An oil lamp (many people actually mean a “hurricane lamp”) is a unique low tech emergency preparedness asset for off-grid or a power outage event. Here’s my advice for choosing the best oil lamps for emergency preparedness.
Technically, a hurricane lamp has a protective “chimney” (glass) which protects the flame from wind. Most people actually mean hurricane lamp when they’re talking about oil lamps. I’m just pointing that out, because there are many different styles of oil lamps from very old historical use, to modern.
Oil lamps will do two things for you. Most important, they obviously provide light. Also, maybe surprising, they will give off some heat (a side benefit during cool weather?).
An oil lamp is a practical source of emergency lighting. It will burn brighter than an ordinary candle and it will burn longer than the typical candle. Oil lamps are inexpensive and a cost-effective ambient light source compared to using candles.
Here is more information, tips and my recommendations for the best oil lamps. And an estimated oil lamp fuel cost-per-hour (did the math, just for fun). For prepping and preparedness I would not be without one. Actually I have several!
How Bright are Oil Lamps
An oil lamp will burn brighter than a candle. Its brightness varies from lamp to lamp (due to design and wick size). Oil lamps will produce several (and more!) candlepower (or lumens) of light than a candle.
Candlepower – Lumens
It’s an old standard of relative brightness. Candlepower, although mostly an obsolete measurement these days, was once used to express levels of light intensity in terms of the light emitted by a candle of specific size and constituents. Given that we’re talking about oil lamps, it seems appropriate.
I found a chart that lists candlepower and lumens for kerosene lamps based on wick size (width). Here are a few examples of their brightness.
Before I get into more, I want to quickly recommend a company here in the USA that makes very nice oil lamps. I like them for one of the best suppliers of oil lamps, given their quality, and made in Vermont. Yes, because of that – they cost more. But in a minute I’ll recommend a good choice for inexpensive oil lamps – a reputable brand, although not made here in the USA (if that matters to you).
Among The Best Oil Lamps – Authentic Vermont Lanterns
This company has quite a lineup of various lanterns. Their least expensive, yet great quality, is currently the Dorset Table Lamp which comes in 8″, 10″, or 12″ heights.
Solid brass. Wick size 1/2″ (88 lumens from the chart above). Burn time, 30 hours.
Brass Dorset Table Lamp
(view on amzn)
Generally, I have found that an oil lamp will burn about 0.5 ounces of lamp oil per hour.
While a hurricane lamp may burn a variety of oils, there are quite a number of choices out there for purpose-made ‘smokeless’ lamp oil.
By far, the best lamp oil for indoors, the most recommended hurricane lamp oil is Firefly Clean lamp oil:
Firefly CLEAN Lamp Oil – Smokeless
(view on amzn)
Cost per Hour
Sold by the gallon (128 ounces), the lamp oil mentioned above mathematically calculates to an operating cost of about $0.16 (16 cents) per hour based on current price.
One gallon of lamp oil will last about 256 hours. If you burned 6 hours a day, one gallon of lamp oil would last you about 42 days (for example).
Maybe your rule-of-thumb for preparedness is 1 gallon per oil lamp per month of full time (night time) operation.
The nice thing about these lamps is the ability to burn all sorts of vegetable oils. Again, a factor is the wick itself. I’ve tried this a few times. Generally it seemed the vegetable oil was drawn up more slowly. My wick charred more. I didn’t get into experimenting with other wicks but I suspect that some wicks may more readily draw up those oils.
Will Lamp Oil go Bad?
It’s fairly safe to say, No, it won’t go bad. Lamp oil has an indefinite shelf life. We’re not cooking with it – we’re burning it. Even if you’re using old olive oil which has gone rancid, it won’t matter to the lantern.
Lamp Oil Tips
1. OLD VEGETABLE OIL
If you have old (rancid) olive oil (for example), you can burn that too. Your results may vary depending on the properties of the wick.
2. FUEL LEVEL
Keep the tank at least half-full for most effective wicking.
Use Citronella oil during the summertime on the porch – bugs don’t like it…
Firefly Citronella Scented Lamp Oil
(view on amzn)
Okay, before I get into more tips and oil lamp safety… Earlier I told you that I would recommend a good quality and fairly inexpensive brand oil lamp, although made overseas. Here it is… The Dietz. I have several of these. They’re fine.
>> Dietz Original Oil Burning Lantern
(view on amzn)
Cut and Trim The Wick
The wick itself doesn’t burn (the top edge chars). It’s the oil that burns as it’s drawn up the wick.
To get the brightest light and the least smoke, trim the wick to a point. Cut an angle on each side such that the middle is the point.
Some people like the flame to be curved and cut an arc into the wick, while others simply cut straight across.
A wick will last a long long time if it is properly drawing lamp oil.
Trim the charred edge of the wick before starting a new burn.
If the flame height is adjusted too high, the flame may smoke.
SAFETY – Are Oil Lamps Safe?
It produces flame. Take all logical and common sense precautions to ensure fire safety. Every home should be equipped with fire extinguishers regardless.
Consider the location where the lamp is placed, such that it’s less likely to be bumped or knocked over. Obviously if you have children in the house, you need to be particularly concerned about that.
The chimney will get very hot – even after it’s ‘off’ for awhile, so be careful.
The heat radiating off the top of the chimney can catch fire to flammable materials too closely above it.
Don’t add oil to a flaming or hot lamp.
Regularly clean the chimney as soot builds up.
To put out the flame, blow a quick burst of air down the chimney (cupping your hand at the top edge of the chimney will help direct the air blast).
Do Oil Lamps Produce Carbon Monoxide?
Combustion produces carbon monoxide. The question is, how much? Depends on fuel, burn efficiency, exhaust, etc. Some fuels produce very little (e.g butane stove).
Yes, a oil lamp will give off some carbon monoxide. However, people have relied on these lamps for thousands of years, and we’re still here. With that said, I highly recommend having a carbon monoxide detector in your home. One with a battery backup. Regardless of having an oil lamp or not.
Lastly, I wanted to mention another among the best oil lamps for emergency preparedness. Lately, this one has been more difficult to find. I bought one years ago. It’s great! The Feuerhand. Made in Germany.
Why do I like it? Well, the Germans design good stuff. It is moderately priced. They have thermal heat-resistant ‘SUPRAX’ globes which will not crack even when touched by rain or snow. Apparently Burns K1 Kerosene, Lamp Oil, or vegetable oils.
What’s the difference between Feuerhand and Dietz lanterns?
From the manufacturer: “Feuerhand lanterns are very similar to the Dietz Original #76, but they’re about 20% heavier and feature ALL German components (including glass, wicks and sourcing of steel). You’ll see and feel their higher quality immediately.”
Feuerhand Pastel Orange
red shown below:
[ Read: Do-It-Yourself Olive Oil Lamp ]