Monday, April 5, 2010

Light - When the Power Goes Out - Part 1

Most of us have probably been without electricity at some time. We live in a rural area and it goes out fairly often, sometimes for several hours. A storm can take it out, a tree across a power line, or construction down the road. Short term outages are pretty easy to plan for, but we may be faced one day with long term outages, or no more power at all. There are a number of alternatives to electric lighting. In this first part, I'll talk about the more short-term options.

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
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. 

Everyone probably has flashlights. They are excellent to have for most types of emergencies, except where there may be a natural gas leak. If you have to use a flashlight in that circumstance, go outside of the home or building to turn it on (or off), and then go back inside.

The three main problems with using a flashlight are:  1) they give light to a very small area. You can only see where the beam of light is directed and the rest of the room is still dark.  2) the batteries run down fairly quickly. If you have it on constantly, a flashlight may only last through one night, and  3) batteries don't store well for extended time periods. They last longer if you have a cool place to keep them, and they are in an airtight container. I've heard of some people storing them in the fridge. Alkaline batteries are intended to stay good for 3 to 5 years, but if stored well, can keep a lot longer. Lithium batteries will store for about twice as long as alkaline batteries - 10 or more years.

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 think every home should have a large supply of candles. If you have a safe place to burn them, they give off a good amount of light in a room, and a little heat to boot. I store all kinds. The long taper candles are not my favorite because they burn down faster when they are thin, and they drip, which usually wastes a lot of wax. If you get taper candles, make sure they are a very good quality, slow burning, non-drip type. Most emergency preparedness stores sell "Pink Ladies". They are about 6 inches long and burn slow and long with little or no dripping.

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:
  1. Stack 6 to 10 newspapers together. Place a narrow strip of cloth or twisted string along one edge for the wick.
  2. Roll the paper up tightly around it, leaving about 3/4" of wick sticking out each end.
  3. Tie the roll tightly with string or wire about every 2 to 4 inches.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. Take them out and put on a newspaper to dry and cool.
Always keep the extra wax and ends of candles to melt down and pour in a jar for new candles. I have made many jar candles over the years out of what would have been wasted wax. Go here for how to recycle candle scraps. If you are going to make your own candles, you need to have a supply of wick, also. It's inexpensive and is found at most any craft store. Just remember to pick some up the next time it's handy.

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.


  1. I don't know how you have time to research all this stuff, but I like it. You lead the kind of life I aspire the country, self-sufficient, and peaceful, I bet!

  2. Great post! We have oil lamps that we keep filled and trimmed ready to go. Matches are something that it seems like we buy all the time but can never find!

  3. Thanks Joe! Your compliments are so appreciated! So far, I don't do much "research". These are all things I've been taught and how I've always lived. (The Lord blessed me with wonderful parents :-))I suppose if I start exhausting my knowledge, I'll have to start doing the research! Like I said before - I have land for sale - wanna be neighbors?!!!
    Thanks again,

  4. Actually, how much land? Is it there a house on it? How much $??

  5. We have 2 pieces:
    1) An almost-3 acre piece on a small hilltop with sunshine and views.
    2) An amazing 20 acres, private, with several fresh springs and small creek. It's the perfect off-the-grid spot for garden and farm animals.
    Both are wood/meadow mix and prices dropped.
    Please email me at and I'll send you Craig's List links with pics, prices, etc.

  6. Wow, your blog is an amazing discovery! So full of really useful, well-written and accessible informatian.

    I am living in a third world country at the moment and learning not to rely on electricity, phone lines, and internet is SO freeing! I also much prefer to live by candlelight in my day to day.


  7. Thank You Jodes! Your adventure sounds like Heaven to me! - no phone, electricity... *sigh*. I could also live by candlelight. I've always said that electric light "feels" dead and cold. Candle/fire light is warm and alive!

  8. When hurricane Ike hit (well okay, after...) I used those solar lights that you put outdoors. Charge them in the sun during the day, bring them into the house at night.

  9. That's a great idea Kristy! I was going to mention solar lights and forgot about them when I wrote the post! Thank you for adding that.



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