Lighting Your Way Without Electricity or Fire
If and when the grid goes down, our homes will go dark along with a thousand other negative impacts on food transportation, water supply, fueling, community services, and so forth. Even on bright days, lighting issues will negatively impact daily activities. Backup generators, solar panels, lanterns, and candles are all important but have their limitations and risks; here’s some unconventional lighting solutions you should consider adding to have a more robust and redundant lighting strategy.
Electrical solutions dependent on solar energy could fail in the case that there’s a nuclear or volcanic winter that blocks out sunlight for an extended period, be rendered inoperable by a severe EMP, or simply fail and not be repairable with the materials or skill-sets available to you. Fire is much more sustainable and traditional, but requires flammable materials, can take time to start, and poses a hazard both in use and inhalation.
So, not to knock alternative energy like solar panels or wind turbines or be dismissive of traditional approaches like lanterns or candles – they both have a critical and primary place in your preps – but here’s some solutions that could also offer regular or emergency lighting with different dependencies.
- Your electrical lighting preps should probably include some cranked-power lighting. It’s a pain in the butt to stop and crank up your light every now and again, but it’s a good option to have.
- Below I mention the downsides of skylights. Those could be overcome, though, if you’ve got the money and the time – don’t dismiss the value proposition of adding security-minded skylights and windows. Don’t go adding huge expanses of glass to your primary perimeter because of me, though – that’s a really bad idea.
- If you haven’t heard about it, check out the GravityLight.
- For fire-based lighting, a good read is Some Observations on Non-Electric Lighting, by Ron B., on SurvivalBlog.com.
- A poll on homesteadingtoday.com found oil and propane lanterns to be the best non-electrical lighting (battery powered LED lanterns won out, but that’s rather electrical in the sense I’m using in this article).
1. Light the Cave by Day: Solar Bulb
I don’t know about you, but the supplemental structures around my home – sheds, the garage, etc., are all dim and dark places that usually require either working near a window or flipping on a light. With a soda bottle, some filtered water, and some bleach, we’ve got the essential elements for a brilliantly lit shed, garage, or perhaps even our primary homes. This non-electrical installation provides light inside structures during the day over the long term, without adding anything more to your preps than bleach – which you’re probably prepping with anyway. Note that regular bleach has 6 months to a year of shelf life, but your preps for this usage could easily be just calcium hypochlorite (Pool Shock), which has a 10 year shelf life and be made into bleach per this article on tacticalintelligence.net. Since bleach decays in heat, you should expect you’ll have to replace your solar bulb’s liquid contents more regularly than six months if you live in a warm climate.
To my mind, this approach is superior to skylights because skylights are more expensive, are a security hole, and represent a possible severe point of failure during inclement weather.
- Cut out a roofing material patch two or three times the size of your plastic bottle.
- On your roofing material patch, draw one circle the diameter of your bottle and another circle 1 centimeter smaller inside the first.
- Cut out the inner circle.
- Make radial cuts out from the center to the outer circle you drew.
- Flatten the strips (that you made from the previous cuts) with a hammer (if necessary, depending on your roofing material).
- Bend the strips upward, perpendicular to the roofing material.
- Sand the top one-third of the bottle so that your sealant will better bind the bottle and strips of roofing material.
- Apply sealant to the sanded area and slip it through the hole in the roofing material. Put sealant again to both sides of the roofing material where it’s connected with the bottle. Let it set.
- Waterproof the seal. The video below recommends marine epoxy for this. Again, let it dry.
- Add bleach. The video below recommends 5 “capfuls” to one liter of water. Fill the rest with water.
- Put the water bottle lid on tightly, and seal it. The video does this with a cut-out piece of PVC tubing, topped with sealant.
- Cut out a section of roof smaller than your patch, then install the roofing material patch over the hole.
This great idea comes to us via a project to light homes in the Philippines brought to us by A Liter of Light. This is their how-to video that uses galvanized iron sheets for the roofing material, which you could certainly use for your roof patch even if the roof itself is of different material.
