Lynne Pike

Suddenly finding yourself in the dark is a frightening experience, especially if you are unprepared for it. Light is something that we frequently take for granted until it isn't there. Then we realize how much we depend on light for common, ordinary tasks. Hopefully, this handout will help you to be ready the next time you need emergency lighting!

Consider your family's needs before stocking emergency lighting. Deciding which kinds of lamps to store for emergencies and where to store them depends on what tasks you may be doing that require light. For example, a 200-watt lamp will light a room well enough to read or sew, but will not provide enough heat for warmth or for cooking. Keeping an oil lamp beside your bed will serve the purpose of providing light in an emergency, but could also be more hazardous than storing a small flashlight that will get you from your bed to a more efficient source of light. Since there are so many kinds of emergency lighting readily available and since most of them are reasonably priced, it is advantageous to store all kinds of light sources in many locations throughout your home as well as in your emergency kit so that you will have whatever you need handy right when you need it.

Here are a few practical lights to have on hand and tips for using each one of them in an emergency situation:

Flashlights. Flashlights are handy, safe and easy to use. They are compact enough to fit into a purse or glove compartment, and some even have magnets attached to them so you can place one on the refrigerator in the kitchen and another on the washing machine in the laundry room. Have one within reach of each family member, and be sure that everyone knows where to find them! There are many kinds of flashlights, most of that are available in various brands in every department or drug store. They are also inexpensive and come in just about any size you could possibly need. Here are the types of flashlights:

Waterproof flashlights come in many sizes and are especially useful for using in a boat, when it's rainy, or if there is a flood.

Rechargeable flashlights are designed to plug into any wall outlet to recharge while not in use. Many rechargeable flashlights have a power outage light that turns on automatically if the outlet suddenly loses power.

Hand generated flashlights are designed to be pumped or cranked to provide power to the flashlight. Some hand generated flashlights have battery back-up and some also have solar power back-up and/or electrical cords. There are also hand generated flashlights on the market that will only work while you are pumping or cranking them. Some also include a radio, weather scanner, or emergency flasher as well. Try before you buy to be sure that what you are getting is what you really want!

Battery Operated Lanterns. These lanterns are actually one variation of the hand-held flashlight, but are especially handy when you need to keep your hands free for other activities. If you or one of your children need to take a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night on a camp-out, a lantern is the kind of light you want to keep handy!

Headlamps. A headlamp is a variation of a battery lantern, which is basically a flashlight that attaches to a strap around your head, allowing your hands to be free for other tasks. Headlamps come in handy for automobile repairs or for similar jobs where the position of the light needs to be focused on a specific work area. Be sure to keep a headlamp in your emergency car kit!

Automatic Lamps. These are similar to rechargeable flashlights, but are left plugged into the wall at all times. They may automatically turn on when it is dark, when there is motion, or during a power outage, depending on the type of lamp. Be sure to have some of each type. At night, having a light with a light or motion detector is a safety feature that just about any home can use, but only work when the power is on. In an emergency, having an automatic rechargable lamp that comes on during a power failure is particularly invaluable.

Chemical Light Sticks. Light sticks are compact, lightweight, odorless and easy to use. Kids often carry light sticks on Halloween, but they are good to have on hand for emergency situations as well. Keep a few in a car or handbag for road emergencies, stock some in your 72-hour kit, store several with your camping gear, and scatter several of them around the house for those times when the flashlight is hard to find. Light sticks have many uses and last for about 12 hours. The only disadvantages are that they give very little light and are not an especially good thing to have within reach of children who might break them open.

Emergency Flares. It's a good idea to have a few flares on hand for those emergencies when you need a lot of light over a large area and you need it fast. Store some flares in your car or boat and keep some with your camping gear and in your 72-hour kit.

Candles. The best things that you can say about candles are that they are plentiful, lightweight and inexpensive. They come in many different varieties so you can find just about anything that you are seeking in the way of candlelight. With a heat source and a block of wax, you can even make your own! As with any other light source, think about your needs and store accordingly. Keep a few candles around the house, but storing them in a garage or car could result in melting them, not only making them unusable in an emergency but also making a mess.

Knowing about different types of candles and how they are made will help you to select the right ones for your purposes. For example, a plumber's is more densely packed and will burn longer and more intensely than a votive candle. Here are the kinds of candles from which to choose:

Pressed candles are the least expensive and easiest way to mass-produce candles. Powdered paraffin is pressed into a mold and, once hardened, dipped into color and fragrance. These candles generally tend to burn quicker and emit less fragrance when burning than some other kinds of candles. Votive candles are usually pressed candles.

Poured candles feature colored and scented wax poured into a mold and then removed when cool. Because this is a time-consuming process, the result is a higher quality candle that burns well and emits more fragrance than pressed candles while burning. One of the longest burning candles is a plumber's candle, a type of poured candle that is compact and efficient. Plumber's candles are found in many hardware stores in the plumbing department and make especially good emergency candles. They are relatively inexpensive and will usually burn for about 16 hours.

