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Best Emergency Lights for Power Outages

Updated on March 19, 2016
Kerosene boudoir lamp
Kerosene boudoir lamp
More boudoir lamps
More boudoir lamps

Yes, I know you’ve got candles—and probably even matches or a lighter to light them with—in case of power outages.

Bet you thought there was nothing much more to say about this subject!

Actually, there are some better options than candles alone—though candles are always good—for getting through power outages. And there are many different types of candles—some better than others for both safety and long-lasting illumination.

Back in my former life as a young mom, I lived in a suburb where above-ground power lines assured that summer tornadoes and winter ice storms wreaked havoc. There was one winter ice storm when so many transformers were blowing so continually that it was like the Fourth of July. What’s worse, the power was once out for ten days. My ex-husband’s parents used to check into a hotel for the duration, but we didn’t have that option.

School resumed a full week before the power came back on, in spite of a little problem with taking a shower.

In a later incarnation as a single mom, my little family weathered ice storms in the comfortable heat of a wood stove—the kind with a flat top, so that it could be used for at least minimal cooking. Kerosene lamps hung from wall brackets in several rooms, and they were always cleaned and filled throughout the winter, and there was always a good supply of candles stashed away for such emergencies.

So what else do you need to know?

Kerosene Lamps

Well, some kinds of emergency lighting are more practical than others. Kerosene lamps will burn much longer than candles, and can be continually refilled. If you have children in your household, wall-mounted kerosene lamps are far safer than table lamps. Wall-mounted kerosene lamps can be placed high enough that children can’t easily knock them over, and their being higher up means they shed a better light. Candles mounted in wall brackets can serve the same purpose, but be careful about what’s under the candles, as dripping hot wax can set fire to some highly flammable items. (I once caught a doily on fire that way.)

Boudoir Lamps—Miniature Kerosene Lamps

Some of the prettiest and most practical kerosene lamps are the tiny “boudoir” lamps. These are miniature kerosene lamps that are only about six or seven inches tall, from the base to the top of the chimney. These give excellent light and are easily carried from room to room; because the flame is protected by the lamp chimney, they won’t flicker or go out while you’re carrying them around. They are perfect for lighting the bathroom, or even the boudoir. They provide adequate light for changing into jammies and finding your way under the covers.

Today, kerosene boudoir lamps are found mostly in antique and junk stores, and sometimes in thrift stores. They are inexpensive, at least in my area, and some are marvelously pretty little things that can probably be given a permanent place in your décor, so that you don’t need to hunt for them when the house goes dark. Of course, they will go better with your décor if you are fond of doilies, Victorian tea tables, and other Victorian bric-a-brac.

When shopping for boudoir lamps, look for lamps that are not missing any parts. A lamp wick is easily replaced, but if the chimney is missing, cracked, or broken, it will be nearly impossible to find a replacement that is the right size. Grannies who are already well supplied with cute little Victorian boudoir lamps may want to pick up some for their grown children. Just make sure it works before giving it as a gift.

Okay! I admit it. The kerosene boudoir lamp is my favorite kind of emergency lighting.


Another much-overlooked option in the way of candles is the “vigil light” candle that comes in a tall, straight-sided glass container. A friend of mine, a vendor at the local farmer’s market, sells emergency lighting kits consisting of long-burning candles with books of matches fastened to them.

One of the advantages of the “vigil light” glass candles is that they are quite inexpensive, compared to other candles in glass containers. In my area, they are carried at some of the Dollar Stores, where they now run $1.50. They are also sold at some grocery stores. These will burn for three or four days, even if they are never blown out and, like the boudoir kerosene lamps, they can be carried from room to room without going out (usually).

You will notice that some of the vigil light candles have religious pictures on them. Two favorites are the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Guadalupe. But the Dollar Store here usually carries this item in a plain glass container as well, for those who are bothered by the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A still better option, if you want a truly long-burning candle, is to purchase real vigil lights from a Catholic church. Most Catholic churches have large arrays of vigil lights in metal stands, in the general area of a statue of Our Lady (blue or white candles), the Sacred Heart (red candles), or St. Joseph (golden yellow candles).

These are prayer candles. It is customary, among Catholics, to drop the requested donation in the nearby offering box and light one of the candles for a particular prayerful purpose. However, it is also customary, if you prefer, to drop the requested donation in the offering box and take one of the candles with you, for devotions you plan to perform at home. I think many Catholics enjoy them as night lights, or simply for spreading a general aura of sanctity at home.

The vigil light candles from a church are quite a bit larger than the Dollar Store vigil lights and are often called “novena” candles—intended for nine-day prayers, and said to burn continually for nine days. Actually, they burn continually for about seven days.

This is a good quality candle. Pick up two or three. If you are a non-Catholic and don’t wish to intrude on a church service, the best time to pick them up is on Saturday afternoon during confessions. Behave yourself.

Another advantage of the vigil lights is that it has always been claimed that they represent very little risk of fire: If they are knocked over, they go out.

It might be a good idea to tape a book of matches to emergency candles, of whatever kind.

Bring Outdoor Solar Lights Indoors

Yet another option for emergency lighting is to purchase a package of the solar lights intended for lighting outdoor pathways. These, too, are often inexpensive. If you have a power outage, simply go outdoors and pluck them out of the yard and bring them indoors.

My experience is that outdoor solar lights will probably go out before midnight, as the charge is not long-lasting. And of course you need to put them back outdoors during the day to recharge, if the lights are out for a second night. Alternatively, you can get the outdoor solar lights going again by replacing the batteries, if you have plenty of batteries on hand.

Solar lights that have quit working are usually corroded at the connections at the top and bottom of the batteries. Usually you can get them to work again by cleaning the connections with rubbing alcohol, or by buffing them gently with fine steel wool.

Outdoor solar lights are hard to beat for safe lighting for children to carry around to the bathroom or bedroom, or to stand in a water glass or other container for a child’s night light. They ward off all those “things that go bump in the night” for several hours.

Fall is always best time to put aside your favorite emergency lights. I have often visited Wal-Mart, during winter emergencies, only to find that the sections for candles, kerosene lamps, and lamp oil were completely cleaned out. In any kind of serious emergency, you will be lucky if there is a candle or kerosene lamp for sale within 50 miles of you. So it’s always good to prepare ahead of time.


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