Sunday, February 17, 2013

Survival #4: Non-Electric Lighting

How would your characters see if the lights went out in a storm or disaster? What if they lived 'off the grid' or in a time or place where electric light was unheard of?

Flashlights seem to be the first thing everyone mentions, followed by batteries. It would take quite a stash of batteries to get enough light to function for long, from flashlights, and it would be inconvenient, too. But flashlights are great for those first moments when suddenly everything is dark and you need to find things. Of course, they're modern, so some characters would have to get by with something a little less convenient.

Aluminum foil is another modern convenience I love to have when the lights go out. It's actually pretty cool to use when they're on, too. Lining counters, tables, walls, etc with foil, shiny side out, reflects light back to where you can use it. Look at your car headlights and you'll see the same principle in use. It also protects surfaces from candle drippings. If foil isn't an option for your characters, putting the light sources near light-colored or shiny surfaces will help a lot. The last time we had an ice storm that caused an outage, I took all the dull-colored items off a deep kitchen shelf and left only glassware, metal tins, glazed ceramics, etc. The lamp we placed there seemed nearly twice as bright after I made that change.

Windows also reflect light very well after dark. Just be careful not to put anything hot near a curtain or too close to a window frame.

Candles work best in groups. If your character needs to walk with a light, there's a special kind of candleholder for that, with a handle and a drip catcher.

Kerosene lamps can also burn liquid paraffin (lamp oil). The paraffin smells better but the kerosene is a lot more economical. These were my family's main source of light during my teen years when we had no electricity, and I learned how to get the most light from them. It makes me laugh when I see a rerun of Little House on the Prairie with a kerosene lamp flickering. A flickering flame means that either the wick is turned up too high or the fuel level's too low. Either way, if it's flickering, then it's smoking, and pretty soon the inside surface of the chimney will be covered in soot and the lamp will be useless. I'm pretty sure the Ingalls family didn't get out a new lamp every ten minutes so they could see to eat their supper.  In the next "Survival" post, I'll share tips on how to get the most light from a kerosene lamp.

Gas lamps and Coleman lanterns are the brightest non-electric lights I've seen.

A railroad lantern is great for traveling with. It has a convenient bail handle, won't blow out like a candle and is a lot safer to carry than a lamp. It's still not safe like a flashlight, though.

1 comment:

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