Lighting systems in a retreat home (not connected to the grid).
My home does not fit the definition of a retreat. I built it about 30 years ago in the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) when the idea of a retreat location was not on my radar screen. Only by coincidence has my home worked out to fit a retreat definition, better situated them many, not as good as some. It is quite secluded, the only house at the end of a dead end dirt road. It has never had grid power run to it. The utility company wanted as much money to run the power lines through the woods back to my cabin as the cabin cost me to build. It’s not that I didn’t know that when I built the cabin, I just did not think it was anything I needed to have at the time. This is not that unusual in the UP as it may seem to most people. There are lots of homesteads too far off the beaten path to have grid power connected up here in the UP. The cabin is 2000 sq. ft. with three bedrooms, two baths, living room, kitchen and dining room. Also a full basement, not included in the square footage above. It is as modern as most houses today except for how every thing works. I will only concentrate on lighting in this essay. In later essays (if anyone is interested) I can explain cooking, refrigeration, heating, electricity, etc. I hope you don’t mind my folksy/personal writing style; it’s just the way I am.
Today we are heading into a monumental depression of historic magnitude. No one truly knows how bad it will get or how long it will last. I think it was Benjamin Franklin that said “prepare for the worst and hope for the best” and that’s as true today as it was over 200 years ago. I know the subject of lighting may seem somewhat mundane and even silly to some, put a few candles away and we will be OK, they hope. But without sustained, reliable lighting, day to day life can get pretty difficult at best. It’s important to try to keep your home as normal as possible in the hard times ahead for you, your family and whoever may be seeking refuge with you. All lighting systems take energy of some form just as cooking and heating do, this is the first thing to keep in mind when planning for your lighting systems.
As Mr. Rawles has said in the past “two is one and one is none”. I have learned this the hard way, by experiencing a failure in a system. I have four, separate, distinct and independent (from each other) lighting systems in the house. So a failure of one or even two will not make my lights go out.
The first lighting system is AC electric. The cabin is fully wired for 110/220V AC power, normal household electrical current. Supplied via gas generator, wind generator, and inverter/charger battery bank system, again if anyone is interested I can go into greater detail about the electrical systems in another essay. For the most part the electric lights in the house are compact fluorescent with a few exceptions. One of the exceptions are the under-cabinet 10 watt halogen lights in the kitchen. Ten watts is not much but there are 13 of them under the cabinets. I must admit that they are nice to have on and 130 watts is not all that much either, however I tend to forget about them being on and along with the TV and lights on in the living room, bathroom and a bedroom (kids, you know how that is) the batteries are drawn down much too fast. Well I can’t use the kids excuse anymore, it’s grandkids now. We all know how electric lights work; you flip a switch and the lights come on. That is true with inverter power also, as long as you use the right inverter system.
Just to be clear about electricity, it is by far the most convenient and at the same time the most susceptible to failure of all the lighting systems I use. I have run out of gas, aggravating at the time but not a major problem, unless gas becomes unavailable? I have had generator and/or inverter system failures; yes even the best will not last indefinitely. The worst electrical failure I have experienced was lightning hitting the phone line coming into the cabin. The phone lines are underground but the lightning hit it anyway. It followed the line into the house, blowing every phone jack off the walls and ruined all three of my phones. It also crossed over to the electrical wiring and fried most every thing plugged in to wall outlets. NOTE: I have plug strips supposedly with electrical breakers built into them, so I can turn off the TV, stereo, and the like so they will not run down the batteries. All modern electronics and appliances use power even when there not in use. [JWR Adds: These are so-called “phantom loads”, typically caused the microcircuits for clocks and other sub-modules.] The lightning went across these plug strips as if they were hard wired in. This was a major system failure. My homes owners insurance covered all repairs and replacements. However in a TEOTWAWKI there would be no insurance and no repairs or replacements unless I fixed them myself and, spare parts would be out of the question.
