There’s more to homesteading than oil lamps. This one came with the house. I don’t think it has been used, as there is no wick. I now wonder about the efficacy of burning oil, as well; petroleum products are expensive, and an electric light may cost less to burn. That assumes we would have electricity, too.
When we lived off grid we had oil lamps and a propane stove, heater and refrigerator. They became too expensive to run – the propane cost us more in a month than our previous electric bill. (About $80 vs. $25.) We switched to a wood heater, but this was wicked inefficient and we were too late in the year to get good dry wood. We had thought we were prepared, but we hadn’t done enough research into how much heating and lighting fuel we would need. We were off grid, but still dependent on an oil supply.
Oil lamps, candles and woodburning stoves are all romantic. But unless one has her own olive grove or tallow rendering kettle, oil for lamps is expensive. (Burning tallow, no matter how well strained, smells like – to borrow Thomas Cahill’s phrase – the left wing of the day of judgement.) It has a nice golden glow but it is too dim for older eyes to read by. It’s the same with candles. Most are some form of petroleum. Soy based and beeswax candles are cleaner, but unless one has access to an apiary, making or buying natural candles can be expensive. (Our neighbour up the hill has bees; I intend to go introduce myself soon and negotiate for honey and beeswax.)
Much of our electricity here is made by hydroelectric dams. My father was a generator engineer; I know as much about hydroelectric generation as I need to know. It is efficient and clean. I think that the dams, though, have seriously interfered with our riparian ecosystems; the least efficient of them need to be decommissioned and removed. For us, right now, electricity on grid is the best choice for communication, refrigeration, and lighting.
We are in discussion with our landlord about a woodburning stove. A clean-burning model would be a good choice in this area. Our flue will support the higher temperatures, and wood, especially if one can split it and season it at home, is fairly cheap compared to other fuels. It isn’t cleanest burning of fuels, but we have low population density and few inversions. I prefer wood for heating and cooking. Most practical would be a combination unit that would heat the house (about 1000 sq. ft), provide a place to cook and to bake, and heat hot water. It would make being without electricity safer; we do have occasional outages.
We are unable to get natural gas, as we are way too far north of the pipeline. We will never see that; the cost of laying pipe would be prohibitive, considering the sparse population.
This is my preparedness list for next winter. We will make do this winter with what we have on hand for lighting and heat.
Buy and install efficient woodburning unit for heat, cooking, hot water.
Buy mixed hard and soft wood lengths to cut and split. (Need chainsaw; we can no longer do this by hand. Nicholas will split.)
Make or purchase beeswax candles for secondary lighting. (I never throw out beeswax candle stubs; they can be remelted. Paraffin stubs make good fire starters.)
Look at cost of photovoltaic cells for some lights and water pump. (More on water for the homestead later.)
Look at feasibility of solar hot water heater. (Lots of plans available on internet.)