How to live without electricity

Written by: Rich M How-To 5 Comments Print This Article

How to live without electricity

We have a hard time even thinking about living without electrical power. We use it for everything, from powering our cell phones to running our factories. Without it, modern life, as we know it, would cease to exist.

That’s why the loss of the electrical grid is one of the most challenging survival scenarios that we as a society face. While electricity is not normally considered a survival priority on an individual level, it is for society as a whole.

Quite literally, the entire infrastructure breaks down without electrical power. Besides all the obvious things that would stop working in such a situation, we would also lose the entire distribution system. Without electrical power to run the computers and the machines, getting products from manufacturers and distributors to stores comes to a screeching halt.

But we’ll feel the pinch of losing electrical power long before things get to that point. Without our appliances, society would be set back by over a century. Actually, it would be worse than that, because our great-grandparents knew how to live without electricity … and we don’t.

Of all the domestic uses of electricity, the single most important one is refrigeration. We depend on it to keep fresh food fresh and frozen food frozen. Without that capability, those foods would spoil fast.

Yet refrigeration, in one form or another, existed long before electric power and the modern refrigerator. If we are going to keep foods fresh, once the grid goes out, we’re going to have to rediscover those methods and put them to use.

Here’s five ways to do that:

1. Go underground

Long before refrigerators or even ice boxes, people discovered that they could keep food cool by keeping it underground. Those who had caves on their property would use them for food storage. But even people who didn’t have a cave would take advantage of things being cooler underground, if they had a well.

Pitchers of milk, cheese, sides of meat and other foods could be kept cool, helping them to last longer. The further down in the well the item was hung, the cooler it would be. So, it wasn’t uncommon to see a number of ropes going down into a well, with each one holding something that the owner wanted to keep from spoiling.

This idea evolved into the root cellar, which was extremely common in the pioneering days of our country. Root cellars are nothing more than man-made caves, carved out of the ground to provide a cool place to keep food — especially root vegetables like potatoes and carrots – cool.

The home I grew up in had a concrete bomb shelter attached to it, a leftover from World War II. That became our family’s root cellar, giving us space that we could use when our refrigerator was already full.

2. Running water

There’s nothing better than fresh water from a cool stream, especially if it is fresh runoff from melting snow. While that might be a bit cool to bathe in, it’s great for keeping food cool. This is a trick that’s been used by campers and backpackers for years. But it’s one that we need to add to our survival arsenal.

Running groundwater stays cool due to evaporation. That’s why running water is usually cooler than standing water. The movement of the water exposes more of it to the air, increasing the amount of evaporation. In cases of whitewater, where the water is being thrown into the air by rocks and other obstacles, evaporation increases even more, making the water even cooler.

How to live without electricity

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The one problem with using running water to keep food cool is that there is a chance of fish and aquatic animals eating your food. So, if you’re going to do this, you need the food in a container to protect it.

3. Evaporative cooling

Since evaporation cools water, we can use evaporation to cool food, as well. All we need is some means of putting the food in a place where it is surrounded by evaporating water. This is easily accomplished by wrapping fabric around a shelving unit and wetting it down. Food placed on the shelves will be nice and cool. Of course, you’ll need to add water from time to time.

A makeshift evaporative refrigerator like this works best if it is placed where a breeze is hitting it. The breeze increases the amount of air flowing over the wet fabric, thereby increasing the amount of evaporation.

Of course, for evaporative cooling to work, you need to be in a relatively dry climate. High humidity lowers the amount of evaporation you can expect, which in turn lowers the effectiveness of these methods of keeping food cool.

4. The zeer pot

The zeer pot is a primitive, but quite effective, evaporative cooler that is still in use in parts of the world today. It consists of two unglazed clay pots, one larger than the other. The small pot is placed inside the larger one and the space between the two filled with sand. Food is placed inside the inner pot and the sand is filled with water.

Since the pots are unglazed, the water will soak through them, making the clay wet. Water on the surface of the outer pot will then evaporate, cooling the pots and their contents. Covering the top with a wet cloth will increase the overall cooling, helping to keep the food inside fresh.

In tests, produce kept in a zeer pot will last four times as long as comparable produce kept at room temperature. These tests were done in a hot climate, so it’s possible that in a cooler climate, the zeer pot would be even more effective.

