Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Alternative Lighting Options ~ Proverbs 31 Preparedness Series

“If only I had some grease I could fix some kind of a light," Ma considered. "We didn't lack for light when I was a girl before this newfangled kerosene was ever heard of."

"That's so," said Pa. "These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves--they're good things to have, but the trouble is, folks get to depend on 'em.”

~ Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter

Pa and Ma were quite right! The minute we lose our electricity at night, we are all scrambling about and make a good episode of the Keystone Cops. Loss of power is a very common thing in our area and depending on where you live, you may face it more often than most. Today I would like to discuss alternative lighting options as a part of our practical Proverbs 31 Preparedness Series

"Lighting is so critical to our sense of well-being in a crisis. Being unable to see creates a great feeling of vulnerability. Light a lantern during a power outage and you can feel calm settle over the room."

There are many lighting methods that you can choose from. We are opting for the most practical and least-expensive options. We do have a generator now and technically, we are covered when it comes to lighting. However, for short periods of time (or the few moments until we get it running), we have solar powered flash lights that always work as they are always being charged by the sun in our sunroom. We also have battery operated headlamps which are convenient when walking out onto the homestead to check up on things and do quick fixes. For indoor lighting, our back-up plan had always been candles. However, not much can be done with candlelight and you are limited. I love what a friend from Australia had shared about a homemade oil lamp they created. This can be made easily and the fuel is simply cooking oil from your pantry (she graciously shares her tutorial further down below).

Photo Courtesy of The Little Houston the Prairie Museum

Here are some of the basic lighting options available and the pros and cons of each. I have also consulted the book, Just in Case: How to Be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens for further insight. You can choose the system that will work with your budget and your needs. I would recommend a stable light source in the home as well as some sort of flashlight/headlamp for everyone in the family for a convenient portable light.

  • Head lamps - These are great for outdoor choring in the night and allow you the complete use of your hands which is very handy on the farm. You can even prepare a meal in the dark with one of these in the kitchen. The downside is you need to keep the batteries stocked. 
  • Flashlights - These are great for outdoor use and minor indoor use but the downside of most models are batteries. We purchase solar flashlights inexpensively to remedy this. Though the light output isn't that strong, they do get the job done and are always charged.
  • Kerosene lamps (aka Hurricane lamps) - These give off a moderate level of amber light but unfortunately give off an odor that bothers some people (especially those suffering from asthma). You will need to store extra wicks and fuel for these lamps and be careful as the fuel is highly flammable. Kerosene lamps are a good and inexpensive short term option. Placing a mirror behind the lamp will enhance the light. Some of these are nice looking enough to keep out conveniently as part of your decor. 
  • Hand-cranked lantern/flashlights - These types of light options are run by hand and will provide about an hour of light per every minute of hand-cranking. They do not provide as much light as the kerosene lanterns but they are handy since they don't require additional supplies and are safe for children. I personally do not have any experience with these.

  • Candles - Candle light is quite dim but it will light the way in a home to make it somewhat bearable. However, you can't play a game, read a book, etc. by them. It may be difficult to prepare a dinner with just candlelight also but it can be done if you have quite a few lit and that is all you have in your budget. For safety reasons, please don't leave a candle on unattended. 
  • Solar landscaping lights - These can be charging outside during the day as a part of your landscaping and brought inside at night to illuminate your home during a power outage. I think this is a really neat idea though I am not sure how bright they would be.
  • DIY oil lamp - You can make your own oil lamp with a few frugal ingredients! Rachel Holt from Australia shares her tutorial and pictures with us. I hope you enjoy the information! I am going to put together a few of these for every room in our home. This is a better solution to candlelight which is what my back up was before. She says it puts out enough light for her to knit by and you may even be able to read by it. 

Note: By placing a mirror behind many of these items, you will be able to enhance the light output.

Photos of the "DIY Oil Lamp" Kindly Provided by Rachel Holt of Australia

DIY Oil Lamp with Designer Floating Wick by Rachel Holt (and Husband)

Tutorial below shared (in her own words) by Rachel Holt of Australia --

"I am aiming, here, to describe how to make a simple oil lamp with a floating wick. This is the type of oil lamp that lights our home at night.

