Most alternative lighting options require a fire or flame, so you should plan ahead well for adequate ventilation and a safe place to have it. More home fires are caused by improper usage of fires used for light, than from any other reason. Especially if you have children, extra caution should be taken to make sure everything is safe. It would be a shame to have a small crisis turn into a major disaster. But there are some short-term options that don't include flame.
Cyalume sticks are the safest form of indoor lighting available. They are not affected by wind or water and make no sparks or flames. Most people have probably seen the novelty version that kids wear around their necks or arms. They're usually available at carnivals or other festivities, but they also come in larger sticks of various lengths that are about 1/2 inch around. They are used for night-time "flares" or road markers, signals for emergency rescue, markers for objects or workers on night-time construction projects, or any other number of things. I spend some of my summers as a wild-land firefighter, and Cyalume sticks are often used in the fire camps at night. They can be bought at sporting good stores for about $2 each. They may also be carried in variety stores that have a camping section. They are a plastic stick that is safe enough for a baby to play with. They give off a soft glow, not a bright light, and come in different colors like red, yellow, blue and others. We keep some in our emergency "72-hour" kits.
To activate them, you bend the stick until the glass tube inside breaks, then shake it a little to mix the chemicals. They come in different durations, like 3-hour, 6-hour and 12-hour. Cyalume is the only form of light that is completely safe inside a home when there may be a gas leak, like after an earthquake. Flipping on a light switch, or even a flashlight, could run the risk of sparking the gas.
Be sure to use krypton or halogen bulbs in your flashlights, because they last much longer than the regular bulbs and give off several times more light on the same energy consumption. You should keep a few extra bulbs on hand also.
You can also buy hand-crank flashlights, or the kind with the lever on the handle that you squeeze to create the power yourself, and get a workout at the same time! Or you can buy solar powered flashlights. Charge them during the day and use them at night.
Candles - Wax
I usually burn the candles in a jar, or votives that you put in a glass votive container. When they melt, the melted wax just stays in the container and every bit of it is consumed. The tall Advent candles in glass that you can get in the grocery store are great! They burn for several days. Votives can burn for about 15 hours and the little Tea Light candles for about 8. They will burn for more or less time depending on the quality of the wax. Paraffin candles are cheap and both melt and burn fast. Tallow candles burn brighter, longer, and are fairly smoke-free compared to wax candles. I've also started to burn some soy candles and really like them. White or light colored candles give out a brighter light than dark candles. To increase the light, you can set the candle to the side of a room and put aluminum foil or some other reflector behind it, or set it in from of a mirror.
Just be EXTRA careful because of the fire danger of an open flame, especially if you have small children. Making sure you have safe broad-based candle holders, candle lanterns, or a glass covering, will alleviate much of the danger of having it knocked over or something touching it. I've set them in a glass jar to burn and that works well.
Candles - Oil
I have several oil candles. They are usually a decorative glass container that you fill with lamp oil and has a wick in it. They burn a very long time. Most emergency stores have "100-Hour" candles. It is a container that holds about 1 cup of oil or liquid paraffin with a wick in it, and they only cost four or five dollars each.
You can make your own oil candles by pouring salad oil in a dish with a paper wick. Trench Candles are a very cheap way to stock up on candles if you want to take the time to make some of your own. You only need a small amount of wax. Here are the steps to make them:
- Stack 6 to 10 newspapers together. Place a narrow strip of cloth or twisted string along one edge for the wick.
- Roll the paper up tightly around it, leaving about 3/4" of wick sticking out each end.
- Tie the roll tightly with string or wire about every 2 to 4 inches.
- With a small saw, cut about 1" above each tie and pull the cut sections into cone shapes. Pull the center string or cloth in each piece toward the top so a little sticks out for the wick.
- Melt your paraffin or wax in a simple double boiler, and soak the pieces of candle in it for about 2 minutes. (See my soap-making post for simple instructions for a double-boiler.)
- Take them out and put on a newspaper to dry and cool.
And don't forget the matches! Matches are SO cheap. It would be a crying shame to not have matches in an emergency when they are so easy to get now. Think ahead and be prepared! Grab a few boxes of wooden matches each time you stop at Walmart. If you can find the "strike anywhere" matches - get them. They seem to be harder to find but could be a real life-saver in an emergency.
In part 2, I'll explain the different types of kerosene, oil and propane lamps and lanterns that you can get, and show you the ones I use.