When many of us think of the power going out, we have an immediate, short-term plan: grab a flashlight or light a candle. However, do we consider what we’d do if the lights didn’t come back on?
There are so many different reasons the power can go out for a considerable amount of time. Tornados, hurricanes, wildfires, blizzards, earthquakes, tsunamis… And yes, there are those other possibilities such as war, or poverty that if you are reading this, you may not have given much thought to.
Though your life currently may be unaffected by any of these things, it’s still a good idea to have an alternative light source plan if the power goes out.
Before You Make Your Plan
There’s a lot to consider when coming up with a plan for alternative light sources. It’s wise to have a plan for both short-term (hours to days) outage and long-term outages (weeks to months), and even to think through a permanent outage. The goal in considering a permanent outage is to find weaknesses you might not otherwise spot in a long-term plan.
Other factors such as where you live, what you do throughout the day (or night), if you have children or animals, and the amount of storage space you have available are all things to take into account. Consider the safety of each type of light source, what they each require to operate, and whether or not you have room to store the light and supplies it uses.
Battery Powered Lights
Battery-powered lights are great for short-term outages. They have the potential to serve you well for long-term ones, but they have their drawbacks.
Though generally considered safe, batteries do create power and can shock, burn, or otherwise injure. Leaked battery acid can eat through the skin, and if ingested by an animal or a child can be deadly.
Batteries are a power reservoir, and the power can drain for a variety of reasons. When it does, the battery is either permanently dead or needs to be recharged. In this case, you still need some kind of power source to charge the battery, so be sure to take those factors into account.
For the health and safety of your home, make sure that batteries are always used and stored properly. Be sure to always keep backups on hand, and that the batteries are not expired.
The flashlight is a classic alternative light source, and for good reason. They’re portable, work through wind and rain, are typically affordable, and will put out a good deal of light.
You can get flashlights with storage canisters inside, flash settings for an emergency situation. Some come with stands and hangers, and they can come with adjustable beam settings and light brightness.
The right flashlight is a good investment. However, don’t forget that it has to actually function when you need light. You’ll need batteries or a way of charging your flashlight.
If you want a flashlight that doesn’t use traditional batteries, there are hand-crank flashlights and solar charging flashlights on the market.
Headlamps come in a variety of styles and with varying settings. You can get them in a hat, on a headband, or on a strap. This is a fantastic option for lighting if you need something portable and hands-free. Consider this option if you have to do chores outdoors in the dark, do any hunting, or take walks before the sun is up.
Headlamps can be uncomfortable, and some are not easy to change the battery out of or require odd batteries that can be difficult to find. However, many are well-designed and some will charge with a USB connection to some kind of power supply.
There are two kinds of lanterns: battery and fuel operated. We’ll discuss oil lamps shortly. Lanterns light up an entire room or space, whereas flashlights and headlamps are very directional and focused.
Much like flashlights, there are plenty of options with battery-operated lanterns. Adjustable brightness, a choice of light color, and lantern size are things you can look for when purchasing a lantern. There are even hand-crank lanterns that can hold a charge for 20+ minutes.
With anything battery-operated, keep in mind that the light settings you use may affect the advertised life of the light.
Flame lighting like candles, oil lamps, and lanterns are all good choices for lighting. However, there are plenty of considerations with flame light because the risk of fire increases greatly.
It’s good to keep functioning fire extinguishers on hand wherever you intend to use a flame. Make sure you have the right kind of fire extinguisher for putting out fires based on what kind of source you are using or what flammable items may be in the space you would have the flame.
Also, be sure you know how to safely put out different types of fire (i.e. don’t throw water on a grease fire, etc.)
Since most people will light a candle to add a pleasant smell to a room or to add ambiance to a setting, it’s definitely an area that one should consider seriously.
Despite safety concerns, flame light is a fantastic alternative light source. In the event of a long-term or even permanent power outage, most people would use wick and flame for light, much like our ancestors did.
When the power goes out after dark, it’s not uncommon to find homes dotted with candles. They can let off a lot of light for being a simple, small flame. They are also easy to store in your home.
If you are allergic to artificial fragrances or are sensitive to paraffin wax, look for soy or beeswax candles that are unscented or use a natural fragrance.
