Cut Through the Dark – Grid down Light Options

Light options that can be set up by anyone who owns a screwdriver, no electrical connections needed, that runs off the sun and-or a spare battery, and that provides quality lighting when somebody walks inside its sensor range.
Light options that can be set up by anyone who owns a screwdriver, no electrical connections needed, that runs off the sun and-or a spare battery, and that provides quality lighting when somebody walks inside its sensor range.

Last Updated on July 28, 2016

Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from R. Ann Parris.  If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today!


A Prepper Must-Have: Solar Spotlights

I hesitate to call these spotlights instead of just outdoor lighting, but they’re easier to search that way. I’m talking about any light options that can be set up by anyone who owns a screwdriver, no electrical connections needed, that runs off the sun and-or a spare battery, and that provides quality lighting when somebody walks inside its sensor range. The range of detection, amount of light, and hours of charge are going to vary by price and size, just like the amount of light it takes to charge them will vary by the quality of their solar panels.

These aren’t as inexpensive as some of the must-haves in preparedness like soap and rice. However, it’s not like I’m suggesting freeze-dried steaks or a .308 here, either. They’re not usually as small as a sheet or a set of bungee cords, but they also don’t need their own five-gallon buckets or trunks to store each backup. They don’t have quite the million and one uses of baking soda and they’re relatively stationary unlike headlamps.

Still, they’re readily affordable, fairly lightweight and small, and they can make a big, reliable difference for relatively small outlay – a difference that’s almost impossible to match with other products. That makes them a must-have in my book.

I’m pushing the solar aspect in this one case, because not everyone has a generator and even if we do, limiting the power draw during daily life and especially an emergency makes good sense.

Too, a light tied to even our personal grid is dependent on any of several single components to function. When one goes out, so do all the lights. With a set of independent solar-powered spotlights, we still have our security and safety lights.

I actually started down this road for three reasons. One: I hate power bills. Two: It’s really, really, really dark in the country compared to the ‘burbs. Three: The spaces on my parents’ property even to take the trash behind the garage is … mined. There are anthills, random rose bushes, baby trees, whatever Pops brought home from work last, dog and children’s toys, sometimes windblown fruit like apples, and routinely neighborhood animals and wildlife. No to mention record-setting web spinners and about 20 places for them to work.

Solar-powered motion-sensor lights help us dodge all of those. Plus, the kinds I picked are easy enough for even my non-techie, non-electrician mother and now-disabled father to install and maintain.

Image/Images: Unlike game cameras, a motion-sensor light lets us see what is upsetting dogs or livestock immediately, from our windows and porches, instead of looking the next day or requiring a wireless computer connection for real-time viewing, and are usually far less expensive.
Unlike game cameras, a motion-sensor light lets us see what is upsetting dogs or livestock immediately, from our windows and porches, instead of looking the next day or requiring a wireless computer connection for real-time viewing, and are usually far less expensive.

I also like to have a fair chance of seeing what made the dogs go crazy, and my parents’ had a prowler at least three times a few years ago. To the rescue: motion activated lights, several sets that ranged from $30 to $60.

The peace of mind of knowing when it’s a loose cat and when it’s more is worth every penny to us. If there’s still a prowler, they’re staying way down at the road turn-off or way up past the dog lot now.

With motion-sensor lights, you can see what exactly is out there by the poultry or sheds or gardens and whether it’s nothing or an air gun versus an AR target, Moms can walk from her car to the house without hitting any puddles or icy patches, and you avoid getting annoyed at a bucket that doesn’t come when you call and can stalk right to a dog – or realize Stealthy Sam is standing two feet away looking at you waiting for the door to open.

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There are lots of times, even in this perfect, fully powered country, that the motion-sensor lights have been valuable. A lot of those values will continue or cross over should there be a widespread disaster of some kind.

Increasing the Usefulness of your Lights

For a boost to the lights, consider covering with thin fabric or thinned paint in varying colors and shades to create not only illumination, but in some cases, to even alert to direction of travel. A full-on whitewash can be difficult to judge, even with a property lit up like a full moon.