Here’s a video of the result:
2. Light the Cave the Farming Way: Bioluminescent Bacteria/Algae
After the glow-bulb, the most interesting way of providing light without electricity or fire seems to me to be biolumiscent bacteria/algae. Gizmag.com has an article about the Philips bio-light concept using bioluminescent bacteria. While they say it’s not enough to replace natural lighting, that doesn’t deter me from pursuing it. After all, we could somewhat light our homes without any sort of electrical apparatus and without any fire hazard forever – as long as we feed the creepies. Perhaps it’s just the idea of growing my own light that makes me happy; I’m happier whenever I can grow my own anything.
- Instructables.com’s article on growing your own bioluminescent algae.
- Wikihow’s article on growing your own bioluminescent algae.
- Instructables.com’s article on making a bioluminescent bacteria lightbulb.
- UCSB’s page on growing dinoflagellates at home is interesting, but the flashing comes from disturbing the water.
- Carolina sells starter kits for bioluminescent bacteria. They also have bioluminescent fungus, but that won’t give you enough light to see anything but the fungus.
An interesting run-down of other glowing critters is over on toptenz.net. If you end up trying scorpions or glowing cave snot as an alternative, I’d love to hear how that works out. Also and despite my suspicion that scientists who alter genes aren’t aware of the true outcomes of what they do, the popularmechanic’s article on bioluminescence technology is interesting.
3. Emergency Prep: Photoluminescent Paint and Powder
For those parts of your homestead that are regularly exposed to light during the day and could use a bit of light to help you find your way at night, consider photoluminescent paints and powders.
I have no affiliation with GlowInc and aren’t specifically recommending them (haven’t ordered from them), but their V10 Ultra Green paint has a brightness rating of 33,000 – that’s brighter than a glow stick – and is stated to be suitable for outdoor use.
Again without recommendation, note that you could skip the sticky application and look online for things like the photoluminescent safety signs from everglow.us.
- Fire extinguishers.
- Firearm safe locks or combinations.
- First aid supplies such as ephenephrine and asthma medication.
- Points of exit within your housing structures, similar to the point of exit signs in public buildings. Remember that you may have visitors or there could be extreme disorientation during a crisis.
- Outhouse door handles (because when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go).
Non-sustainable, But Interesting: Home-made Glow Stick Fluid
To start this section off, let me be clear on the point made in the video below: for small quantities, it’d be cheaper for you to just buy glow sticks. Since the chemicals involved (not just the mixture of them) have a shelf life, though, even with bulk purchases this is at best a short-term solution unless you want to get into the dangerous manufacturing process behind the chemicals involved. All in all, this is more a fun project than it is a sustainable prepper solution.
Note that I do recommend you rotate a supply of glow sticks as part of your preps; during bad weather they’re incredibly useful and every Halloween they’re fun for the kids.
Here’s the most excellent video from NurdRage on how to mix up your glow stick fluid:
- 10mL Diethyl Phthalate
- 3mg of fluorescent dye – 9,10-bis(phenylethynyl)anthracene for green, rubrene for yellow, 9,10-diphenylanthracene for blue, and rhodamine B for red – carcinogenic, wear gloves
- 50mg TCPO – carcinogenic, wear gloves, also note you can make TCPO per this video.
- 100mg sodium acetate
- 3mL 30% hydrogen peroxide – added last to start the chemical reaction
That instructables article notes these chemicals were purchased from alfa.com and (for the yellow and red dyes) sigmaaldrich.com. I have no affiliation with either vendor and am not explicitly recommending them, just passing those references along.
Note that the luminol-based formulas are much weaker, per NurdRage, and have a completely different chemical composition. If you prefer to go with that approach, there’s an article on WikiHow. Also, as the video notes, the approaches using Mountain Dew out there are bogus.
Not Great But Also Fun: Polished Metal or Modern Mirrors to Reflect Sunlight Inside
Not to say you couldn’t make great improvements to light your home during the day using just mirrors, but it’d be more suitable to navigating a tomb than daily tasks. Even still, if you’re old enough to appreciate Indiana Jones, you know this is fun stuff – and you could certainly at least beam some light in and try to scatter it about. I would suppose, without trying it, that reflecting light in from outside using a mirror so that the beam falls upon a container of water would result in at least some ambient light if the beam of light was strong enough.
and you must link back if you use it elsewhere.