An oil lamp (many people actually mean a “hurricane lamp” or “oil lantern”) 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 and indoor use.
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 for indoor use compared to candles.
Here is more information, tips and my recommendations for the best oil lamps. And an estimated oil lamp fuel cost-per-hour (I 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.
Oil Lantern Candlepower – Lumens
It’s an old standard of relative brightness. Candlepower. Although mostly an obsolete measurement these days (today we use “lumens”), it 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 (relative brightness) for kerosene lamps based on wick size (width). Here are a few examples of their brightness.
Oil Lantern Wick versus Brightness/Lumens
Before I get into more, I want to quickly recommend a company here in the USA. They make 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 a bit more. But in a minute I’ll recommend another 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, all safe for indoor use – given the common sense safety recommendations advised below. Their least expensive, yet great quality, is currently the Dorset Table Lamp which comes in 8″, 10″, or 12″ heights.
Given the quality of their hurricane lanterns, and since you may choose to support a Made-in-USA business, I do recommend them as one of the best choices.
Solid brass. Wick size 1/2″ (88 lumens from the chart above). Burn time, 30 hours.
Brass Dorset Table Lamp
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Best Lamp Oil For Indoors
My next recommendation is listed below. It’s a bit less expensive, but a classic design of which I own several.
Lamp Oil per Hour: How much oil will a hurricane lamp /oil-lamp burn? Generally, I have found that an oil lamp will burn about 0.5 ounces of lamp oil per hour.
Indoor Lamp Oil: 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.
UPDATE: I had been recommending Firefly hurricane lamp oil, which is fine and great. However, I’ve found what I consider the best lamp oil for indoors, given its reasonable price per gallon. It’s one of the most well reviewed Clean-Smokeless-Odorless. Apparently Made in USA.
1-Gallon Ultra Clean Burning
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Cost Per Hour
Typically sold by the gallon (128 ounces), the lamp oil I had been using calculated to an operating cost of about $0.19 (19 cents) per hour based on current price.
(Note that some lamp oil will burn faster or slower than others.)
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.
Dietz Hurricane Lantern – One of the best budget choices
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. It’s a classic design originating from a company started in 1840 by its founder, 22-year-old Robert Edwin Dietz in Brooklyn, NY. During 1971, they ceased making lanterns in Syracuse, moving all production to Hong Kong. In 1982 the Dietz lantern factory was moved from Hong Kong into China. For nearly 150 years, Dietz lanterns have been known around the world as “The Old Reliable.”
For more than a century, the Dietz has been considered one of the best hurricane lanterns, given it’s original design.
>> Dietz Original Oil Burning Lantern
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Caution: You can get cheaper oil lamps than this (hurricane lamp style). However, my experience and that of others suggests these often have problems. And it could even be dangerous. I’ve bought the cheap ones before. They leak. Maybe not right away, but they ended up leaking. That’s not good!
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
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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.
[ Read: Do-It-Yourself Olive Oil Lamp ]