5. The ice box

The most recent means of keeping food cool, before the refrigerator came on the scene, was the ice box. I’m not talking about an ice chest that you’d use on a picnic here, but rather something that was in the kitchen and used to keep food cool.

An ice box, obviously, requires ice. This was delivered every few days by the ice man, who brought it from a warehouse called an “ice house.” This ice would have been harvested from lakes in the wintertime and stored in a well-insulated area – using straw and sawdust — until warmer weather. Anyone who has seen the movie Frozen should be familiar with this concept, as the movie shows workers harvesting ice and storing it away in an ice house.

While it would be difficult, you could build an ice house and harvest ice in the wintertime, for use when the weather is warmer. The best ice houses, of course, are underground.

What advice would you add for keeping food cool when it’s warm? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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An RV is one of the easiest and most adventurous ways to live. Whether it’s a 6-month excursion across the country or a three-day trip to a local state park, RVs have everything you need to blend indoor and outdoor life. They’re essentially cabins on wheels, with beds, showers, toilets, and nearly full kitchens. Still, a large majority of RV users still heavily rely on connections and hookups to provide electricity and water.

But what happens when you want to venture out of the world of full campgrounds and into the world of public land? A random field in Montana will not have a place to plug into or a direct hose line with fresh water. This off-grid lifestyle is growing in popularity—wonder why!—and with it, solar harvesting systems have grown to become impressively efficient and easy.

Solar energy is the primary add-on you need for an off-grid lifestyle, but it’s not the only thing to consider. There are several preparations you need before you leave people behind and let the beards and armpit hair grow, so The Drive editors have created a brief checklist to help you out. Time for adventure!

What Is an RV?

RV stands for recreational vehicle. An RV is a wheeled unit with living quarters used for recreational purposes like camping and traveling. Some RVs, also known as travel trailers or caravans, have integrated propulsion systems, while others require vans, trucks, or SUVs to pull them around.

What Does Off-Grid Mean?

Living off-grid means you are not using the public grid of utilities, in particular electricity. Off-grid means no direct water line, no electricity, and no waste disposal. In the RV world, this is sometimes also referred to as boondocking, free camping, or dry camping.

November 27, 2019

How to live without electricity

For anyone reading this article, the benefits of electricity need not be explained.

Access to electricity is now an afterthought in most parts of the world, so it may come as a surprise to learn that 16% of the world’s population — an estimated 1.2 billion people — are still living without this basic necessity. Lack of access to electricity, or “energy poverty”, is the ultimate economic hindrance as it prevents people from participating in the modern economy.

Where are people still living in the dark, and how are these energy challenges being addressed? Let’s dive in.

Where the Grid Reaches, and Beyond

At this point in time, a majority of countries have 100% electricity access rates, and many more have rates above 95%. This includes most of the world’s high-population countries, such as China, Brazil, and the United States.

India is fast approaching that benchmark for access. The massive country has made great strides in a short amount of time, jumping from a 70% to 93% access rate in a single decade.

Meanwhile, North Korea is an obvious outlier in East Asia. The Hermit Kingdom’s lack of electrification isn’t just conspicuous in the data — it’s even visible from space. The border between the two Koreas is clearly visible where the dark expanse of North Korea runs up against the glow of South Korea’s urban areas.

It’s been estimated that more than half of North Korea’s people are living in energy poverty.

Africa’s Access to Electricity

In 1995, a mere 20% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population had access to power. While today’s figure is above 40%, that still means roughly 600 million people in the region are living without access to electricity.

Not surprisingly, energy poverty disproportionately impacts rural Africans. Nearly all of the countries with the lowest levels of electricity access have rural-majority populations:

Global Rank Country Electricity Access Rural Population
#197 ?? Burundi 9% 87%
#196 ?? Chad 11% 77%
#195 ?? Malawi 13% 83%
#194 ?? D.R.C. 19% 56%
#193 ?? Niger 20% 84%
#192 ?? Liberia 21% 49%
#191 ?? Uganda 22% 77%
#190 ?? Sierra Leone 23% 58%
#189 ?? Madagascar 24% 63%
#188 ?? Burkina Faso 25% 71%

Nonexistent and unreliable electricity isn’t just an issue confined to rural Africa. Even Nigeria — Africa’s largest economy — has an electrification rate of just 54%.

