Editor’s Note: This is article was originally published in December 2016.
For some, the thought of upcoming wintertime power outages comes with a sense of dread or even panic. But there has always been something nostalgic to me about the peace that comes when the noisy hum of household appliances falls quiet. The glowing ambiance of candles or oil lamps gently lighting a room takes me back to bygone days when life had a bit more quality and substance.
I suppose it was a love for this kind of peaceful existence that motivated (at least in part) my husband and I to move toward living off grid. We still aren’t there 100%, but almost everything in our home is run on solar power, with the exception of five big appliances: the water heater, the washing machine, the A/C unit, the electric stove, and the well pump. We do have non-electric backups in place for each of these, which we switch to on a regular basis. However, as a busy work-at-home, homeschooling mom I have to say I’m grateful for a few grid-powered items in this season of life.
Lighting is one of the easiest things to find non-electric alternatives for. And many of the items you would need can be found for very little money.
Candles can be a very inexpensive (sometimes even free) way to light your home off grid. I’m always on the look out at yard sales for boxes labeled “free stuff” where oftentimes you can find candles for the taking. If you’re the industrious, DIY type, you can try your hand at making your own candles. After all, almost everyone used to do this a couple hundred years ago!
I’ve become more conscious about the candles I burn, however, as I’ve learned more about the dangerous toxin-filled smoke that paraffin based candles put off when burned. I now opt for safer beeswax or soy based candles for indoor burning instead.
Oil lamps are another good option for lighting your home without electricity. They can be fueled with kerosene, lamp oil, olive oil, and even animal fat. You must be careful to have a room well ventilated when burning kerosene due to the strong odors it puts off, which isn’t always practical when it’s cold outside. When searching for the right fuel to burn, try to find a brand that carries a non-toxic, safe-for-indoor use “clean burning” oil. A smokeless, no-odor lamp oil is a good choice.
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 for very little money at second hand stores and yard sales. You’ll also need to stock up on wicks to keep those lamps lit!
Here’s a video on the basics of oil lamp parts and how to safely fill and light one:
We enjoy using outdoor solar lights (you know, the kind people use to light up their walkways at night) around the inside of our home when it begins to get dark outside. Each morning, we put the solar lights outside in a jar to soak up all the sunlight they can. When night falls, we bring the lights indoors and place them strategically 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.
Flashlights and Battery Powered Lamps
Flashlights are a great portable solution for off-grid lighting, especially for short term or emergency use. Solar powered flashlights are a fantastic option, and will save you money over time as you won’t ever need to replace the batteries!
Battery powered lamps or lanterns also come in handy. They’re safer for kids to use than oil lamps, and you don’t have to worry about strong odors or irritating fumes. We have one little battery powered lantern for each child to use- though we mainly save those for camping trips.
Solar Panels and LED Lights
Since we have a small 1000 kW solar panel kit installed in our home, it made more sense for us to modify the existing light fixtures in each room to accommodate solar power. To do this, we simply replaced our old Edison style light bulbs with LEDs. Yes, they are a little more expensive up front, but they last forever. They also 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.
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 entrance ways. Our local hardware store had some fairly inexpensive solar motion lights. They served the purpose and were quick and easy to install.
A Combination of Them All
Ultimately, we use a combination of all of the above mentioned items for our off-grid lighting needs.
- Solar powered LED lights in ceiling fixtures are used as the main lighting source throughout the house, only at night.
- Solar powered outdoor lights are brought indoors at night. They used in the place of nightlights when the overhead lights are turned off.
- 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.
- Solar Motion Lights are used for security around the perimeter of the home.
These non-electric lighting options are what we have found to work best for us. Do you have an alternative light source that you enjoy using off the grid?