Friday, June 22, 2012

Off Grid Lighting

For those of us who dream of living "off the grid" we imagine a roof full of solar panels, a 1500 kw wind generator, and a dozen deep cycle batteries to store all the energy produced. We dream of having a huge diesel generator for back up and 1000 gallons of fuel in reserve for emergencies, or for those times when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing.

I know that is my dream but the reality is that I just don't have the money that a set-up like that would cost. I plan on building a small system sometime in the future to power my basic needs as time and money permits, but what do I do now to meet my needs?

Since I am only there a couple days of the week and not living at camp 420 full time just yet I manage fine with a few basic items. I have a couple of ice chest to store food and drinks. A battery powered radio provides music and I have a small fan to cool me off  at night when I sleep. It too runs off of batteries.

As for my lighting needs I have a couple of options that I use. About six months ago I started buying 30 packs of those small tea light candles. They are only a couple of bucks each so every week I buy a pack or two from the dollar store. They only burn for about 3 or 4 hours but several placed in different locations around the room will provide enough light so that I am not stumbling around in the dark. These are really great to have in an emergency and because they are so cheap you can afford to buy lots of em. 

Most of the time however I use an LED lantern I bought at wall mart. After buying the lantern and the 4 D cell batteries to go with it I spent more than $40. At first I thought this was too much but this thing is built pretty solid and I have not yet had to change the batteries. Coleman claims that battery life is 144 hours on low setting. I usually have it on high and it's still going even though I've used it quite a bit. I'm pleased with it and plan to buy another one just like in the near future.

I also have a couple of LED flashlights. One is a cheapy model I picked up for about 15 bucks along with the AA batteries for it. The other one is a mag light that was given to me as a Christmas present. I absolutely love the mag light because this thing is super bright! I can stand it on end where the light is shining on the sealing and it lights up the room better that the Coleman lantern. I don't think it the batteries would last that long if used in that manner.

How about you are you off grid or plan to be off grid in the future? what Ideas do you have for cheap off grid lighting?


  1. I run a Honda 3000 watt inverter generator, and two six volt batteries, I downsized from four as I don't boondock much anymore. A 1000 watt inverter to power my bedroom tv and DVD. It works good the whole system, takes about two hours to recharge the batteries, and any heavy loads during the day I just fire up the Honda

    Thinking of adding remote start on the Honda, that would make it even easier

    Fridge and hot water run on propane.

  2. Frequently when I make biochar I will start in the evening and go into the night. While the fire is burning I cut up the wood for the next fire. When I'm down to coals and need more light, I find throwing a couple twigs on give me enough flame to see what I'm doing for a minute or two.

    I know it's only useful in special cases, but I'd call that cheap-ass off-grid lighting.

  3. Coal, it sounds like you have a pretty decent set up. I don't have much money so I am easing into the off grid mode of living little by little. I'm going to buy another LED lantern in a few days. After that I want to get One of those solar battery chargers and a decent supply of rechargeable batteries.

    I want to find a good used propane fridge as well. Unfortunately they can be a bit expensive. I'm going to keep looking though. Eventually I might get lucky and find something I can afford. I just have to keep looking.

    1. look for old RV's sitting around that you might can get the frig out of if you know it works ..people might give you the rv to haul it off

  4. John, that is some cheap-ass off grid lighting. As far as I'm concerned there's not many things in this world as relaxing and enjoyable as Hanging around a good fire at night. So I guess that is some really cheap-ass entertainment as well!

  5. I'm a cheap-skate too but I try to keep in mind long-term costs. I'll pay extra for something I can reasonably expect will last longer, but there's no need to go to a full-on 1500kw solar rig.

    Even so, you can start very cheaply. If I needed to live like you do I'd go down to the dollar store and get a handful of $1 solar lawn lights. Take them off the shaft and tape them with the solar panels outward to south-facing windows and skylights. At night they release a soft glow that lasts a few hours. If you had ten of them all over your RV you'd be set for $10. Maybe have a few extra for redundancy. Check to make sure they have AAA batteries inside and not 2/3 AAA as these are not as easy to replace.