Some types of wax or different quality waxes will burn longer than others. Different quality wicks can make a difference in how clean or long your candles burn.
Some brands of candles advertise burn time. There are candles that are made just for emergency situations, so keep your eyes open when shopping. A candle that seems to last forever when lit for an hour at a time will burn up much more quickly when lit for hours at a time.
2. Oil Lamps and Lanterns
Lamps and lanterns operate in much the same way, though they have some different purposes. An oil lamp, once lit, will remain stationary. However, an oil lantern can sit on a tabletop or go with you to do chores. It is incredibly important that if you go this route, to keep good fire safety equipment.
Be sure you learn how to use your lamp or lantern BEFORE an outage ever happens. You don’t want to try fumbling around with fuel and flames in the dark.
Many lanterns and lamps require a small funnel for filling with oil. Even if you buy one that comes with a funnel, buy an extra lantern funnel or two. The ones I’ve seen that come with the lantern are too small, and kitchen funnels will likely be too big.
Oil lamps and lanterns burn slowly and let off a decent amount of light, making them a good alternative light source for a room that would be used a lot during an outage. The light is softer than that of a flashlight or anything that runs LEDs, and it can be much easier on the eyes.
Some oil lamps require a mantle instead of a wick, and they can be a little tricky to “install.” They almost act like a lightbulb, and yet they are very different.
The glass on a lantern or lamp keeps the flame burning steadily and refracts light around the room. Never touch the glass of a lamp once the flame has been lit. It’s hot and will burn you. You don’t want to have clean up broken glass by lamplight because you dropped it or have to try treating a burn in the dark.
Kerosene is the recommended oil for lamps as it burns well, bright, and has a long shelf-life. However, it has a pretty strong smell, and it can be an irritant for some people. If you are prone to those issues, you may have to look into other sources of fuel.
Anything with a flame will create at least some soot, and you may need to wipe off the glass on a lamp or lantern between uses.
You can often purchase kerosene cans where you buy gas cans. In the US, they are blue and come in different sizes. Research where you can purchase it by the gallon from a pump. Around here, we can get it at a farm store that has a gas station.
If you have to do animal chores in the evening, an oil lantern is portable and safe enough to take with you. If this is a backup plan for you, consider installing a hook to hang your lantern while doing chores. Old buildings and animal bedding are highly flammable.
Don’t forget to consider how you’ll light your candles, lamps, or lanterns. Matches and lighters are often kept on hand, but flint is a good back-up. A waterproof container or waterproof matches would be good to have in the event of water damage like flooding.
Solar, Generators, and Portable Chargers
There are questions you should ask yourself before investing in any of these options. Questions such as whether or not you have space, what kind of situations you’d want to have them for, and what your power priorities are.
In a short-term outage, you might be happy to have your lights kick on with the generator. During a long-term outage that lasts weeks or more, you might regret having run the lights when your fuel and power run out and everything in your chest freezer is thawing.
With solar, you can invest in a small unit that could charge or power some small items without investing massive amounts of money. However, again, you need to consider what you want to keep running during an outage if solar is your back-up light source plan.
Hand-crank flashlights/radios with a solar charger can charge devices like cell phones or headlamps, in addition to serving as a flashlight in its own right. It can help solve the battery problem if you don’t want to always keep batteries charged or in stock.
A small portable charger is handy for short-term outages. They come in varying sizes and price points and act as a back-up charger to phones or headlamps with a USB charger. They’re limited in how much power they store, so if you can’t recharge the charger, you’re out of luck.
While pondering these options, don’t forget to take safety and practicality for your situation into account. Flames create risks that you might not want to take if you have animals or curious children. If you have space for a generator, but not fuel, it’s probably not the right choice for you.
Candles and flashlights store easily and don’t take up much room. Battery-operated options such as headlamps, nightlights, or strings of Christmas lights can be kept around easily and generally don’t pose much of a fire risk. However, when looking at shelf-life or “burn time,” you are hindered more here than with oil.
You may not be able to come up with a comprehensive light plan without considering the many other potential aspects of preparedness. Your plans for heating and water may impact the route you take. In the meantime, make sure you’ve got a few candles or flashlights on hand.