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Electric light bulbs freed Americans from the energy tyranny of kerosene, candles, gas, and even whale oil. Having a safe, clean form of lighting finally fulfilled the long human dream of fully owning the darkness. However, for over a century, the basic idea of what a light bulb was remained largely unchanged. Typically a glass bulb with a tungsten filament in a near vacuum, lightbulbs were a somewhat stagnant technology.
They were also energy hogs, wasting much of their energy as heat, rather than light. Of course, at times, that heat was valued, such as when used to heat chicken coops, but other times it was unwelcome. The excessive electric use of such bulbs could also be unpopular, which helped drive lightbulbs that used less energy, put off less waste heat, and even more natural lighting.
Today, incandescent bulbs are increasingly quaint old fashioned technology, while modern incandescent and LED bulbs are the way to go, with LED bulbs demonstrating superiority in nearly all cases. With many preppers looking for ways to save energy, or who need energy-saving light bulbs because they are going off the grid, we’ve prepared a handy guide for choosing your next lightbulbs.
LED The Way…
Forget fluorescent bulbs, they are a waste of time in this day and age. Cheap ones contain mercury, they give off a weird light most of the time and bring little of value to the table. Modern bulbs use less energy, give off cleaner, more natural light, and are increasingly priced about the same. More importantly, they last much longer, as much as 25,000 hours of use – that’s almost three years of continuous operation!
Of equal interest to the prepper, are the huge numbers of 12 volts LED bulbs on the market. This makes retrofitting a car, camper, RV or boat to LED lighting crazy easy. And you know these battery friendly bulbs will stretch your charge out.
But why should you choose LED bulbs? In a nutshell, they simply offer better performance. If you are running off a battery bank, they are the only logical choice for lighting due to their low power consumption. If you are looking to recreate natural light, many LED bulbs mimic natural daylight. And if you just want to save money on your power bill, again LED bulbs sip power.
LED Power Consumption
Because people are still familiar with the light output of old incandescent bulbs, many LED light bulbs advertise their equivalent brightness to incandescent lighting. However, something like a 100-watt equivalent bulb will not use 100 watts of power to operate. Instead, it will use about 14 watts of power. 12 volt LED bulbs can use about ⅓ the wattage of a normal incandescent bulb, which makes them vitally important for off-grid use.
Only you can determine your power consumption, and how to allocate it. Some people minimize lighting in their off-grid planning in favor of other things like refrigeration or communication. However, without sufficient lighting, your off-grid retreat might be unsafe, or an attractive target to thieves.
But power consumption isn’t the whole story. LED bulbs are wrapped with confusing ideas like lumens, and CRI’s, so let’s take a look at those in order.
Let There Be Bright
Light output is measured in lumens. While that might sound like a weird disease, or possibly a fringe political movement, lumens are simply a way of measuring how visibly bright light is. Without going into much detail, suffice it to say that the more lumens, the brighter the light.
As the Department of Energy article linked to in the first paragraph indicates, modern light bulbs are bought by examining the number of lumens they put out. Now is also a good time to consider just how much light bulb you really need.
Because many modern LED bulbs simulate natural sunlight, you might find you don’t need as many, or as bright of bulbs as you think. When preparing your off-grid lighting plan, realistically consider how you use lighting. How often can natural light through windows or skylights work for you? Can you use a lower power bulb in some rooms or fixtures? Consider using light colored paint in rooms when you can.
Off gridders will quickly recognize the value of careful placement of lighting, and making use of just enough bulb, and will see their power consumption drop accordingly.
Color Rendering What?
Many LED bulbs advertise a CRI number, but what is that? CRI is the Color Rating Index, which determines how well a bulb shows colors based against a baseline standard, which is usually natural light.
Now you are probably sitting here going “You’ve written cooler articles than this one Steve, what gives with all this lightbulb stuff? I just want to stick a bulb in my lamp, and call it good. After all, time is running out before the next Carrington Event wipes out all electrical appliances as we know them anyway!”
Well, that is certainly an option, but there are practical reasons for even the most hardcore preppers to care about the CRI of their lightbulbs. Some people are sensitive to certain shades of artificial light, and choosing a CRI that matches that of natural life may be an actual physical relief for some.
Then too, there is a simple quality of life. If you don’t like the light your lamp puts out, you will be less comfortable in your prepper retreat, and the subtle stress of low-quality lighting is one more thing you don’t need, especially in an emergency. Unnatural light may also cause eye strain, making reading or television watching harder.
You might also want natural looking light when dealing with medical conditions. Being able to clearly and accurately examine a wound or other injury could be important. Plus, it really is just nice to have lighting you are most comfortable with.
You might have to play around with different CRI’s to find the kind of bulb that works best for you, but the quality of life improvement really is worth it. There is no need to tough things out just because you are off-grid.
But Does It Really Matter?
I know some elements of the prepper community are set in their ways, and there is nothing wrong with that. After all, it is a survival trait to not discard what is proven to work well, and despite changing government regulations that are driving many “inefficient” light bulbs from the market, good ol’ incandescents still get the job done.
But they do so in a wasteful manner, and waste is not something a prepper should tolerate. When you are driving for self-sufficiency, an important part of that is to minimize needless consumption. This is even more important if you are off grid and making and storing your own electric power.
There is also the practical aspect of having long life light bulbs for the home or prepper retreat. Incandescent bulbs can burn out in months, while LED bulbs will last years. If you are stockpiling supplies, one LED bulb can replace many incandescent bulbs, which makes your preps more efficient, and possibly cheaper.
Drawbacks Of LED Bulbs
There are of course a few drawbacks to LED light bulbs that should be considered. For instance, many bulbs will overheat when put in an enclosed lamp or fixture. While this would seem unlikely given their low power draw, remember, these bulbs are electronic devices, and all electronics generate some level of heat. When operated in a closed fixture, many LED bulbs will eventually succumb to overheating. Choose bulbs that are specifically rated and designed for use in enclosed fixtures.
Another big drawback to some is that LED bulbs don’t generate enough heat. Incandescent bulbs have long been used to keep chicken coops warm in the winter, or to provide a source of heat in enclosed spaces, or to even help keep pipes from freezing.
While there are other solutions for those issues, you have to admit, that sometimes, nothing beats the quick and easy heat output of an old fashioned 100 watt light bulb.
These drawbacks are trivial though, compared to the great advantages offered by LED bulbs.
The practical nature of electric lighting is sometimes overlooked by preppers. If they do think about it, it is when they are designing an off-grid power system, and even then, they might not give too much thought to it.
However, LED bulbs can be an important part of your energy self-sufficiency, and when stockpiled, an important part of securing the future against uncertainty and unrest. Plus, they simply save you money on a regular day to day operation.
By using and storing LED bulbs, the prepper is less reliant on corporate power infrastructure, uses less energy, and saves more money. Sounds like a few good reasons to use LED bulbs to me!
Steve Coffman is a freelance writer and consulting historian. He has a BA in US history from The Evergreen State College and lives near Tacoma, Washington. He collects antique telephone insulators and is presently researching labor union relations in Washington State during WWI.