Firstly, the lamp part is very easy. This is just a glass jar holding oil. If one wants a very large flame, then a heat resistant preserving jar is required. We currently use a small, squat honey jar. It warms slowly, and the heat escapes directly upwards, so it is suitable for a modest size flame. Olive oil (even recycled from cooking) works really well and doesn't smoke. It is cheaper than candles (even cheaper than Chinese tea candles). We have also used sunflower oil. It tends to smoke with a larger flame, and is much, much cheaper again than olive oil.

I learnt about wick making from a rough description on the internet. It looks like I've lost the link to that! Anyway, my best wicks are made using this rough description to treat the plaited cord that I make using nine strands of knitting cotton. Cotton or linen fabric can also be used. I have not yet made a fabric wick as good as the knitting cotton cord. The plaited wick then needs to be covered with boiling water - enough to wet it. Then cover the wet wick with fine sea salt and stir/jiggle. (I find that not all of the salt dissolves in the water.) Then, a smaller amount of borax is added and stirred/jiggled. I let the wick soak for a while before wringing it out and hanging it up to dry. That's the wick. In my experience, using salt only will still work. Using only borax will not work. Borax just makes the wick burn longer and brighter. (Harpers Borax has some information.) Next time used, we pinch the burnt black end off the top with our fingers, and pull the wick through a bit more. Having the top of the wick 6mm/quarter inch above the floating cap is good. Increase the height for a taller flame. Have a wider wick for a wider flame. Reduce the height to eliminate light smoke. Having the wick dangling on the bottom of the jar can affect level floating. To avoid excess cutting of the wick, a taller jar is useful. Topping up the oil before lighting floats the wick higher and enables easier lighting of the wick. 

Now for the floating wick which moves down with oil use. This floats on the oil. The beauty of it is that the wick falls with the oil level and rises when oil is added, so the wick does not need height adjusting and can easily burn all night. This is my husband's clever design which addresses the wick problem. Firstly, a cork is used as the floater - since it floats and only burns poorly. It is placed within an aluminium wine bottle screw cap lid which further protects the cork. A well fitting cork is best. Otherwise, if there is sideways movement of the cork within the lid, then it should be packed securely - at three equidistant points for balance - with bits of matchstick or cardboard or sticks (which can cause air locks under the lid cap so that it lists sideways. Tiny 1mm drill holes, three of them, above these air traps enable this air to escape so the floating wick levels itself. Problem solved. More on this later to reiterate.) 

With the cork secure within the wine bottle lid, drill a 5/32 inch hole vertically through the centre point of the lid with cork. This holds the wick nicely for the plaited wick we use. By way of reiteration of that mentioned in brackets above, there is just that one problem to eliminate. To prevent the floater listing over with air bubbles (& being swamped with oil), three tiny 1mm equidistant holes need to be drilled through the LID TOP ONLY - in the airlock spaces between the packing sticks, if they were required. The floater is ready for the wick.

Thread the wick. After dunking the wick end in oil first, thread it through the drill hole, cork side first, up through the lid with a twisting motion. With the loose fitting packed corks, never pull the wick downwards - only upwards. Set the wick afloat in the oil (drop it in levelly). Light the oil lamp, which can take a few seconds to light. Don't burn your fingers. Back off and try again if it does not light quickly enough. It will burn all night.

Lo and behold! You should have a simple, beautiful oil lamp to shine through the night!! Good night all."

(The photo below shows the amount of oil used overnight! This lamp is running on sunflower oil.)

I thank the Holt family for graciously sharing this useful tutorial today with our readers! I think this homemade oil lamp is wonderful!

Do you have any lighting strategies you would like to add? I am in no way an expert in this area, but am sharing what is workable for my family (and on our budget) and what I have gleaned from Just in Case: How to Be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens.