Where there is an electrical grid, instability is also causing problems. A recent survey found that a majority of Nigerian tech firms face 30 or more power outages per month, and more than half ranked electricity as a “major” or “severe” constraint to doing business.

This is pattern that is repeated in a number of countries in Africa:

How to live without electricity

Mini-Grids, Big Impact

It has taken an average of 25 years for countries to move from 20% to 80% access, so history suggests that it may be a number of years before sub-Saharan Africa fully catches up with other parts of the world. That said, Vietnam was able to close that gap in only nine years.

Traditional utility companies continue to make inroads in the region, but it might be a smaller-scale solution that brings electricity to people in harder-to-reach rural villages.

Between 2009 and 2015, solar PV module prices fell by 80%, ushering in a new era of affordability. Solar powered mini-grids don’t just have the potential to bring electricity to new markets, it can also replace the diesel-powered generators commonly used in Africa.

For the 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who are still unable to fully participate in the modern world, these innovations can’t come soon enough.

How to live without electricity

Full-sized lemons and limes grew indoors, on plants shown.

In 1996, I purchased a piece of bush land in Eastern Ontario, Canada. I wanted to raise my son, Jordan (then 4 ½), away from the things of man. I wanted to live a simple, down-to-earth life, filled with the wonderful happenings that occur when one lives surrounded by nature and positive energy. I wanted to teach him independence from the world.

I knew I didn’t want hydro lines on my property. Electricity was only invented a short time ago. My parents didn’t have electricity on the farm in Holland. I’m the first generation that was raised with electricity. Everyone who lived before me, lived without electricity, and I keep hearing “I don’t think I could live without it!” That’s scary. I’d like to think I could. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Taking my laundry with me when I go to town, and using public computers (when they existed).

In 1999, I helped a builder construct a simple timber frame on my lot, from logs I had acquired in a trade. I hoped that someday, when and if I ever had any money, I would add on to it. A year later, Jordan and I moved into the shell of our cabin in the woods.

There were no windows yet; only a few open areas in the siding, where the only thing between us and the great outdoors was a thin sheet of Typar®. That let in quite a bit of light, when the sun was shining. The front door had a small window, but it was covered in thick plastic to keep out the draft. Still, we felt fortunate to be in our own place. We counted our many blessings. We were warm, cozy, well fed, playing board games and reading by the light of our own homemade beeswax candles. Although 14-by-18-feet is tiny to most, this was plenty of room for us, as we had been living in our 9-by-9.5 -foot garden shed for the past few summers.

‘Old World’ Look Using Recycled Materials

When I look through real estate magazines showing million-dollar homes and kitchens, I shake my head. Such large, impractical, and cold feeling places. I want to create spaces where everyone immediately feels good.

My kitchen takes you back in time; back to a simpler time. The warm terra-cotta colours, natural materials and recycled items, give it an old world feel. I will admit having staged the kitchen somewhat for the photo that’s included in this blog; one should not store canned goods near the ceiling — it’s far too warm!

The root cellar was built 10 years after we moved in. I hid the door to the root cellar in the north wall, between the shelves of food. Although the interior of it still needs to be finished, we’ve adored our “walk-in fridge”.

How to live without electricity

Root cellar door, hidden behind mirror. Guzzler® water pump, secured to post, left of door.

Heating and Cooking with Wood

Our cookstove is an essential part of daily life. It cooks the food, heats the house, heats water for bathing and dishes, and boasts a large oven. A cookstove requires almost constant feeding. It’s not the same as an air-tight woodstove.

If I loaded up the fire-box with too much wood, or too much of certain types of wood, the stove would melt and the place would burn to the ground. Being 20 years old, framed in 6-by-6-foot cedar, completely covered in pine, with oversized baskets hanging from the ceiling, and pounds of beeswax — the place would go up like a torch!

How to live without electricity

Stove made in southern Ontario by Pioneer Maid®. Brick and tile by the author.

The Loft

The upstairs of the cabin is sleeping quarters, clothes and linens, storage and, since Jordan finished high school and moved out to work in Ottawa, my work-space. I’ve since added an audio recording booth (which looks a lot like a blanket fort).

I have very few personal belongings and clothes, so tiny house living suits me just fine. I’ve had up to three people, as well as my Jo of the Woods greeting card business, occupying this modest space. High ceilings, mirrors and lots of windows are the trick.

