With winter just around the corner, I’m beginning to prepare for the shorter days ahead when the darkness creeps in long before we’re ready for bed. Although we are currently running all of our overhead lights on solar, we still put non-electric backups in place. We only have about three days’ worth of energy stored in our battery bank… if we’re careful… so it’s important that we have options for extended cloudy weather and longer nights.
For those of you still 100% dependent on the grid for your electricity, having non-electric alternatives for unexpected power outages is a must.
Lighting is one of the easiest things to find off-grid alternatives for. There are several good options to choose from, and most of them cost very little money at all to purchase.
Nothing beats the ambiance of a flickering flame warming the faces of your loved ones on a dark night. Candles can be a very inexpensive way to light your home off grid. You can often find candles for free or just pennies at yard sales. I’ve read that you can make a candle last longer by freezing it for several hours before burning it, though I’ve yet to test this theory.
Although I do have a large tote full of various candles I’ve been collecting for my preps, I have become more conscious about what I burn on a regular basis. Paraffin based candles put off a dangerous toxin-filled smoke when burned. Some studies have found paraffin candles to be almost as bad as cigarettes. For regular indoor use, opt for safer bees wax or soy based candles for indoor burning and save the paraffin candles to be burned in an open, airy place, like outdoors. (I’ve lucked up and found some nice bees wax candles for super cheap at yard sales!)
Keep a few extra candle wicks in various sizes so you can make more candles from the leftover melted wax. You can also make your own wicks out of cotton string by soaking the string in melted wax and allowing it to cool and harden.
Good ol’ fashioned oil lamps are another great option for lighting your home without electricity. They can be fueled with kerosene, lamp oil, cooking oil, and even animal fat. However, not all lamp fuels are created equally.
Kerosene has been used as a source of light for ages, but you will want to burn it in an area with plenty of ventilation due to the strong odor it puts off.
You can make an oil lamp from cooking oils at home using pretty much any type of oil or fat you have on hand. Olive oil is the best choice. It doesn’t produce smoke or odor when burned. All you need other than the oil is a mason jar, some wire, and a wick. You can read the instructions on exactly how to make an olive oil lamp in this interesting article.
I made an emergency lamp once by pouring hamburger grease into a tin can, dipping a wick into the center, and allowing it to harden to room temperature. It burned for 11 hours straight before the wick fell over and put itself out. Sure, the house smelled like a burger joint and my husband was craving a double-stacker, but it worked!
When shopping for traditional lamp oil, try to find a brand that carries a non-toxic, “clean burning” oil; something that says it’s “smokeless” and/or “no-odor” is best.
There are many different styles of oil lamps you can choose from: wall mounted, table top lamps, Aladdins, hanging lamps, reading lamps… all of them are great for their intended purposes. I like to find oil lamps second hand for a couple bucks a piece. Don’t forget to stock up on lamp wicks to keep those lamps in service!
We’ve adopted the practice of using outdoor solar walkway lights around the inside of our home when it begins to get dark outside. Each morning, we put the solar lights outside to soak up all the sunlight they can. When night falls, we bring the lights indoors and place them in eye hooks we’ve screwed into the walls around the home to help light up dark bathrooms and hallways. Solar lights have rechargeable batteries in them which do need to be replaced over time, but so far ours have lasted for almost a year and are still going strong.
Battery Powered Lights
Flashlights are a great portable solution for off-grid lighting, especially for short term or emergency use. If you don’t want to fool with replacing batteries, check out some of the solar flashlights or hand-crank lights available on the market.
Battery powered lanterns are a great option, especially for kids’ rooms, as they don’t run the risk of fire like candles and oil lamps do. You don’t have to worry about strong odors or irritating fumes either. We have one little battery powered lantern for each of our children to use- though we mainly save those for camping trips.
Solar Panels and LED Lights
Our main source of off-grid lighting is a small 1000 kW solar panel kit installed on our home. All we had to do to modified our existing light fixtures to be solar-compatible was replace our old Edison style light bulbs with LEDs. They are a little more expensive up front, but they last forever and use only a tiny fraction of energy. Where our old bulbs pulled 60-75 watts each, the new LEDs light the same amount of space with only 6 watts, making them very easy to support with solar energy.
To make the best use of our limited supply of solar power, I only screwed one to two light bulbs into each ceiling fixture, depending on the size of the room. After all, do we really need four light bulbs in one bedroom, or nine in one bathroom? Not really. We quickly adjusted to the softer lighting, and really don’t miss the excess at all.
We’re also good about keeping lights turned off during the daytime or when somebody isn’t occupying a room. When your power is limited you become very conscious of not being wasteful.
Outdoor Security Lighting
When we switched to off-grid lighting, we still wanted the security of outdoor motion sensor lights at the corners of our home and at the entrances. Our local hardware store had some fairly inexpensive solar motion lights that served the purpose and were quick and easy to install. They aren’t the brightest lights ever, but they shine enough that we would be able to see if somebody was outside, and hopefully would act as a deterrent.
Have a Backup For Your Backup
To be as prepared as possible, we keep all of the above mentioned items on hand for our off-grid lighting needs:
Solar powered LED lights in the ceiling fixtures are used as the main lighting source throughout our house, only at night or as necessary.
Solar powered outdoor path lights are brought indoors at night and used in the place of nightlights.
Oil lanterns and non-toxic candles serve as backups to our solar lights during extended cloudy days when solar charging is weak.
Battery powered flashlights and lanterns are mainly used when we need to head outdoors at night, or for camping.
Solar motion-sensor lights are used for security around the perimeter of the home.
Something else you might consider are these low-budget EMP Proof Solar Lightbulbs.