    For a little more money you can get me one of these:

    A little solar-powered, third-world-durable LED light. They're designed for either carrying or hanging, and can optionally be charged with an old-school Nokia charger (which are common in third world countries).

    I've been eyeing the S10 model for $15 on Amazon.

    We went straight for the wind-up and solar radio and flashlight and phone charger, for about $30 on Amazon:

    For less than the price of your LED lantern you not only get light, but you also get AM, FM and weather radio, AND a cell phone charger using either solar or wind-up, in a rather durable package. Pretty nifty. I can't say for sure how much lighting you get as I've only used it in the daytime.

    If I REALLY needed bright light output -- and sometimes you will -- I'd get three solar-powered AAA chargers ($12 each on eBay):

    You can keep them outside if you double-ziplock bag them. Or inside the window or in your car. I'd get three because they're slow (stagger your charges) and I'd still have one extra for redundancy (hey, they are cheap/cheaply made).

    Also I'd get the highest-rated, lowest-cost AAA headlamp:

    Which is $30 on Amazon:

    You can hang, hold or wear a headlamp, and run it on low or high.

    Then I'd get these Eneloop batteries, which were hand-picked by Steven Harris for maximum life with a minimum of dollars. $18 for an 8-pack:

    Now you're paying about $84 but you'll have a bright light source for emergencies which will last years, and no need to buy batteries. I'm a cheapskate but I also try to think ahead. By the time you buy your lantern and a years' worth of D batteries you could have bought the solar headlamp combo.

    I look forward to reading more great stuff on your blog! It caught my eye because I've been kicking around buying a very cheap acre on eBay in west Texas.

  6. You might like Hybrid Light (Amazon) lanter. Solar panel on top with internal rechargeables, 4 AA's as a secondary source. And will recharge off 110 also. Bright LED. Hybrid also makes a flashlight with solar recharge, button lithium as a 2nd source. Both do recharge even in dim light even through a window. Full sunlight would be best .... but who wants it stolen.

    We also looked into rechargeable AA and AAA. We, too, like Sanyos Eneloop AA and AAA. There are C and D spacers for converting the AA to C or D. If you have older flashlights that require the large flat (negative)surface of the C/D batteries to make contact to close the circuit, use a piece of tin foil or coin.

    Goal Zero makes a 7 watt solar panel that recharges 4AA batteries in a recharger pack and has 12v adapter and usb. There has been some upgrades and not all versions include the AAA adapter. We ordered it through Lowes. It had all the bells and whistles. Not as cheap as Amazon, and definitely cheaper than mfg site. With a Lowe's store credit card ... 5% OFF always. Free store pickup. Not happy? Return it to the local Lowes.

    Goal Zero also makes other nice off grid products. We just got a great bargain on the Escape 150 package through Emergency Essentials ( You do pay for shipping, but max $12 shipping even on BIG heavy orders.

    We are also looking at a short-wave radio ... hand crank, solar, rechargeable AA, 110 house current. We are getting ready to order the Kaito KA009 from Emergency Essentials while it is on sale this month. We are hooked.

    We also have a handheld CB that runs on AAs. Newer ones run on fewer AAs.

    For us, off grid is a concern as we live in big time earthquake country and are overdue for the BIG ONE. If we are lucky enough to not be at the epicenter, it means we will not be a priority rescue. So we might as well get ready to wait out the rescue.

    Tapi Oka in Southern California

  7. Just found this site: and here's something that I'll be attempting to do (it's very difficult to manage, especially where people don't like to be near the stuff):

    Thanks for being around, mate, and wish you happy living and saving the planet.

  8. This may seem overly simplistic as a source of light but... solar garden lights can be set out side during the day and brought in at night. I live in a condo in Florida and I have one in a sunny window and it lights up at night. I do this because our power can flicker on and off when there is a heavy load in the area. I bought the garden path light at the dollar store. It pops off of the stick (if I want it off). I wonder if you could attach these through the screen in ceiling vents (if you have the clear skylight type) in your camper so that the sun would hit the solar panel during the day and then it would light up inside at night. BTW, I happened upon you through google. I don't know if your issue with them was solved or not.

  9. Have you seen the UVPaqlite products ? Very low light, but no outside power source needed - EVER ! Well worth considering.