Your homework for the week:
  • Do you have a back-up lighting system for your home? If not, adopt a plan and follow up when the funds allow. For those with very meager resources and time, I would encourage inexpensive candles. We used these for many years and found that we just went to sleep a bit earlier when there wasn't much to see! :) Or better yet, make up a few of Rachel's oil lamps in advance and store them in your pantry. Use them a few times before a power outage to make sure they function properly. This is also a very inexpensive option and is more self-sustaining than the candles (since cooking oil is a staple in the pantry and you can continue to refill this little lamp as opposed to candles that have a one-time use).
All the fine print. This post may be shared with some or all of the following link-ups: The Art of Home-Making MondaysModest Mom Monday'sMonday's MusingsMake Your Home Sing MondayGood Morning Mondays,  The Scoop, Tuesdays with a TwistRaising HomemakersThe Homesteader HopWise Woman Link UpHomestead Blog Hop Wow Us Wednesdays,  Coffee and ConversationHomemaking ThursdaysHome Sweet HomeOur Simple HomesteadAwesome Life Friday Link UpFive Star Frou Frou Friday, and Shabbilicious Friday. Thank you lovely ladies for hosting these. This post may contain affiliate links (which are merchant links that help to support this site at no additional cost to you if you purchase an item through them). 


  1. What a fabulous post! We do have candles and kerosene lanterns. I don't seem to have portable mirrors, but a silver tray behind the light works also (maybe not quite as well as a mirror though.) I love how they made their floating wick - yay for creative thinking:) Hope you are having an absolutely lovely visit.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful oil lamp idea! If only I could buy borax! Still, it will work at a pinch with just salt. I would like to mention an idea I saw on Pinterest that my children use out camping, which is to fill a gallon plastic container/jug with water and to strap a headlight onto it, with the light shining through the jug. This gives a gentle glowing lantern, rather than the very direct beam of a headlight. I think you can get milk in these jugs in the US, but I reuse ones I have bought 5l of windscreen cleaner fluid in. Just make sure the cap is tightly screwed down.

  3. Excellent post!
    God bless

  4. Such interesting and highly information, as usual, JES! Many thanks to you and Rachel for providing this. Thank you also for the prescheduled posts in your absence. I hope this summer is restful and full of wonderful memories for you and your loved ones. Nancy D.

  5. Thank you Jes! We need to keep a whole range of alternatives, this is great information! xxx


  6. Dear Jes and dear readers!!

    The humble oil lamp with floating wick is one of the chief joys in our home. Jes, I love how you have put your 'alternative lighting options' post together. The old lamps are beautiful, and the "Little House on the Prairie" theme is perfect!

    I should say that we have since used rice bran oil in the lamp, and it works okay. Then, after first avoiding it, we have also used canola oil, and it burns very well!

    An old book on Australian Early Settlers Household Lore mentions that, if one does have a smoking lamp, soaking the wick in vinegar can be helpful. I cannot verify this myself, as we are not running a smoking oil lamp, anyway!!

    Warm regards,
    Rachel Holt

  7. I love this post. The first time I read here. Very interesting. We do have candles.

  8. JES
    An excellent post as always. I hope you are having a wonderful visit!
    Rachel your lamp is just beautiful and so practical. Your photos are always so pretty and a humble oil lamp looks like art!

  9. That is a great idea, will have to make one to keep for emergencies

  10. I was out-of-town and am late to read this post, but I love it. I adore kerosene lamps and really love the homemade lamp tutorial. Brilliant! Years ago we used a Betty lamp for re-enactments, and I still have one, but the light is not as bright as the later lamps. Thank you for sharing this lovely post. :)

  11. I was out-of-town and am late to read this post, but I love it. I adore kerosene lamps and really love the homemade lamp tutorial. Brilliant! Years ago we used a Betty lamp for re-enactments, and I still have one, but the light is not as bright as the later lamps. Thank you for sharing this lovely post. :)

  12. What a great idea ! I love the mirror tip, as well. Thanks, Jes.

  13. What an excellent resource you have put together! I really enjoyed Rachel's tutorial as well. Thank you so much for sharing all these ways to have alternative light sources!

  14. Who knew it was so easy to make your own light source with the oil in your kitchen? Thanks for sharing. This could come in very handy.

  15. Love this! JES, so glad you're back!!! Please keep posting!
    BTW, do you have any good suggestions for dandelions? Our yard is full of them!

    1. HI there! Thanks for visiting! Unfortunately, I am now quite back yet... But there are some ideas for dandelions here --

      Have fun! Love, JES


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