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What It Takes to Light This Place Off The Grid

[ 6 ] February 7, 2013 |
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cabin snow

Good evening light in this cabin can be had with either 1 CFL and a short string of LED Christmas lights; or 2 oil lanterns going strong; or 1 oil lantern and a good LED solar light.

My preference in lighting this one room cabin is to use oil lanterns because I enjoy the warm glow of natural light over the cold, blue beam of LEDs. However, the problem with oil lamps is that they do burn up a lot of oil, and that stuff isn’t cheap. It would be cheaper, and probably more environmentally responsible, to just use CLFs on electric or even a propane lantern. After going through a couple gallons of lamp oil this winter I’ve settled on using them for special occasions and for a few hours at night when I’m trying to wind down.

The light from a standard CFL sits somewhere between oil and LED in terms of warmth. I’d use it more, but mine runs off of a portable deep cycle battery that I have to charge up about once a week. Since the battery and inverter are going anyway, I usually also plug in a string of Christmas lights (you can buy the LED kind) to provide the extra ambient light I need in certain nooks and crannies of the cabin (such as the bedroom area or bathroom). However, I prefer to save the juice in the battery for other things if I can (such as laptop and phone charging, and for extra light when my son stays here). This means I usually opt for another option…

firefly-light

I Loved My Firefly Mobile LED Solar Light – Until…

My friend Tommy let me borrow this light for as long as I need it, and at first it was just the answer I was looking for. It has three different brightness levels. The brightest one was perfect for reading or lighting up the room, while the softest setting could be used as a nightlight for when my son was here.

The light still works relatively well, but after a couple of months of nightly use — and several hard freezes in which even the lamp oil froze while I wasn’t home to burn a fire — it has developed a flicker, and the battery doesn’t last as long.

The light still lasts about 2-3 hours on a good, all-day charge if the sun was out most of the day, but it used to last 4-6 hours. I hope this trend doesn’t continue! If it does I’ll update the post in the comments. To be fair, you probably shouldn’t let sensitive electronics stay in below-freezing temperatures for several days at a time. But also to be fair, if you’re marketing a product to hikers/campers and people who live off the grid – it should be able to handle freezing temperatures.

My only other gripe would be that there is no way to tell how low the internal battery is getting (i.e. no gauge) other than observing the gradual dimming of the light.

Here’s a link to their site if you want to read more about it. Though my Firefly lamp isn’t as fresh as it once was, it still beats all other options for me in this price range. It is what I am writing this post by and is doing just fine. If you want to buy one here is an affiliate link to Amazon, which has the best price if you can’t find one locally.

How Much Light Do You Need?

Good evening light in this cabin can be had with either 1 CFL and a short string of LED Christmas lights; or 2 oil lanterns going strong; or 1 oil lantern and a good LED solar light.

That’s what it takes to light this structure up in the evening to my satisfaction, but what does that mean? My definition of acceptable brightness may be different from yours. When I have my 2-year-old son here the CFL has to be on. Anyone with children knows what kind of trouble they can get into at this age if you’re not watching them just about every second. Plus, it probably wouldn’t be good for his eyes to have to spend hours in a dimly lit room every night. Here is how I define adequately lit in case you’re thinking about living in a similar way and are wondering how little you can get away with:

For reading, cooking, cleaning, etc… I need two things to keep my eyes from hurting (aside from my glasses). The first is ambient light, which can either come in the form of LED Christmas lights (if you have electric or a battery & inverter), or oil lamps if you have no electricity. There are other options as well, such as propane lanterns and ambient solar lighting, but I haven’t had any experience with them. The second thing is a more direct beam of light pointing at the book, stovetop, or whatever you’re focusing on. I find a little headlamp to be perfect for this in most cases, but only for one person. A CLF bulb is great when placed well, but that LED solar powered Firefly light is just perfect because it has an adjustable neck and a strong beam that you can point anywhere. It can also hang on the wall.

In summary, you’re going to need two types of lighting – ambient and direct. You don’t need much, but you also don’t want to permanently hurt your eyes for the sake of saving a few pennies or carbon molecules. The Firefly light is a great source of direct light for those without electricity who live in areas that get decent sun, but don’t let it freeze or it will drastically reduce its lifespan.

By the way, those big south-facing windows do wonders for heating this place in the day, and I get really good natural light all the way until the sun is fully set.

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Category: Reviews, The Transplants

About Everett: Everett writes about voluntary simplicity. This blog catalogs his search for "the good life" as he tries to strike a balance between work and play; freedom and responsibility; simplicity and comfort. View author profile.

Comments (6)

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  1. Dave says:

    Your cabin looks like it has plenty of windows to let in the light during the day.

    I really like the idea of using folding walls made out of glass or wood to bring even more light into a place.

    These places look a little too modern for my tastes but I still like the ideas.

    http://www.everythingsimple.com/6496/wood-cabin-with-folding-walls-in-san-juan-washington-by-olson-kundig-architects/

    http://www.loganhendricks.com/apps/blog/shipping-container-cabin

    http://www.favething.com/r-white/small-cabins/small-wood-concrete-cabin/

  2. Everett,
    Greetings from Ohio.After reading your article,
    I won’t take for granted turning a light on anymore!
    I was without power for 3 days,while living in PA.
    I still made it to work,1 hour each way,and how
    I did that I’ll never know.My cats made it through
    okay,although I lost my guinea pig,Sparky.I will
    never forget the look on my cats’ faces-sort of a
    “hey,it’s cold in here.Can’t you do something?”
    Definitely not a good time that winter.
    One day closer to spring…Sharon from Ohio

  3. Everett says:

    Thanks Sharon. I’m sorry to hear about those three days without power, but something tells me we’re going to be experiencing a lot more of that in coming years. Maybe it was just the wake up call we all needed to prepare for it. I hope next time that happens you and your cats stay warm and comfortable.

    Dave I’m not a big fan of those modular looking modern tiny house cabin thingies, but taste is just taste. Thanks for the links! How is Hawaii treating you these days?

  4. [...] story came to my attention this week on how little it takes to light a tiny home and gives a review of the Firefly mobile LED solar [...]

  5. tweell says:

    Most battery electrolytes freeze around 0 degrees F. The crystals punch a hole in the membrane between the positive and negative metals, causing more internal discharge and less capacity. Lead-acid batteries are the only real cold-resistant batteries available, as the standard sulfuric acid won’t freeze unless it drops to -60F and can be tweaked for lower temperatures than that. Of course, lead-acid batteries have a poor charge-discharge efficiency ratio (in the 0.6 range) and full discharges tend to damage them (best life is when you use less than 30% of their capacity in a cycle).

    So basically, you’re SOL here. Sorry.

  6. Everett says:

    Tweell thanks for your detailed comment! At least if we know we’re SOL we can start looking at other solutions, such as moving all battery-powered items and deep cycle batteries to a more insulated location, especially if we’re not going to be in the cabin for an extended time during the winter.

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