When people hear that my family lives without electricity, their first question is usually: Well, what do you do for light? After a year and a half of living without light bulbs, lamps, and light switches, I have to say that going non-electric with lighting is one of the easiest “off grid” things you can do. Here’s what we do.
- Windows: Most of us don’t think about windows when it comes to light! But they are THE most important source of light when living off-grid. When I lived in an electric house, I “forgot” to open my curtains all the time. When I entered a room in the middle of the day, I reached for the light switch. It was a habit. I didn’t need to open the curtains unless I wanted to see out. And when we lived in the city, the view wasn’t worth the trouble. Now I open the curtains first thing in the morning and I don’t think about light until the sun starts to go down. It’s pretty simple.
- Kerosene Lanterns: These provide our main source of light after the sun goes down. We LOVE our Deitz lanterns and have several hanging throughout the house. They provide a remarkable amount of light and burn very cleanly with almost no kerosene scent. We have one hanging on a decorative chain in the kitchen and others on shelf and rod brackets (made for closets) mounted to the wall. These make our lanterns easy to pick up and move when we need to and are out of reach of little hands. And we don’t have to worry about knocking them over. We also have a simple hurricane lamp purchased from Walmart. It uses the same wicks and kerosene as our lanterns. For only $7, this is definitely worth having in an emergency. It’s a cute little lamp and I like how it looks on my dresser next to one of my Grandma’s teacups. During the shortest days in January, I fill my lanterns about twice a week. During the summer I can go up to a month without refilling them.
- Candles: We use a variety of candles for extra light when we need it. My favorites are our homemade Homestead Palm Oil Candle. They burn so well. The oil melts completely to the edge every time they are lit. The flame is bright and there is no drippy wax mess to clean up. They also last a long time. In a pinch, I use the tea lights and taper candles from the dollar store. A tea light will burn from 2 to 3 hours without going out. So when I use these, I have to throw away the empty shell and put new ones out every night. It gets tiring to think about replacing lights throughout the house everyday. The tapers last a little longer, but have the same problem. My least favorite candles are the pillars. I believe that these are purely decorative or meant to be burned for the scent they provide. You can’t light them for an hour or less (some even more) on a consistent basis without burning a hole into the candle. A deep enough hole will completely block the light and you will never be able to get it hot enough from the flame to melt the wax at the edges. I have given up on this type of candle. They are not worth my time.
- Battery Powered Lantern: We have a Coleman LED lantern that we keep in the bathroom. It sits on the counter and it’s very convenient to be able to turn on and off. It is worth it for this space and really helps our son from having to find a flashlight.
- Flashlights/Headlamps: We use these when moving around the house after I have turned out the lanterns, or when the kids call me in the middle of the night. I also use them when I need to see in a dark cabinet on a cloudy day.
- Propane Lamp: We used a Coleman lantern for a while. It may be good for a short camping trip, but I would not recommend it for long term use. It is loud, which is something I don’t want from a light! The propane bottles are expensive and don’t last very long. During the shortest days of winter, one bottle would last one or two evenings. The bottles are also difficult to dispose of. A recycling center will not take them if they have not been punched with holes. I tried to do this with a hammer one day. I couldn’t break the surface. And I think they are ugly! I much prefer the beautiful flame of my kerosene lanterns.
One more thought as it relates to light. I was surprised that when we moved off grid, it wasn’t just a matter of replacing electric light with lanterns and candles. My attitude toward the day and night has changed. The day is for work. The night is for sleep. This seems like a simple concept, but when I lived in an electric house, I simply turned on a switch when I needed light. I hardly noticed the sun going down at the end of the day. I did anything that I needed to do whenever time permitted, no matter the time of day or night. Now I make it a point to try to finish my work before the sun goes down. In the winter, this is definitely more difficult and usually dishes need to be done by lantern light. But I can’t sweep the floor and do laundry by lantern light! And when it gets dark, I get tired! My brain and body start shutting down, no matter what time it is. Lantern light is not stimulating for our brains like electric light is. I used to struggle with insomnia at times. Now that is mostly gone. I’m so thankful! I attribute it to allowing my body to work and rest according to the light in the sky. We get more done in the long days of the summer and we allow our bodies to rest more in the winter. And I think this is as it should be.