Sunday, December 16, 2012

Lights, when the lights are out

Like most of my posts, I'm going to talk about what I have.  There may be other things out there that you can buy, but these are the things I have first-hand knowledge about.
In the top left of this picture there is a Jeep LED lantern.  It uses eight "AA" batteries, and because of the low power draw of the LEDs, the batteries last a long, long time.  This lantern also has a switch that works like a dimmer switch.  When you twist the knob the lamp comes on with a dim light, and as you twist it gets brighter.  If you don't need as much light, you can turn it down, further extending the life of your batteries. 

We've had a lot of lanterns over the years, and this one wins, hands down, with our family.  I've attached a link so you can read more about it if you're interested.
Next to the lantern in my picture is a red flashlight.  This flashlight is sealed shut and has a capacitor inside it instead of batteries.  You shake it and the magnet inside slides up and down, charging it so that you have light.  The down side of these is that they don't give light for more than 5 to 10 minutes, and it grows dimmer and dimmer.
The 'up' side is that as long as you don't mind shaking it for a few seconds you'll always have light.  I had to walk nearly a mile in the dark one night when my car got stuck in the snow, and although the light got dim about every five minutes and I stopped to shake it for a minute every so often, I never had to worry that I would be out of light in the dark woods.

I couldn't find the exact one I have when I searched online, but this one has the same features.  I recommend it as a good emergency flashlight since you never have to replace a battery on it.  I've had mine for four years and it's just as bright as ever, after some shaking.  There's a great description of how it works, here on the product link.
The next flashlight in the picture is a solar-charged flashlight.  That's my number one flashlight.  I've taking it on bicycle camping trips, with it in the clear plastic map holder on my handlebar bag.  We've laid it on the dashboard of the car on trips, to keep it charged.  At home I keep it on the window ledge of my south-facing bedroom window, and I always have a charged flashlight.  It uses re-chargeable AA batteries, and I've used it for reading in the tent in the evenings, sometimes for 2 or 3 hours, and still had light left. 

Again, I've had mine for 4 or 5 years and I couldn't find one just like it.  I've posted a couple here that you can go look at. I'm not real impressed with either one, to be honest.  Both use 'funny' batteries.  The one on the left says it has 3 back-up 'button' batteries, and the one on the right uses non-replacable NiMH batteries.  Over time they would get to where they don't hold a charge for as long.  Mine uses rechargeable AAs, like I said above, and I can replace them after a couple years if they're not holding their charge.  But these will give you a jumping point if you're interested in solar flashlights.

I can't find it right now but we have a wind-up flashlight too.  It's a pretty good light.  Like the capacitor flashlight that has to be shaken regularly, the wind-up light has to be wound fairly often.  It has a battery but it doesn't last long.  However, give it some winds and it's lit again! 

This is the one that we have.  It's come down in price from the $19.99 we paid a few years ago.  Either that or we got "took" from the store where we bought it! 

The next 'lights' in the picture are candles.  It's a box of six candles, each candle being 1" tall and about that big around.  I keep boxes of them around, packed here and there among supplies, but I don't recommend them as the best light.  For one thing, they can be a fire hazard, and for another, they can be dangerous to children, who don't always look where they're bouncing around!  I'd still recommend having candles with your stored supplies, but use them with caution.
On the top right in the picture is an oil lamp.  They can be found at most box stores, such as Wal-mart and Target.  The little antique store in a nearby town has a bunch of them for amazingly low prices, from $4 and up.  You can also buy them online, but there are so many that I didn't even know where to start, to give you a link.  However, here's one that has a special feature that I really like:

See the thing that looks like a lamp shade?  That is great if you set the lamp on a table and you're trying to read, play cards, or other games.  It shields your eyes from the light, so that you can see, and it focuses the light down and out to the sides, rather than sending light up to the ceiling.  We made these using foil pie pans.  We cut a hole in the center and slid it down over the glass chimney.  You can buy a cheaper lamp and make one yourself.  Then slide it off if you want to throw more light around the upper part of the room.  If you have a white ceiling it can help light the outer parts of the room.

There are 'outdoor' oil lamps, too.

This is a typical outdoor kerosene lantern that we always called 'Hurricane lanterns'.  I'm not sure why, because when we've walked with them outside it didn't take much wind to blow them out.  Before we had solar power I used to take one with me in the winter when I went to milk the goats.  I'd hang it on a hook from the ceiling in the goat shed. I really loved walking through the dark, snowy light and looking at the circle of soft light it cast.  Sometimes the kids would come along and it was easier for them to see than a narrow flashlight beam.
There are many other types of oil lamps, such as alladin lamps, which are designed to put out a brigher light, and there are lamps that have reflectors, which are usually a round metal disk on one side that mirrors the light out into the room.  There are tabletop lamps, wall lamps, and lamps that hang from chains or hooks,
Some people call these "kerosene" lamps instead of oil lamps.  You can burn either lamp oil or kerosene in them.  We've used red-dye off-road diesel for oil.  I don't know if you could burn kitchen oils (vegetable, olive, canola, etc.) in them in an emergency, but I'm hoping someone who has tried it, will write and tell us about it.
Keep the glass globes/chimney's clean.  They'll get a sooty black residue from the oil.  Trim the wick when it starts getting a charred edge.  Be sure the lamp is cool when you do either type of maintenance on your lamp.  Store extra wicks and glass globes or chimneys, if you can.  Thrift stores are a good place to find the globes.  Craft stores and stores like Wal-mart often have the wicks.

