Imagine you’re relaxing on the couch with your phone or tablet — perhaps reading an article on Urban Survival Site — when lightning flashes against the windows followed by a deafening crack of thunder. An instant later the lights go out and your home becomes dark and eerily quiet. What is the first thing you would do in this situation?
Hopefully you have an easily accessible flashlight in each room so you don’t have to go digging through drawers and cabinets in the dark. But if it’s a long power outage, you don’t want to use flashlights the entire time. At some point most people get out the candles, but there are many other options. In this article I’m going to cover all the most common ways to light your home when the power goes out.
Everyone has at least one flashlight somewhere, but is it in good condition? Batteries drain over time, so if the flashlight has sat for a year without being used, it might be time to check the batteries.
Even if the batteries are good, the flashlight might not be very bright or reliable if it’s really old. Make sure you have a good flashlight in every room. It’s no fun being in the middle of a power outage with flashlights that don’t work.
Small LED flashlights are bright enough for most purposes, and easy enough to store by the bed, in a drawer, and by the door, so you always have a light handy if the power goes out.
2. Rechargeable Flashlights
Another option is dynamo flashlights which usually charge with a hand crank. These are alright for short term use, or slightly hyper kids, but could be awkward if you’re trying to actually work on something. They are good for storing in the car, or in a rarely looked at emergency kit, since they don’t have a battery to run out.
Ones with a pump style dynamo, as opposed to a turning hand-crank dynamo, are easier to use and harder to break. The biggest drawback of the dynamo flashlights is that they do not hold the dynamo charge for long, and require nearly constant effort to maintain power. But again, kids might like them, especially if you can get one that shows the inner workings of the flashlight’s dynamo.
3. Head Lamps
If you need both hands for something but you also need a flashlight, head lamps are the perfect solution. You could also just leave it on your head and turn it on when you go to the bathroom or any unlighted room. There are many highly rated options.
Another way to use head lamps is to attach them to a milk jug like this. As you can see, this causes the light to disperse, creating a makeshift lamp.
Candles are often among the first choices for emergency lighting. They are easily attainable, have no expiration, and are easy to use. However, they are also a danger due to being an open flame. If candles are part of your power outage preparations, make sure that for every type of candle you also have the proper non-flammable holder for it.
For taper candles, get some sturdy candlestick holders that won’t easily tip over, and put them on a flat, non-flammable surface. For pillar candles, make sure they are always set on a non-flammable surface. The same goes for votive candles, tea lights, and any other homemade candles.
Personally I recommend this 80-hour candle. Beeswax candles are expensive, but they last a long time and they typically burn hotter and brighter than paraffin or soy candles.
5. Kerosene / Oil Lamps
These are awesome light sources, especially the old school hurricane lanterns. As with candles, however, they are an open flame so you need to be careful with them. Oil lamps also give off more heat and carbon dioxide than candles and should only be used in a well-ventilated room.
6. Propane Lamps
Propane lamps (such as those used for camping) can also give plenty of light in a power outage. The danger of such lamps is their high heat output and high oxygen use. A propane lamp should be used outside or in a well-ventilated area. If you decide to use a propane lamp, make sure you have a few extra propane bottles to keep your light going.
7. Battery Powered Lights
You’re going to use a lot of batteries if you go this route, so you might want to invest in some rechargeable batteries and a solar battery charger. Rechargeable batteries don’t last as long so you’ll be changing them a lot, but at least you won’t have to deal with kerosene or lamp oil. It depends on your preference.
8. Rechargeable Lights
With these, no batteries are necessary. You just plug them into the wall to charge them up. They’re great for short-term power outages, but obviously they won’t be a great option if the power is out for more than a day. It’s a good idea to have a nice rechargeable work light, anyway. Then when the power goes out you’ll have another option.
Another option is a rechargeable spotlight. These are useful if you have chores to do or a perimeter to check. Rechargeable spotlights usually have two options, either a rechargeable battery pack, or a recharging dock for the whole flashlight. With frequent use, a rechargeable spotlight will usually last two years with bright light, but it may last longer with infrequent use.
If you have night lights in your home, consider replacing them with emergency night lights. These work like normal night lights, but they also charge up so they keep working during power outages. You can even use them as flashlights.
9. Solar Indoor Lamps
There are duo dynamo/solar lamps that you can charge with sunlight, or by using the included dynamo. Some of these even have ports so that you can charge your phone (like this one).
If you don’t care about the dynamo, there are plenty of lamps that work well with solar power alone. The survival solar air lantern works for up to 12 hours on a single charge. There are also many solar desk lamps to choose from. Depending on the lamp, they can be brighter than an oil lamp and can last for several hours.
10. Solar Outdoor Lamps
Depending on your purpose and location, outdoor solar lights may be a good idea for emergency or power outage use. Most solar lights will last from 6-8 hours on a single charge in the summer, possibly only 4 hours during the winter months. Some motion sensing solar lights can last all night on a single charge, even in the winter.
While solar lights are usually kept outdoors, you can bring them inside if you need extra light. In fact, some of you probably already have solar garden lights. A large vase can hold several of these with ease, and provides concentrated light if you do not have an oil lamp or indoor solar lamp.
11. Glow Sticks
One way to keep kids entertained during a power outage is to have them use glow sticks for light. These little sticks are long lasting, fun, and fairly inexpensive. They can be propped in corners or tied to clothing to provide ambient light. Other options include glow bracelets, necklaces, and UV Paqlite. Depending on the color, they may even be bright enough to read by.
Increasing Your Light
While light sources are always useful, a few small additions can greatly increase the amount of light given by any single light source.
When using candles, put a tin pie plate behind the holder and under the candle. The reflection will increase the amount of light by several candle-watts. If you have candle wall scones, add a tin pie plate, or sheet of tin foil behind the scone. It will not only protect your wall from heat, but reflect more light out into the room. Use a foil background to increase light outputs from oil lamps and glow sticks as well.
Smaller rooms need less light to feel bright, so you might want to gather your family into one small room and read together to make the most of your light sources.
Finally, in a power outage, don’t be afraid to use all your natural light resources. Open blinds and curtains to let in as much light as possible. Only close curtains after dusk has fallen, as then the curtains can reflect your light sources back into the room.