Off-Grid lighting

Whether you live off-grid or in a regular home, you need light. With the right number and position of windows, you can get along just fine during the day, but once the sun goes down, you start needing some sort of lighting. Fortunately today there are lots of options for those of us who live off-grid.


If you are working directly from 12 volt batteries in an off-grid situation, you can look at automotive lighting supplies. This is also good to use as backup if you are running an inverter and the power goes too low, of course you don’t want to run your batteries that low all the time, it will damage and shorten the life of your batteries, but for emergency use it’s just fine. Automotive lighting is designed to run directly from a 12v battery or through their own power supplies run from a 12v battery. You can also look at other gadgets made to run off of 12v batteries, many big truck suppliers have lots of goodies that run off of 12v, from lights to coffee makers, coolers, ovens, microwaves and more. The nice thing about running directly from 12v is you aren’t losing anything when you convert DC to AC, the drawback is these items tend to cost more upfront.

Most lights will come in 110 v power rating, some will come in 12 v rating, they are not interchangeable, you cannot plug a 12 v light into a 110 v outlet, and you can’t use a 110 v light in a 12 v outlet, be sure you are getting the correct lights for where you are using them.

There is a great 12v Yahoo group, there are many experts there that can answer technical questions about using 12v power: https://groups.yahoo.com/group/12VDC_Power/


If you are running an inverter, like we do, that takes the DC power and converts it to AC power that can be used by just about anything that plugs into the wall. From there, you can use any standard light that runs off of 110v as long as you have enough power to run it.

Types of lights

There are many different types of lights, each has it’s own pros and cons. The standard incandescent light bulb is cheap and puts out lots of light, but it is very inefficient, much of the power going into the bulb is converted into heat instead of light, these are not recommended for use in an off-grid situation.


Compact fluorescent light, these became popular and affordable a few years ago, they are much more efficient than incandescent light bulbs, they put out a lot of light and last a long time. The problems with them are they do have a flicker just like any other fluorescent light, and they contain mercury so  there is a risk to your health if you break one, and because of that mercury, disposing of them is tricky, you can’t just toss them in the trash or burn them, you must dispose of them properly. We do use a couple of these in our sky castle, we tied a piece of string to the light and to the fixture so that when we remove it, we can’t accidentally drop it on the floor. We will not buy anymore of these but will use the ones we have until they no longer work, then we will dispose of them properly and replace them with LED lights.

The Harbor Freight 45 watt solar panel kit comes with 2 CFL lights, these are designed to be plugged into the charge controller that comes with it, these run directly off 12v power. We have had and used lots of these over the years, a few of them have overheated and melted the plastic housing, fortunately we were there when it happened and possibly prevented a fire. I would use them, but I would never leave them unattended.


Now here is where the off-gridder really shines, this lighting is great, super efficient, it uses so little power that it’s almost free to use, they do cost a bit more upfront, but the price of them is coming down year after year, and the power savings you get from them is so worth the extra cost. We have several LED lights in each of our rooms, along with a couple of CFLs, we usually use the LED lights, but when we need extra lights we turn on the CFL for a bit. The LED lights we have are pretty low light and low wattage, the next LED lights we buy will put out more light.

In the LED category there are lots of great battery powered LED lanterns, they look like old school lanterns but are lit by LEDs and powered by batteries, and if you get creative, you can even use those garden lights, the ones that are set outside during the day, they have little solar panels on them, they charge up small rechargeable batteries, usually AA size, then when it gets dark enough, the LED light inside comes on. I have heard of people using these for light inside their cabins.

Old school lighting

Of course in the event that there is no electricity or you just don’t want to use it, you can always go old school, there are candles, oil lamps, propane powered lanterns and such. These all use fire to create the light, and the safety of them is directly dependent on the precautions you take.  Using a reflector behind the light will create even more light. You can even make your own oil lamps from olive oil and mason jars, just Google it.

We use a variety of lights in our sky castle, mostly LEDs, some CFLs which will be replaced by LEDs as they need to be replaced, we have candles though those are very seldom used. We have a variety of LED flashlights and touch lights that we use mainly when we are going outside after dark. I have learned not to leave home without having a flashlight with me, even when I plan on getting back before dark, it often happens that it’s dark when I get home, especially in the winter when it gets dark much earlier.

Using mirrors and lightly colored surfaces will make your light go a long way, it was amazing how much difference it made when we painted the raw wood walls and ceiling in the sky castle.

What do you use to light your off-grid home?



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12 Responses

  1. Just rigged up 2 12volt car day running lights-LED on plug for cigaraette lighter plug on a jump battery. Need to check math but quite bright and I suspect last a day or two connected to “jump battery” Charge “jump” battery in day from sun or generator.

  2. I use many mirrors, and white walls to get the most out of my LED/CFL, and marine batteries last weeks running led and tv, etc… not hours like old school, I can make all the electric I can use free or with little effort, I prefer to peddal my wind turbine, it gives me something to do, and it saves waiting on something that might never happen, or at least a usable amount of.

  3. Thanks for posting!! My husband and I have a small candle business where we make homemade soy candles. We have plenty of them made with no fragrance and no color in case of power loss. We are in the process of learning all we can about Solar lighting.
    Thanks again for the info.

  4. I don’t know if it is cliché using a store like Lehman’s for about 99% of the off-grid needs but I basically found every useful thing I needed for basics and then some I hadn’t thought of. Case in point….They have a wide variety of lighting products from gas lamps to solar kits and the one I liked the best was the Bracket Oil Lamp with the reflective metal plate behind the glass chimney. It lights up the kitchen / dining area the same as a soft white light bulb, plus I liked the fact that I can brace it higher on the wall away from “smaller hands”.

  5. Also a 2 liter water bottle embedded into your roof can provide lots of light.
    Who says you can’t bottle (and distribute) genius? Developed in Brazil to address under-illuminated slums, this simple design idea has been adopted by MIT students and expanded to other developing areas where many low-income homes lack access to either daylight or electricity.

    The physics of the concept are straightforward: the bottles are placed in roofs – half outside, half inside – and their lower portions refract light like 60-Watt light bulb but without the need for a power source. A few drops of bleach serve to keep the water clear, clean and germ-free for years to come.


  6. What about solar lights? I have heard of people putting them outside or in a sunny window during the day and then using them at night. The sort of solar lights you get to put along your drive way.

  7. Don’t forget windows!
    Even now (with the short days), we don’t have to turn on a single light in the house until after 6:00pm!
    If we were to add skylights I’m sure we could extend that even more.
    Light colored surfaces and a semi-gloss paint on the walls really help make the most of light that is coming through your windows for free :-)

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