A year ago, when I started blogging for Mother Earth News magazine, I decided to make an audio recording of each blog. My friend Eldy Gouthro, who gave me my laptop, is a retired soundman who has traveled the world, recording. Eldy got me in touch with his friend in Ottawa, voice coach Michael Hicks, and he gave me some great tips. After covering my work table with a quilt, and stapling two blankets to the rafters, my sound booth was ready. A small solar panel, power inverter and marine battery, supply power — when the sun is shining.

How to live without electricity

The table slides back into the closet when not in use.

The Development of a Rural Homestead is Worth the Hard Work

Although a lot of landscaping has been accomplished on my property, this land is still a diamond in the rough. I’m enjoying the journey of polishing it up. It has its roses and it has its thorns.

I’ve seen a large male moose from my bedroom window. A loon once spent an hour calling and diving in the creek, while I watched from 50 feet away. But the ticks are terrible. I’ve suffered chronic pain and limited mobility from flare-ups of Fibromyalgia or Lyme disease (depending on who you talk to, doctors or healers). Also, the humidity in Ontario is very high; bad for arthritis. The cabin is far from finished. Keeping up with things is a full-time job.

Jordan bought a chainsaw last year, and has started clearing trees in an area which was once field. I want the elderberry to make a comeback. This will also require the removal of hundreds of tree roots. I’m happy to say: I just made a deal to buy two pigs next month for that job.

Life in the woods is hard work, but incredibly satisfying. Strenuous physical labour, fresh air, and the feeling of accomplishment, result in a good night’s sleep. I’m usually up and down with the sun, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I thank my heavenly Father every day for the blessings bestowed upon me. I’m surrounded by His amazing creation, and have the opportunity to discover what it means to live close to the heart of our dear Mother Earth. What more could one want?

How to live without electricity

The couch becomes a bed; the trunk contains bedding.

Jo deVries (Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is? and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Jo of the Woods and read all of Jo’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Approach appliances with caution, use gas to cook, and more tips on how to safely get through a period with no electricity

When a major storm is approaching, it’s anyone’s guess how much damage it will do—or how long you might be without power. To safely get through a prolonged power outage, follow Consumer Reports’ expert advice.

1. Write Important Information on Paper

During an outage, your cell phone is your lifeline and you’re likely to want to keep it charged in case of an emergency.

Because you can’t depend on your phone indefinitely, write down phone numbers and addresses you might need, such as a nearby hospital, a school that’s providing supplies, the local library or storm shelter, or other public places that might have power—places where you’ll be able to go to recharge your electronics and contact loved ones.

Then conserve your phone’s battery life by switching the phone to a power-saving setting, such as airplane mode on an iPhone or economy mode on an Android device.

When you make your way to a local shelter or library, it’s a smart idea to take a power strip, says Maria Rerecich, senior director and head of product testing for CR.

This way, when you do find power, you can charge multiple devices at once—or share the makeshift charging station with others.

2. Use Gas to Cook Food That Will Spoil

In homes that have lost power but suffered little other damage, you can safely cook on a gas stove. But you’ll probably need to light the burner with a match or lighter because the electronic ignition on a stove won’t work if the power is out. And if you have a gas grill, cooking with it is another option. If you were able to properly store your grill before the storm, in a dry space such as a garage, and notice no water damage to the grill or gas tank, it should be safe to use it to grill food.

What to cook, though, is another question. CR has a guide to foods you can make or eat that won’t spoil as quickly.

Food in your refrigerator can maintain a safe temperature—below 40° F—for about 4 hours on average. Cook any perishables (raw meat and soft cheese, especially) within this time period; otherwise, toss these items. Even after that 4-hour window, food can spend an additional 2 hours above 40° F before it becomes unsafe to cook. A full freezer should stay cold for about 48 hours after the power is lost; a half-full freezer should stay cold about 24 hours.

Anything that you cook but don’t eat, you’ll need to throw out after 2 hours because you’ll have no way to keep it cool enough to prevent it from spoiling. (You can always share with the neighbors.) Good to know: Lots of homeowners insurance policies will cover the replacement cost of spoiled food, so it’s really not worth taking the risk of consuming it.

If your house is flooded, always toss any food that may have come into contact with floodwaters, advises the Department of Agriculture’s guide to food safety during storms and hurricanes (PDF).

