experience, and I learned a lot about how unprepared we really are!

So specifically, what kinds of lights do you recommend? Oil lamps? Kerosene? LED lights and batteries? Candles? Any specific types or brands you recommend? I went to the camping department at WalMart and was totally overwhelmed! Then I went to Lehman's website and was even more overwhelmed!

And also, what is the shelf life of lamp oil, kerosene, batteries etc? I am totally ignorant in these area. Thanks!"

Isn't it wonderful when God gently shows us areas that need attention?  After living for a year and a half with no electricity, here are a few things that we have found about non-electric lighting.  1)  Kerosene lamps.  Kerosene lamps work about the best, but only for mood light (you will hurt your eyes trying to read by these lamps).  Real lamp oil is paraffin based and has an excellent shelf life.  It is expensive.  The paraffin can get waxy, so don't store it in your lamps.  If you buy crystal clear kerosene, you can use it in your oil lamps.  Shelf life is about the same as gasoline.  It will get discolored.  It will still work, but will have more of a kerosene smell.

2)  Aladdin lamps.  Lehman's sells these, among other folks.  They are the prettiest lamps on the market and put off the best reading light, however, if left unattended, for just a few minutes, the mantles will turn black at flames will shoot out of the top of the lamp.  Some friends of ours almost burned their house down with an Aladdin lamp.  We had three.  We sold them all.  The mantles are very expensive to replace, and quite fragile.  Not conducive to a household full of children.

3)  Coleman lanterns.  They don't recommend using these inside, but if your house isn't airtight or if you crack a window, you shouldn't have a problem.  We used these for over a year and found they were the BEST gas powered lamp.  They were inexpensive, easy to use, easy to fill and the fuel (white gas) will last until the can rusts out.  We put one in our kitchen and one in our living room (hanging - better light and the kids can't knock them over) and were able to read, work and function very well with them.  We even liked the humming sound - very comforting.

4)  Petromax (multi-fuel pressurized lantern).  Without a doubt the best light was produced by this lamp (200 watts).  Without a doubt, the fussiest lamp we ever owned.  The learning curve on this lamp was steep.  After one of the fittings blew off the main pressure tank (it was soldered on) and set our kitchen table on fire (again) I took it outside (on fire - with three foot flames) and threatened to shoot it with the shotgun.  My husband finally fixed it.  He rewired it for electricity.  It is one of my favorite lamps now - and has given us no problems since!

5)  Candles.  I have a thing for candles anyway - so I love them. My theory is "buy them cheap, stack them deep".  Of course, with children, you do have to be careful because of the open flame.  They are not good to read by and really are strictly mood lighting.

6)  Flashlights.  LED are the best.  There is no end to flashlights.  We try to standardize on battery size.  All of our flashlight only take AA or D size batteries.  They are much less expensive than AAA or C size.  One word of caution with LED flashlights - the LED's draw so little current and the batteries last so long that I have had two mini maglites (AA) and one Streamlite (two D batteries) ruined because the batteries lasted so long that they leaked all over the flashlight and ruined them.  You might want to keep the batteries separate for storage.  Only buy good batteries (Duracell, Energizer) for your battery supply.  They can last up to 10 years in a controlled environment.  Store them in plastic bags, 3 to 4 to a bag.  That way, if one battery leaks it doesn't destroy the whole pack.

7)  Rechargeable Batteries.  There are two basic rechargeable batteries.  NiCad and NiMH (nickel metal hydride).  The NiCad batteries have memory problems.  If you charge them all of the time they will not hold a charge.  They need to be discharged fully and then recharged (or they get a short memory).  NiMH batteries do not have the same memory problems, however, they discharge themselves in 30-60 days, making them difficult for emergency use.  If you can get a solar powered battery charger you could be way ahead of the game (if you have sun).

Let me know if you have any other questions.  Keep your powder dry.

Enola and Sir Knight


  1. Thanks Enola, lighting is a hole in our preps I've been meaning to get around to for awhile. We have lots of candles and some decent torches but really need some lanterns and a solar charger for the batteries. At least I know what not to waste my time with now :)

  2. Enola -

    We are not off grid. I would love to generate enough solar power to run our house off-grid but can't afford it yet. Too many higher priorities in life.

    I have been a flashlight fanatic since the 1970's because I needed flashlights for work and saw their importance for emergencies. Recently I have switched to LED flashlights and posted a review of some that I own here:

    I still own a number of the old 2 and 3 D cell Mag-Lite flashlights but I have decided that once the batteries in each die I will not put new batteries in them. We have enough AA and AAA cell LED flashlights to take their place. The only device for which I still need to stock D cells is my wonderful GE Superadio (more recently sold as the RCA Superadio III). If you find one there are few radios on the market that offer better quality AM reception than these. Most radios are designed for FM reception with a junky AM section thrown in. This is a full size radio that runs on AC or 6 D cells. It will run for a _very_ long time on those 6 D cells. When checking my battery stock I decided to get more D cells just so I could keep this radio going once the batteries in it die.

    We have Coleman lanterns of the unleaded automotive gas, white gas (Coleman fuel), and propane styles left over from our camping days. These will be our primary grid down light sources, particularly in the winter when the extra heat will be welcome.

    Somewhere we have a couple of kerosene lanterns and oil lamps. We also have a small stock of candles.

    We have some deep cycle 12 volt batteries with inverters for moderate amounts of silent power when the grid is down. It is critical to never discharge any lead acid battery (either starting batteries such as your car uses, or deep cycle batteries such as you should use to run inverters) more than half way. Get a cheap hydrometer from the auto parts store to check the cells in your lead acid type batteries, and never discharge them over half way. A properly cared for deep cycle battery should last hundreds of charge discharge cycles. Discharge it all the way and it may only last 3 cycles.

    We also have a generator which can be run once or twice a day to keep the deep freezer and refrigerator cold and to charge the deep cycle batteries.

    I am a ham radio operator and encourage anyone with even a little technical interest to get a license. It is not that hard and code is no longer required.

    Energizer and Duracell alkaline batteries are now rated for a shelf life of 7 years. Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA cells are rated for 15 years shelf life. (They also sell less expensive Lithium batteries with a 10 year shelf life.) Beside the long life, these Lithium cells have longer run time in many applications than ordinary Alkaline batteries such as Energizer and Duracell, and are claimed to be almost immune to leakage that is far too common with alkaline batteries. After I almost lost a $1000 device to a leaking AA cell, I starting using the Lithium cells in my most critical devices. They are expensive but in some cases may be worth the extra expense.


  3. A friend told me today that you can put salt in a kerosene lantern and it's supposed to burn brighter.Just passing it on :)

  4. Tenergy makes Low Self-Discharge (LSD) NiMH Rechargeable Batteries in AA, AAA, C & D sizes. These will keep a 70-80% charge for a year.

  5. eneloops (AA & AAA) are the cream of the crop in LSD NiMH rechargeables batteries.

    energizer lithium AAs are cheapest off ebay.

    I'd never use a AA alkaline in anything critical - too many leaks (lost several Mini-Mags)

  6. Solar patio lights,lantern style, work pretty good, just bring them when you need them.

  7. I enjoyed reading your article and your tips. It is good to know about the potential battery leaks in LED flashlights.

    Here are a couple of other tips:
    1) Place a pie tin behind your kerosene lantern to increase the light in a room.
    2) Purchase floating wicks. These can be placed in a small dish of oil to burn for some added light in a stationary location.