Living Without Lights
'Living Without' series - Part 2
Friday, September 23, 2016
When I tell people we live off-grid, the questions they ask usually start with 'how do you live without (...)'. The first one being 'How do you live without a fridge?'. The second is 'How did/do you live without lights?'.
When we decided to move to Vermont to homestead, I heard many stories about harsh cold winters. But what was frightening to me more than the cold weather, were the long months in the dark. I am originally from Belgium, a country that should have its national flag replaced by the color of its sky, gray. I don't have many childhood memories of going outside, and feeling the sun on my face. I remember a lot of gray skies, a lot of rain, and a lot of darkness. Saying that I was apprehensive at the perspective of living without lights, in the dark, would be an understatement.
As I said in Part 1, like most of the decisions with our journey to live off-grid, it started out as debating with my husband what we could afford (in time and money) when we built our house. Prioritizing what we thought was important. Making plans about what we needed before moving in proved to be an exercise in futility. We had to move into our tiny off-grid cabin to know what our family truly needed.
When we moved in, it was the middle of summer. We would wake up when the sun was already up, and we would go to bed shortly after it went down. If we needed to stay up late, we used headlamps. Once it was dark, daily tasks stopped. I could ignore a pile of dirty dishes and not feel guilty about it.
In the fall, we upgraded to portable LED work lights that we could charge in the car or on our then small solar electric system. We would point them at the ceiling to diffuse the light, and the lighting would be enough for a few extra hours at the end of the day. The drawback of that setup was that after 2-4 hours, batteries ran out, and we relied on headlamps, oil lamps, or candles. Having a very active kid in a small space limited our use of candles and oil lamps to a bare minimum. We relied on this combination of lighting until the end of winter. And it worked! I didn't once complain about the lack of lighting (ok, maybe a few times, when we forgot to charge the lights in the morning). We managed to have a combination of alternatives we could use. And when none would do, we just went with what was given to us that day, and got to bed early.
Middle of November. Making lip balms with our beeswax for a local craft fair.
In May, we revisited lighting. We knew from the start that the spotlights, headlamps, candles, etc. would not be a viable option for the long run. After researching other options, we bought LED light strips. It is just a strip, glued on the ceiling, and uses very little energy (10 watts). We now have what looks like regular lighting downstairs, without having added a regular electric system to our house. The cost was $11.77 for the strip, and $3.99 for the switch: it will last us a few decades (in theory). We have chosen not to add these strips upstairs, to keep our resting place free of artificial lighting and enjoy having to rest because keeping going isn't an option. If there is a lesson we learned in this process, it's that it can be nice to end the day, not on our terms.
Our LED strip glued to the ceiling.
As with many of our experiences so far, we had started out with no real idea of what we needed to live a simpler life. I started out this adventure with a lot of apprehension about our resilience in dealing with the dark winter months.
Living without lights, in the beginning, had taught us that alternative options are available, even if it means creating several options to meet our needs. It allowed us time to explore options that would be efficient for our lifestyle. After having used this system for 6 months, it is safe to say that this lighting is more than sufficient for our daily needs. Unlike many other projects, we consider this one completed. The LED strips actually exceeded our expectation: they are very cheap to buy and run, will last a lifetime, were easy to install, and give us enough light for our little house. (My husband wants to hijack my blog post to tell the world that this lighting system, and I am quoting, 'blew my mind, and is by far superior to any lighting setup in conventional houses.')
Previous and current setup:
I also write about other subjects, and have been writing about the NewVistas project unfolding in my town. You can read all my stories at dailyUV.com/VeryVermont. And you can sign up for email updates HERE.