3. If You Have a Generator, Use It Safely

Running a generator improperly can kill you in as little as 5 minutes if the concentration of carbon monoxide is high enough. And it happens: An average of 60 to 70 people a year die a year from generator-associated carbon monoxide poisoning, according to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas, so you won’t even know you’re inhaling it,” says Don Huber, CR’s director of product safety. “No matter what, resist the urge to move a portable generator inside the house or the garage.”

Operate a generator as far from the house as possible—CR recommends at least 20 feet—and direct the exhaust away from doors or windows. If you don’t have a transfer switch installed, you can run an outdoor-rated extension cord of the appropriate gauge from the generator’s outlets to individual appliances, provided the cords are properly rated and you follow certain precautions. The gauge of extension cord your generator requires will be specified in the user manual.

4. No Generator? Unplug Your Appliances.

This includes anything with electrical circuitry, from your microwave to your refrigerator to your television.

There isn’t a particular order to follow, you just need to pull the plugs from the outlets to prevent potential electrical damage. Or, if you’re comfortable doing so, you can shut off the main circuit breaker.

“When power lines are damaged during storms, there can be a spike or surge in the line,” says John Galeotafiore, associate director of product testing at CR. “Unplugging your appliances can prevent damage to those appliances from a power surge when the utility company restores power.”

If you see street lights or other households on your block that have successfully turned their lights on, you’ll know the power is back on.

5. Check on Nearby Neighbors

If your family and home are safe and sound, communicate with neighbors and family members to let them know. Check to see if elderly neighbors are able to navigate when the lights aren’t on—or if they might want or need your help. Devise a system to update everyone, if necessary.

If there seems to be no end in sight to the power outage, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends seeking out an alternate location with power and heating or cooling—assuming you’re able to safely drive on the roads. Take your go bag or medical go bag, and any other supplies you might need. Let your neighbors and family know where you plan to go.

Generator Tips

Damaging storms can happen at any time. On the ‘Consumer 101’ TV show, host Jack Rico learns from Consumer Reports’ expert, Paul Hope, how to avoid being left in the dark during a power outage.

How to live without electricity

5 Recommendations to Make Modern Energy Access Meaningful for People and Prosperity

Energy is fundamental to modern life, but 1.3 billion people around the world live without access to “modern electricity.” But what does that mean exactly? The current definition is a mere 100 kilowatt-hours kWh per person per year for urban areas — or enough to power a single lightbulb for five hours per day and keep a mobile phone charged — and half as much in rural areas. Such a low bar can have profound implications for national targets, for international goals such as Sustainable Development Goal 7, and on a wide range of critical investment decisions with long-term effects on development.

Human and Developmental Implications

The harm to people living with little energy is very real. Indoor air pollution from burning biomass contributes to 3.5 million premature deaths per year, killing more people worldwide than AIDS and malaria combined. Lack of power also does profound damage to education, the empowerment of women and girls and many other development outcomes (see figure 1).

How to live without electricity

At a macroeconomic level, energy shortages are a massive drag on economic growth and job creation. Typically, some 70 percent of a nation’s energy is consumed for commercial or industrial purposes, not in the home, and data suggest that power shortages are among the very top constraints to private-sector growth.

All rich countries use large amounts of energy (see figure 2).

How to live without electricity

Efforts Underway

Aggressive electrification was an essential strategy to fight poverty and promote development in countries that are now rich, and it is now the same for the still-developing regions. Power is among the top priorities for governments and citizens alike. The international community is also on board, with efforts such as the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All, the US government’s Power Africa, and many other similar initiatives. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 7, for instance, is to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.”

The efforts underway, however, are not enough and pose at least two great risks:

  1. They aim too low by measuring progress against a single, very low level of electricity consumption.
  2. They focus too much on household usage at the expense of building a modern energy system that can compete in a global economy.

Five Recommendations for Tracking Energy Access

Given the shortcomings of the current approach to defining and measuring modern energy access, we put forward the following five recommendations for the UN, International Energy Agency, World Bank, national governments, major donors, and other relevant organizations.

1. Maintain the existing energy access threshold but rename it, more appropriately, the “extreme energy poverty” line. The current use of 100 kWh per capita per year remains valuable as an indicator for the initial rung on the energy ladder. But this level of energy consumption is consistent with only very basic lighting and phone charging. It is the notional equivalent of the extreme poverty line when measuring income, merely a bare minimum starting point rather than the finish line of development success.

