By Rich Goss
Issue #156 • November/December, 2015
Most of us do not think twice about flipping the switch and having the lights come on. In this modern era, our worst problem with lighting is changing a burned-out light bulb once in a while. Turning on the lights has been the standard since the late 1930s when the Rural Electrification Administration started bringing electrical service to rural areas. Prior to that, 90% of homes in the city had juice, but only a small percentage of farms did. By the 1960s, nearly the whole country was “on the grid.”
Gas lanterns, propane lanterns, kerosene lamps, or kerosene lanterns all have their place in preparedness lighting if you lose electric power. These are part of what we keep handy.
Most of us who practice self-reliance realize that at some point in time we could be without electric service. Maybe it will be some event like the one that hit a few years back when a chunk of the the eastern United States was without power for three or four days. Maybe it will be a severe storm that rolls through your area and takes down lines. Just last week, a storm took out service for between 40,000 and 60,000 users in my service area.
I have set up multiple levels of lighting in case of an outage. On my farm, I plan on being out of electricity at least twice a year. Sometimes it is only enough loss to make us reset all the clocks, and other times the outage lasts for three to five days.
My first level of keeping myself in lights is the Coleman lantern. These lights have been around since W. C. Coleman first built a table lamp in 1909. The heyday of the Coleman lantern came about in the 1950s, when it was essential equipment for camping and the outdoors. I grew up using several of them at our cabin in the woods.
To make sure you will have light for years to come, keep a number of spare parts for both lanterns and lamps handy. Mantles will need to be replaced often. Don’t forget plenty of matches to light the equipment.
The white light of the Coleman lantern allows me to read and write. My eyes are older now and I need that brightness. I also know that most of us would need that bright light if we were dressing wounds or making an emergency repair on an essential piece of equipment. Coleman lanterns can be found in good used condition for as little as $15. The only drawback is that Coleman fuel is expensive — more than six dollars a gallon. The upside is that the fuel will last for quite a while if used only a few hours a night. Besides storing several gallons of fuel, I’d also recommend storing spare mantles.
If you don’t want to use Coleman fuel, there are models that use propane bottles. The bottles sell for around four dollars a pound. There is also the “tree” that hooks to a 20-pound tank so you can run one for a long time. The tree runs about $35.
The “tree” allows you to have light and hook up such items as a stove or heater at the same time.
On my farm, I store half a dozen cans of Coleman fuel, a couple dozen mantles, and a dozen or so lanterns. I tend to use the same three lanterns at any given time and have the others for backup and trade. My mother-in-law and my sister live in a big city less than an hour from my farm. They both lost power for a few days during a severe ice storm a couple years back. I took them both a lantern and they had the only lights seen on their streets. Gas lanterns give off heat, so they benefited from the extra warmth, too.
If my wife and I do not have need for the bright light or the extra heat from the lanterns, we can use our next level of lighting, kerosene lamps. These give off a soft yellow glow and will burn for hours. They require a cotton wick to bring the fuel up so it can be lit. A globe or chimney is placed over the flame to protect it from a breeze and the light makes for a nice homey feel. We have a dozen or so lamps we have picked up over the years. I also have spare chimneys and wicks.
Very little can go wrong with the kerosene lamp, but using one requires caution. We have all seen the movie where someone throws the lamp and it explodes into an instant inferno. A lamp dropped or knocked off a table or dresser will cause a great deal of damage. The other thing to watch for on kerosene lamps is to make sure the wick is trimmed slightly rounded (or humped) and soaked well before you burn it. A dry wick will burn up quickly and need replacing. Also, use only clear K-1 kerosene. Any tinted, dyed, or chemical added to the fuel will gum up the wick and give less light.
We keep about 40 gallons of K-1 clear kerosene stored for emergency use. I have read that using five lamps for five hours a night will use about a gallon of kerosene a month.
Another level of lighting is the lowly candle. Today, light is judged in terms of “candle power.” We have a large supply of candles for our emergency lighting. The open flame of a candle needs to be watched carefully so that a fire doesn’t start. If you put candles in a glass holder, they can be a little safer, but caution is still the watchword when lighting with an open flame.
There are other forms of lighting that you can utilize in an emergency. We have a solar yard light. It charges all day long and then gives us enough light to make our way around the yard at night. We also use some LED lanterns in the summer because the gas lanterns add too much heat. Another nice light to use when you are not reading or working is a string of Christmas lights. We have a string that runs on two D-cell batteries. It gives enough light to sit and chat by.
Flashlights can also be used. The shake light gives many hours of use without the need for batteries. With a recharging battery array and solar cell to charge batteries with any good quality flashlight will function well in an emergency scenario.
As you can see, there are a lot of options for us to make sure that if the grid goes down we will be all set with plenty of light for our needs.