My second lighting system is propane gas. The cabin is plumbed for gas lights in most of the main rooms down stairs and the master bedroom and bathroom upstairs. These are gas mantle lights. To light them I use a Bic lighter under the mantle and turn on the gas, and I have instant light. When I first installed the gas lights, I would use a kitchen match (wooden matches), to light them. I soon discovered I was very good at poking a hole in the mantle with the match; I soon switched to a Bic lighter. Mantles cost about $7.00 each. They are about as bright as a 65 to 70 watt incandescent light bulb. I have two styles of gas mantle lights in my home. The first and the ones I started with are Humphrey gas lights; I only have two of them. These are good dependable well made lighting fixtures of sheet metal construction; the only drawback is there a little homely. As far as I know there is only one style, a wall mount fixture. Humphrey gas lighting fixtures can be found at most propane distributors and country hardware stores.
The second gas lighting fixture and the one I prefer is Falks gas lighting fixtures. These are a much more elegant lighting fixture made in Canada out of solid brass. There are three styles of Falks lighting fixtures to pick from. A single mantle wall mount, double mantle wall mount and a double mantle chandelier, I have all three styles in my cabin. Both the Humphrey and Falks gas lights use the same globes and mantles. I have several spare mantles and globes on hand at all times. Falks gas lights can be ordered from Lehman’s. The cost for the single Falks gas light is about $80 US and $75 US for a Humphrey gas light. Gas lights are just as bright as electric lights.
When I installed the gas lights I used 1?2” soft copper tubing for main runs and 3/8” soft copper tubing off the main run for a single lighting fixture. If you put in gas lights never use hard copper tubing that requires soldering the joints. Only use soft copper tubing and flare fittings that are designed for gas applications. Use a soap swab to check for gas leaks at every connection. Never use a match to check for leaks. If there is a leak (and there will be some) at a connection you can have an instant blow torch on your hands, and that blow torch can just as well be in your face. If you do not know how to install gas fixtures have a licensed plumber do them.
Both Falks and Humphrey gas lights use about .085 lb of gas per hour per mantle. I think a little math is in order here.
One gallon of propane weighs about 4.23 lb.
A 20 lb. propane tank (type for gas grills) contains somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.7 gallons of gas. If you did the math you will find that it isn’t exactly 20 lbs., the numbers aren’t carried out properly to the last decimal place.
Therefore a 20 lb. propane tank will run one mantle light for approximately 234 hours of continues use. If you ran a gas light for 5 hours a night one 20 lb. tank will last for 47 days. However refilling 20 lb. tanks is the most expensive way to buy and store propane gas.
A 100 lb. tank will run one mantle light for approximately 1,176 hours of continues use. And if you ran a gas light for 5 hours a night, one 100 lb. tank will last for 235 days more or less. I’m sure someone will check my math to see if it works out and that’s Okay, I make lots of mistakes.
I have a 500 gallon propane pig (tank) for gas, which is kind of a lot for just lighting. I also use propane for other things in my cabin. The last time propane was delivered last October it cost $2.49 per gallon. At that price it cost approximately $0.05 per hour to run one light. Also propane will store for ever with no degradation of the gas (it doesn’t “go bad”). You can’t say that for gasoline, kerosene or diesel. A side note: I am told that we are in a deflationary spiral, but the only things that I can see going down in price is real estate and gasoline. Food, clothing, repairs of anything and the stuff you need day to day haven’t gone down at all. (Just a little whining).
My third independent lighting system; kerosene lights. I use two types of kerosene lights in the cabin. The first is Aladdin lamps. I have four Aladdin lamps, one is a Majestic Table lamp, and three Genie III shelf lamps one of which is in a hanging fixture in my bedroom, and the two others are on each end of the fireplace mantle. Aladdin lamps can be a bit temperamental to operate. All Aladdin lamps are mantle lamps similar to Coleman Lanterns however they use a round wick like an old kerosene lamp. The temperamental part, the wick must be trimmed evenly all around the top. If it is not you will get flame spikes (I call them horns) coming up into the mantle and if, (not when), these little fiery horns touch the mantle it will start building up with carbon. All you have to do is turn down thee wick so the horn is not touching the mantle and the carbon will burn off the mantle. However if you don’t turn the wick down, the mantle will continue to build up carbon and eventually put out copious amounts of lovely black soot, to coat your ceiling and fill the air with a witches’ brew of noxious gas and smoke. On the bright side, Aladdin lamps will generate the equivalent of a 50 watt incandescent light bulb and at the same time will put out about 2,700 BTU’s of heat, that’s a lot of heat in the summer time from one lamp. In the evenings in the fall and spring of the year, I can heat my cabin with nothing but Aladdin lamps (if it’s not too cold out). A log cabin retains heat very well, and all my windows are triple glazed. If you would like to try Aladdin lamps they are available at many country hardware stores and Lehman’s by mail order. After making it sound awful, I like my Aladdin lamps, it just takes a little practice to learn how to use them. If you are going to use Aladdin lamps you will need to stock up on Aladdin Chimneys, Mantles and Wicks. There are two types of Aladdin Chimneys. The first is the Lox-On Chimney; I’ve had them last for years and also had them break in a week. In my opinion the Heel-Less Chimney is superior, it allows the glass to move as it heats up and cools off without breaking. For about $12.00 a Gallery Adapter will convert a Burner to use a Heel-less Chimney. Newly manufactured Aladdin Lamps come with Heel-Less Chimneys.
