How To Light Your Home Off Grid

December 6, 2015

Survival Retreat

How To Light Your Home Off Grid

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.

oil lamps

Oil Lamps

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!

solar light

Solar Lights

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.

LED Bulbs

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.

solar security light

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.

Also, you can always make your own portable solar generator to help power your home.

I’d love to hear how you plan on lighting your home if the power goes out!


About Kendra Lynne

Kendra shares all of her homesteading adventures on her website, New Life on a Homestead. Also be sure to check out her popular Canning DVD: At Home Canning For Beginners and Beyond!

View all posts by Kendra Lynne

22 Responses to “How To Light Your Home Off Grid”

  1. William Castle Says:

    Been off the grid since 1980 and still learning


  2. Dale Says:

    Wow, what simple and practical ideas! Thank you very much this article was very helpful! Also you gave alot of helpful information about emissions! May God continue to Bless you! Dale in VA


  3. Chuck Conly Says:

    For now all lights are changed to LEDs, but I have mostly small postage stamp sized LEDS bolted to a piece of aluminum formed (easy to bend over a board) plate to mount to the ceiling, and the actual LED is about 1 1/2″ above the mounting surface (ceiling). They are 12Volt already, each seem to make at least the light of a 60 watt bulb. They use so little current that touching the leads to a battery doesn’t even make a small spark. Two make enough light in the bedroom to read by, and 4 light up my whole shop. They are blinding, if you look directly at them you see spots for about an hour! The prices average about $2. But you have to form the heatsink! I wire them with the small 3 color TELEPHONE wire, and I bought a stapler for that wire! That wire is usually very cheap, one 1000 ft box was $2 at the flea market. The inverter (not used for the lighting) is mounted in the wall next to the circuit breaker box, so after switching off the main breaker at the top, it can be connected and power both sides of the panel. No 220V but BOTH 110 volt sides. I have several separate small systems, one each in the home, shop and well, ALL CHEAP! The hot water comes from a solar panel, pumped by a small Flojet pump, the small solar panel just powers the pump, to circulate the hot water, the pump has valves so stops feedback at nite. If there is enough sun to heat water, there is enough to run the pump! If its cloudy or night, no solar power, no pumping my hot water back through the cold panel and cooling it! One well has a Rule submersible 12volt pump, $10 the other has a $16 flojet pump, both powered by another set of panels on the generator shed! (which also light the shop) Using the generators only for the heavy machinery, lathes, welders, and etc. The panels are the $139 for a set of 3 (45 watt total) from Harbor freight. They include the mounting frame and control AND VARIABLE HOOKUP BOX and 2 of the new coiled flourecent bulbs and fixtures wired and ready to plug into the boxes (which have several outlets in various types of plugs and voltages for whatever you want to plug in and charge! I use them at the ends where I need to charge different things like my cell phone, walkee-talkee, portable shop lights, radios! MY TV and VCR together pull only 12 watts! In separate small sections for separate uses, it’s CHEAP! NOT GRID TIED (I don’t expect to have a live grid anyway, and our power company refuses to buy back the energy from a $40,000 roof top (no battery or power at night) “professional system”. It’s designed for ME, not to make lots of profit for the installer! This cost less than $500, bought at different times part at a time! Set of panels this week $139. Next week another, next week a $16 water pump, next week another SMALL inverter $29. CHEAP! My WAY! Check out Rural KIng for cheap deep cycle batteries (golf cart). If you have $40,000 to spend on a system that still needs the grid at night? Fine for you! IF YOU DON’T, THEN THIS WAY WILL WORK !


  4. Carl Says:

    There are only 6 and not 8 ways for alternative lighting like the heading of the email replies to. Also, EMP proof lights are good what about everything else within that system?


    • Cinderella Says:

      Hi Abi,Yes, I agree. Ten years ago, Thailand and Cambodia were much like Laos is now. I do&;n8217#t see it staying that way for much longer though.


  5. Howard Says:

    A good basic article. A few comments from a homestead that is off grid at 62 degrees north latitude. We do not get enough winter sun to charge batteries and don’t really need lights in mid summer. We do have solar but is is used for communications, entertainment, our 12 volt freezer, and internet. We charge the batteries in winter with a generator.
    Our primary lighting is plumbed in propane lights. These are as bright as compact florscents and have the advantage of providing about 1800 BTU of heat per mantle. We have oil lamps for backup. As to Aladdin lamps: they are very prone to flaring. One should not leave an Aladdin unattended for any reason. Just opening a door can change the draft enough to cause a flare.
    I highly recommend LED headlamps for outdoor chores as they leave hands free. They are great for reading in bed as you can focus the light on the book. There are lots of inexpensive AAA models and the batteries last well. They are great for kids as a backup for grid failure as well as camping.