2. Measure and track household consumption at higher levels for “basic energy access” and “modern energy access.” Energy consumption should be measured at thresholds that balance the competing needs of being simple and aligning with energy demand and historical development patterns. The following two measurements should be added:

  • Basic energy access at 300 kWh per capita per year, which would enable running basic appliances such as fans, televisions, and refrigerators, which families demand once they have modest additional income.
  • Modern energy access at 1,500 kWh per capita per year, a level of consumption consistent with the label “modern” that includes on-demand usage of multiple modern appliances, including air conditioning.

3. Create energy-level categories to encourage ambitious national energy targets that go beyond household consumption. Modern competitive economies require high levels of energy, the vast majority of which is consumed outside households in the commercial and industrial sectors. We propose the following categories (see also figure 2):

  • extreme low energy (national average of less than 300 kWh per capita per year)
  • low energy (300–1,000)
  • middle energy (1,0000–5,000)
  • high energy (>5,000)

4. Adopt the new thresholds to inform progress-tracking and investment decisions. The new household definitions and country categories could be used by the UN, the African Union, bilateral donors, the World Bank and regional development banks, the US government (for use in Power Africa monitoring and evaluation), and most especially by national governments.

5. Invest in data collection on energy consumption, utilizing new technology to improve collection. Additional higher-quality data would allow a better understanding of energy use, help identify gaps, and enable better targeting of new investments.

Top Image: Getty Images.

This piece first appeared on the Center for Global Development’s site.

How to live without electricityTodd Moss, Co-Chair of the Energy Access Targets Working Group, is Chief Operating Officer and Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development.

How to live without electricityMimi Alemayehou, Co-Chair of the Energy Access Targets Working Group, is a Managing Director at the Black Rhino Group.

All views expressed are those of the author.

How to live without electricityEditor’s Note: This is article was originally published in December 2016.

For some, the thought of upcoming wintertime power outages comes with a sense of dread or even panic. But there has always been something nostalgic to me about the peace that comes when the noisy hum of household appliances falls quiet. The glowing ambiance of candles or oil lamps gently lighting a room takes me back to bygone days when life had a bit more quality and substance.

I suppose it was a love for this kind of peaceful existence that motivated (at least in part) my husband and I to move toward living off grid. We still aren’t there 100%, but almost everything in our home is run on solar power, with the exception of five big appliances: the water heater, the washing machine, the A/C unit, the electric stove, and the well pump. We do have non-electric backups in place for each of these, which we switch to on a regular basis. However, as a busy work-at-home, homeschooling mom I have to say I’m grateful for a few grid-powered items in this season of life.

Lighting is one of the easiest things to find non-electric alternatives for. And many of the items you would need can be found for very little money.

How to live without electricity


Candles can be a very inexpensive (sometimes even free) way to light your home off grid. I’m always on the look out at yard sales for boxes labeled “free stuff” where oftentimes you can find candles for the taking. If you’re the industrious, DIY type, you can try your hand at making your own candles. After all, almost everyone used to do this a couple hundred years ago!

I’ve become more conscious about the candles I burn, however, as I’ve learned more about the dangerous toxin-filled smoke that paraffin based candles put off when burned. I now opt for safer beeswax or soy based candles for indoor burning instead.

How to live without electricity

Oil Lamps

Oil lamps are another good option for lighting your home without electricity. They can be fueled with kerosene, lamp oil, olive oil, and even animal fat. You must be careful to have a room well ventilated when burning kerosene due to the strong odors it puts off, which isn’t always practical when it’s cold outside. When searching for the right fuel to burn, try to find a brand that carries a non-toxic, safe-for-indoor use “clean burning” oil. A smokeless, no-odor lamp oil is a good choice.

How to live without electricity

There are many different styles of oil lamps you can choose from: wall mounted, table top lamps, Aladdins, hanging lamps, reading lamps… all of them are great for their intended purposes. I like to find oil lamps for very little money at second hand stores and yard sales. You’ll also need to stock up on wicks to keep those lamps lit!