I have several table and wall mounted old fashion kerosene lamps. I also have one very ornate Victorian hanging library lamp in my dinning room. It is solid brass with a ruby red hob nail, glass shade, and lots of prisms. If it sounds like my cabin is old fashioned, it is. One rule of thumb in lighting any kerosene lamp, light the wick with a low flame and let the lamp and kerosene in it heat up. As the kerosene gets hotter its viscosity goes down and flows much faster. As the kerosene flows faster the flame will get bigger and bigger. There is no reason for the chimney to soot up if you just start with a low flame and let the lamp heat up. After the lamp is hot you can adjust the brightness. If you plan on using kerosene lamps stock up on wicks and chimneys. The wicks are consumables and no matter how careful you are chimneys break. Almost forgot, every time the lamps are filled the wick should be trimmed, I trim the wick just to clean it up flat across its top and I cut a small 45¬? angle off each end of the wick, so the flame will have a domed appearance. If that is not clear just experiment with it, you will learn as you go.
How mush kerosene should be stored? I am told that kerosene will last for about 15 years before it goes bad. In 2008 I used about 30 gallons of kerosene; I use more in the winter then in the summer. In a TEOTWAWKI I would be mush more conservative than I am right now. If you’re going to use kerosene as one of your lighting systems I would suggest storing from 100 to 200 gallons in 55 gallon plastic drums.
The last lighting system is just old fashion candles. Several years ago I was able to acquire about 200 pounds of wax from a company I worked for. The company applied wax to one of the products they manufactured. When they had a product change on the coating machine they had to purge all the wax out of the machine and put in a different formula for the changeover. The purged wax was pumped out into five gallon buckets and discarded. It is amazing how much stuff is thrown away that could be used in a grid down situation. All this wax I have stashed will someday have to be made into candles. There are two basic ways to make candles. The first is to mold (cast) them in a candle mold. I have had one of these for a very long time; it casts 8 candles at a time. The candle mold is simple to use. Just feed a pre-waxed string (wick) through the hole in the bottom of each candle mold, bend it over so it will not come out. Tie the other end to a rod across the top of the mold and fill the mold with wax. Let the wax solidify, dip in hot water and pull out the candles. Trim the string off the bottom of each candle and store in a cool place until needed. Candle molds can be made fairly simply to just about any length and diameter you desire. I have made 1” diameter x 14” long candle molds. Use hard copper tubing, or PVC plastic pipe would work also. Cut to the length desired and chamfer both ends inside and out side (de-burr it). Take a cap that fits over the end of the tubing and drill a hole in the center of it to fit the size of wick you have, or make. Use the same procedure for casting candles above. After the candles are cast and hardened put the molds in vary hot water to loosen the wax from the mold. Remove the mold from the water and using a wooden rod with an end on it that fits the full diameter of the candle push the candle out of the mold and let cool. The ends of the candle will be flat, but this is not a drawback in my mind.
The second way to make candles is by dipping them. This way is a little more cumbersome [and time consuming] and I don’t recommend it. But if anyone is interested in hand dipping candles, just Google the subject to learn how.
One more safety concern, never melt wax in your house and never on your kitchen stove. Melted wax is highly flammable. A wax fire is almost impossible to put out with water; it just spreads the fire over the kitchen and all over you, and anyone that is with you at the time. Do not take this warning lightly. I make candles outside away from any buildings on a nice summer day. – The Old Yooper