  6. Kenneth Says:

    I am still on the grid but am fairly well prepared to be off grid at any point with 12 volt/solar. One of the lighting options I have is homemade wooden sconces that hold candles with mirrors and glass chimney on them that I have on the walls through out the house. The glass chimneys are a must with doors opening and closing causing enough wind to blow the candles out as most of the sconces are near doorways. The mirrors on the sconce enhance the light several fold. I have a Yankee wood shop (all non electric) in back of my house that allows me to make all kinds of useful items like this.


  7. TSgt B Says:

    Where can one find HIGH QUALITY kerosene/oil lamps these days? Most of the stuff on the market is JUNK!


  8. R A Myers Says:

    The electric work and emergency light I’ve been using for several years is the Energizer Weatheready Folding LED Lantern. The first ones were the compact fluorescent version. They made RF noise I could hear in our AM radios. They still work.

    Energizer has gone through several improving versions using LEDs. The package of the first lantern we got said the lantern would run for 200 something hours on low power. It ran for thirty plus nights at seven hours a night as a test.

    The original compact fluorescent and LED versions required four D cells. The newest versions are supposed to run 520 hours on low and will run on 2 or 4 D cells

    All the LED versions have a yellow LED night light. After 5 or so minutes to get your eyes used to the night light, we can see a 12 by 14 feet room well enough to navigate safely.

    Our headboard has a couple of hooks made of insulated # 10 gauge solid wire, so as not to damage the headboard. We hang the lanterns on the hooks and read by low power.

    The package illustration shows the lantern standing on end for 360 degree illumination. I found that mode to be unstable. Opening it 90 degrees makes the battery container a very stable base.

    A twenty or so inch piece of heavy duty aluminum foil folded in half twice makes an excellent adjustable reflector when placed between the battery holder and the lamp section.

    The lantern is not water proof, it’s an indoor or non rain environment use lantern.

    It’s strong point is longevity.


  9. Kimberly Says:

    You mentioned that olive oil works best. I live in Las Vegas & there are lots of olive trees around. I don’t think the olives are much good for eating but can’t help but wonder if there is a way to make oil from them to burn for lighting purposes. Any chance you’ve heard of a recipe for this or ever made any of your own oils?


    • Kendra Lynne Says:

      There are some videos on YouTube on how to make olive oil at home. We can’t grow olives where we live, so I’ve never tried it myself. But I’d love to know how it goes if you give it a shot! :)


  10. TheSouthernNationalist Says:

    I have a plan to use a deep cell 12 volt battery hooked to a solar panel and install auto light sockets using 1157 bulbs for interior and headlamp bulbs for outdoor spot lights.


    • NHOffGridGuy Says:

      You should seriously look into the automotive 12 volt LED bulbs that fit the same sockets as the 1157 type incandecents. They use a fraction of the amperage and you will also not experience as much of an issue with voltage drop. For the exterior lights, they again make a great 12 volt, 10watt LED fixture which you can locate on Amazon. In either case, the cost is not terribly high for these solutions.


  11. Evan Says:

    Those solar garden lights are going to be invaluable if/when SHTF! I can just imagine people walking around like new age cave men holding torches.

    I don’t know if this counts but I saw an article a while ago (can’t find it now) on installing clear 2 liter bottles filled with water into roofs to provide indoor lighting during the day. I thought it was a pretty great idea


  12. Joe Says:

    Did I read something wrong here or did you say you now run every light in your house off of a 100w solar panel?


  13. Angela Searles Says:

    I’m a homeschool mom too!!! We’ve been researching off grid topics in preparation. This was a great post!!!


  14. Jon Says:

    Solar won’t work when all the volcanoes start erupting….Revelation 9:1.2.


    • Chet Says:

      But if you build your own solar generator like I show my clients how to do in my Solar Generator Blueprints, you can build it so that thermal electric generation can charge your batteries off of your fireplace! Something to consider if volcanoes is a threat your concerned about.


    • mike Says:

      Solar power will have to do for now… but have you considered a LAVA LAMP for the end of the world conditions? :)


  15. Dean Says:

    for full blown off grid battery systems, we use direct DC lighting for our customers, the 10-15% efficiency loss that is avoided really helps us save amps for our customer’s deep cycle batteries.


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