Here’s a video on the basics of oil lamp parts and how to safely fill and light one:

Solar Lights

We enjoy using outdoor solar lights (you know, the kind people use to light up their walkways at night) around the inside of our home when it begins to get dark outside. Each morning, we put the solar lights outside in a jar to soak up all the sunlight they can. When night falls, we bring the lights indoors and place them strategically around the home to help light up dark bathrooms and hallways. Solar lights have rechargeable batteries in them which do need to be replaced over time, but so far ours have lasted for almost a year and are still going strong.

How to live without electricity

A potential lifesaver in emergencies, and a helpful light on countless other occasions. This bright LED flashlight never needs batteries, so it’s always ready to use. At and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

Flashlights and Battery Powered Lamps

Flashlights are a great portable solution for off-grid lighting, especially for short term or emergency use. Solar powered flashlights are a fantastic option, and will save you money over time as you won’t ever need to replace the batteries!

Battery powered lamps or lanterns also come in handy. They’re safer for kids to use than oil lamps, and you don’t have to worry about strong odors or irritating fumes. We have one little battery powered lantern for each child to use- though we mainly save those for camping trips.

Solar Panels and LED Lights

Since we have a small 1000 kW solar panel kit installed in our home, it made more sense for us to modify the existing light fixtures in each room to accommodate solar power. To do this, we simply replaced our old Edison style light bulbs with LEDs. Yes, they are a little more expensive up front, but they last forever. They also use only a tiny fraction of energy. Where our old bulbs pulled 60-75 watts each, the new LEDs light the same amount of space with only 6 watts, making them very easy to support with solar energy.

To make the best use of our limited supply of solar power, I only screwed one to two light bulbs into each ceiling fixture, depending on the size of the room. After all, do we really need four light bulbs in one bedroom, or nine in one bathroom? Not really. We quickly adjusted to the softer lighting, and really don’t miss the excess at all.

We’re also good about keeping lights turned off during the daytime or when somebody isn’t occupying a room. When your power is limited you become very conscious of not being wasteful.

How to live without electricity

Outdoor Lighting

When we switched to off-grid lighting, we still wanted the security of outdoor motion sensor lights at the corners of our home and at the entrance ways. Our local hardware store had some fairly inexpensive solar motion lights. They served the purpose and were quick and easy to install.

A Combination of Them All

Ultimately, we use a combination of all of the above mentioned items for our off-grid lighting needs.

  • Solar powered LED lights in ceiling fixtures are used as the main lighting source throughout the house, only at night.
  • Solar powered outdoor lights are brought indoors at night. They used in the place of nightlights when the overhead lights are turned off.
  • Oil lanterns and non-toxic candles serve as backups to our solar lights during extended cloudy days when solar charging is weak.
  • Battery powered flashlights and lanterns are mainly used when we need to head outdoors at night.
  • Solar Motion Lights are used for security around the perimeter of the home.

These non-electric lighting options are what we have found to work best for us. Do you have an alternative light source that you enjoy using off the grid?

I spent most of yesterday in the dark. When I say “dark” I don’t mean to imply existing in a “clueless state” but rather actually physically sitting in darkness. My rural area experienced a massive power outage yesterday, which left about 1000 people without electricity.

The day was an interesting exercise in how dependent I am on all things power driven. Without this utility I couldn’t use my phone, cook my food, do my laundry, freeze or refrigerate my perishables, see my sofa, stay warm, watch TV, boggle my blog, flush my toilet (I have a well), or partake in a simple cup of tea.

How to live without electricity

Without power my regular day and evening activities were greatly altered. Rather than spend my time washing clothing, cooking, and blogging, I ate raw foods and read a book outside. I also interacted directly with my neighbors. Without the use of telephones, we went door-to-door sharing news on the outage and sharing flashlights. I got to know my neighbors better and enjoyed their company.

Later in the evening my “better half” and I donned head lamps and played endless card games of cribbage. We must have looked pretty silly wearing these crazy battery-powered head lamps, but we had lots of fun trying not to blind the other with our light sources. We also went to bed early, and got up earlier this morning feeling refreshed.

This whole experience makes me think, how much of our lives do we spend on useless power-sucking activities? Activities like watching hours of television, gaming with that Wii thing, or surfing the internet without purpose. It might be an interesting exercise to try living a day with your family pretending to be powerless. Try going through your day without the lights, without the television, and without all things electrical. You may just be surprised how much you learn about each other, how much fun you have, and how much money you save.

You may just discover that living without power is kind of empowering.

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