Dipped Candles are made the old-fashioned way. This is the oldest method of producing a candle and is primarily used with taper candles. Wicks are first dipped in wax, dried or dipped into cold water, and this process is continuously repeated to create candles, one layer at a time. The result is an uneven and hand-crafted candle that allows for a dripless burn. Some dipped candles are created with layers of different colors while others are created by using the same color of wax throughout each layer.

Extruded Candles are smooth and polished taper candles. This process involves making long thin candles cut into smaller lengths that are more practical for burning in a candleholder.

Container Candles are made by pouring wax into a decorative glass or metal container. Some containers are as simple as canning jars and others are beautifully shaped or intricately hand-painted so they sparkle and glow through the image on the glass. Often fragrances and colors are added to make these candles more decorative. Citronella is added to some container candles for use in repelling mosquitoes.

Beeswax Candles have been around for centuries and are made by rolling a wick in softened beeswax frequently patterned like a honeycomb. These are lightweight and slow-burning candles, but are relatively expensive.


  • Never leave a burning candle unattended.
  • Never allow the flame of a candle to touch any glass surface.
  • Keep out of reach of children.
  • Always handle a burning candle carefully.
  • Always burn candles in an appropriate non-flammable holder on a heat-resistant, protected, dry surface (read directions on the package or bottom label).
  • Avoid placing candles near open windows, doors, fans or any other drafts.
  • Avoid placing wax candles in direct sunlight. This could result in fading colors.
  • To control flame height, keep wick trimmed to 1/4" or less when burning.
  • Remove wick trimmings, matches or any other foreign material collecting in wax and wipe dust from candle before lighting the wick.
  • Extinguish candles before placing lid on container, if you are burning a container candle.
  • Use clean containers for burning candles and remove excess wax after burning. Clean containers with warm water.
  • Store candles in a cool, dry, dark place to prevent discoloration and accidental burning.

    Fuel Lanterns. Although not nearly as handy as flashlights, lanterns that use fuel are more efficient than battery-operated or electric lights, fairly easy to store, and provide more light than most other emergency light sources. There are many styles available to fit your need and location -- table lanterns, floor lanterns and hanging lanterns. Some even have attachments that can be used for providing heat for warmth or for cooking. There are several kinds of fuel lanterns:

    Propane lanterns use propane, a gas that is stored under pressure. The advantage of propane is that it is odorless and lights quickly, which is especially helpful in an emergency situation. It also burns bright to provide a lot of light and burns hot to provide warmth. The disadvantage of propane is that it is fairly expensive as a fuel and it can be dangerous if the tank is knocked over (as is any other gas stored under pressure).

    Butane lanterns use liquid butane for fuel. The advantage of butane is that, unlike propane, it is not stored under pressure and stores longer and safer than propane. It is also odorless and lights quickly. The disadvantage of butane is that it does not burn as brightly as propane and it is slightly more expensive.

    Kerosene lanterns use liquid kerosene for fuel. The advantage of kerosene fuel is that it is less expensive than propane and is not stored under pressure, which gives it a longer shelf life and makes it safer than propane. The disadvantage of kerosene is that it does not burn as brightly as propane and burning it causes an odor, smoke, and a residue that can be difficult to remove.

    Liquid paraffin lanterns use liquid paraffin, just like the melting wax of a candle keeps the wick burning. Any lantern that uses kerosene also will burn liquid paraffin. If you have a used kerosene lantern, however, be sure to take it apart and clean it thoroughly before changing your fuel to liquid paraffin. The advantage of liquid paraffin is that it will burn six times longer than kerosene and is both odorless and smokeless. Liquid paraffin is the most energy efficient and cost efficient of all lantern fuels.


    Cutting the lantern's wick into various shapes can make different flame effects. A triangular cut, for example, will produce a peaked flame, a half moon cut will produce a crowned flame, and a double triangle cut will produce a double flame.

    Wick height should never be visible above the metal burner. If the wick is exposed above the metal burner when lit, the lamp will smoke and your wick will need replacing more often.

    Other lighting supplies you may need to keep on hand are:

    Batteries. Be sure to rotate batteries in flashlights and lanterns every six months. We've all heard that keeping batteries in the refrigerator causes them to last longer, but tests have shown that this is untrue. As long as batteries are stored in a relatively cool and dry place, they will last about six months to a year.

    Portable Electric Generator. Having a portable electric generator allows you to run a few electrical appliances, including an electric lamp. Be sure to store fuel for the generator, or include a siphon hose if your generator runs on automotive gasoline. Be sure to purchase a generator with sufficient power for your needs.

    Lantern Parts. Keep extra mantles, wicks, and other lantern parts on hand. Make sure that they fit your lanterns!

    Lantern Fuel. There are several alternatives for lanterns, including oil, kerosene, gas, propane, and liquid paraffin.

    Matches. Store matches in an airtight container, and be especially carefully with strike-anywhere matches. Remember to teach your children never to play with matches and never to light a match without adult supervision. Be mindful of the dangers of lighting a match with the possibility of gas leaks following a storm or earthquake.

    Fire Extinguisher. Keep a fire extinguisher handy near electrical equipment and anyplace where there is a risk of fire, including a kitchen or near a fireplace. Store fire extinguishers away from children, and handle them with care -- they contain gas under pressure.