If your room is sealed up pretty air tight you might want to crack open a window or door from time to time.  The lamps get very hot and are a fire hazard.  Be very cautious!

I'll mention the Coleman lanterns here, the ones that burn White Gas.  Years ago we had one but I don't remember much about it except that it was noisy.  It made a hissing sound that took away from the quiet beauty of wherever we were camping, which is usually some place remote and far from other humans!  It might not be as noticable in town.  It puts out a brighter light than an oil lamp, for a 'plus'.  The 'minus' sides would be that the fuel is more expensive, and you have to have special mantles for it or you can't use it.  They break easily, so keep a lot of extras on hand if you  go with this type of lamp.

I know I labeled this post for "when the lights are out", and this picture includes an electric lamp and two packages of LED light bulbs (lower part of picture).  If you happen to have a car or boat battery laying around, and a cheap inverter, you can set up a lighting system with the lamp and the LED light bulbs, and it'll draw hardly any power.  If you only turn the light on when you really need it, you could get a week or more out of the car or boat battery.
The way you do this is to hook the inverter to the battery.  Cheap inverters often come with 'alligator clips' that just clip onto the battery posts.  Be sure the "positive" clip goes to the positive post, and that the "negative" clip goes to the negative post.  There should be a plus or minus on the battery.  The inverter might have the plus or minus, or it might have red for positive and black for negative.
 Then you plug your lamp into the inverter and turn the inverter on.  Now you can turn on the lamp.

I've saved my favorite light for last.  These are solar garden lights.
 This solar light is almost ten years old.  We bought a pack of six of them when we moved up here to our off-grid homestead.  We still had four kids at home, ages 9 to 14, and the deep dark of living where there were no man-made lights was unnerving for them.  They wanted nightlights.  It was too dangerous to give them oil lamps, and all other types of lights either involved fire or using up batteries.  Then we thought of these solar lights.

 They're powered by AA batteries, which are charged by the little solar panel on the top.  Here on the underside you can see the small LED light in the middle, and the batteries on each side.  I glued a small piece of foil on each side of the light bulb to reflect light even more.

During the day the kids would put the lights in one of our south-facing windows and the sun would charge it.  In the evening they pulled one end of one of the batteries to keep the light off until they went to bed.  In the morning they would do the same when they got up, until the sun was up and could charge the light.  If it was a cloudy day they usually still got enough charge to run the light for a second  night.  However a long cloudy spell could require popping a different set of AA batteries in it for the night.

The light is just bright enough that the kids would lay the light on the pillow next to their head, with the cover off and the LED bulb pointing upward, and they would read until they got sleepy.  They also held them facing forward and used them as a soft-lighted flashlight to get around in the dark.  It was a savings over using regular flashlights.

The solar garden lights come with rechargable batteries, but we've also used these batteries from Costco.  They take a re-charge, even though they're not technically rechargable.  The light draws so little power that a set of these regular AA batteries will power the light at night for a month.

We eventually bought more of them and the kids used them to charge batteries for their cameras and hand-held electronics and anything else that used AA batteries.  I've heard some of the cheap, newer ones don't have as good of a solar panel on them; that they get 'filmy' after a while.  Some only use one battery and I prefer the ones that use two batteries.

Another way to charge batteries is a solar battery charger.
This one charges "D", "C", "AA", "AAA" and the square 9-volt batteries.  It also has a plug-in cord with different plug-in ends, which will power very low-watt things if you're in the direct sun.  An example is that I could plug in a small radio and set it in the garden and power it right off this solar charger.  It'll also charge cell phones and hand-held small electronics.

I ordered it from Amazon three years ago and I love it.  It was only $25 then, but guess how much it is now?

It's $44.99 from Amazon, and $38.99 from other vendors on Amazon (but with the Amazon one you get free shipping).  Wow, that's a big price increase in just three years!  Ouch.
I'm not an expert in emergency or preparedness lighting, but I hope you've enjoyed what I've shared with you.  I welcome letters and pictures with other options and ideas, and comments with questions or suggestions.

I hope the product links are not annoying.  Even though I have an amazon link on my sidebar and get referral pennies for people who use it, I mainly put links on this post because I keep getting emails from people asking where things can be found, and how much they are.  Please feel free to use these links to browse or just to get more information on what's available, or email me with questions and I'll look for answers.

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