Knowing that white means interior or corners, and knowing that red means something or someone circled a hen-house, hit the register between corner lights, or that something hit two sensors but not the adjacent 2-7, can help us decide what we most need and where our response should be focused.

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These are just some examples of options available:

Solar motion-sensor spotlights can also be purchased as single units. There are all kinds, some less expensive and other, much more expansive sets.

Pre-plan by looking at the height they’ll likely be placed, the area they’re intended to cover, and whether they’re there to illuminate the ground on a path or inform us of what’s out there in the night. That will help us make the most economical decisions regarding sensor range, light size, and the amount of money we want to invest.

Downsides to Solar Lights

Okay, so besides the sun-cloud thing, motion-sensor lights have a big issue for preppers: light discipline.

It’s really dark out there in the world when there’s no light. It’s why the military still trains people to use lights under a poncho in the open. The $0.97 stakes from Walmart may seem pitiful now, but they’re plenty to catch an eye in real darkness depending on the elevation, altitude, and flora or built environment around them.

Light options that can be set up by anyone who owns a screwdriver, no electrical connections needed, that runs off the sun and-or a spare battery, and that provides quality lighting when somebody walks inside its sensor range.
If light discipline is of importance during an emergency, a higher-grade model with wireless remote or tied to a household switch may be more appropriate than the automatic, less-expensive models.

The cheapest of the lights don’t have on-off switches. Until you start getting into relatively pricey systems you don’t have an indoor switch option for the solar motion-sensor versions. That means if you’re trying to stay dark, you have to take them down and you’re back to handheld lights or maybe turning them on as you go.

On the other hand, let’s look at the history of disasters for a minute.

Most of our grid-down situations are temporary, and tend to relate to a localized or regional storm or somebody who dug or hit a line (or pole) or a piece of equipment that fritzed. Rolling brown-outs are something that used to be of issue, and could become so again.

Most of our financial reversals are serious on an individual/family level, or a slow decline due to a dying industrial area. There are some like 2008 that strike a lot of people over a relatively short amount of time, and there are some that are similar to Greece, Venezuela, Argentina, or even the Great Depression here and abroad.

Certainly crime increases in many of those situations, but they’re not total anarchy.

Perhaps lights would make urban or suburban dwellers a target in a Ferguson or Baltimore, and little twerps would be inclined to bust them up. In most of those cases, however, rioters tend to generally stay in areas that they live in or around civic centers.  Only in L.A. so far have these things really spread significantly into other locations entirely, and a lot of those locations have been shopping areas and roadways in most recent riots. They haven’t started trashing the random ‘burbs so much.

And in all cases so far, nobody has thrown the light switch for the entire area to plunge it into darkness. Nobody has been hungry and assuming that a light means somebody’s there and has food.

So for most of our lives, just like the lives of our parents, our disasters are going to involve less blatant violence and less chance that motion-sensor lights really make us a target instead of the reverse: aiding our security and safety.

There are exceptions, and in those cases, maybe we do turn them off or take them inside. But they’re rare.

There is another downside besides the sun, and that would be: A battery-dependent anything depends on batteries. Batteries start with a terminal charge-discharge cycle, and tend to become less and less effective over time. Sometimes our cutesy solar lights run off common batteries of a type we can stockpile in a cool place, sometimes they have an unusual battery or specialty power pack.

Light options that can be set up by anyone who owns a screwdriver, no electrical connections needed, that runs off the sun and-or a spare battery, and that provides quality lighting when somebody walks inside its sensor range.
Solar spotlights come with a variety of mounting options and some include long cords between the PV panels and lights. That allows us to place the light where we want it and still position the solar panel where it will collect the most energy.

Even if it’s the latter, and even if they’re lower-end, the wall-mounted solar lights tend to be pretty efficient boogers and LED lights tend to be pretty low-draw. There’s going to be a correlation to panel quality and size, light intensity and area coverage, alert zone size and accuracy, and the lifetime of the battery. Some pretty long-lived versions can be had for well under $100 easily, but those are aspects to consider as we gather information if we decide to buy them.

Solar lights also depend on that panel that’s sucking up light to power the device.

The best advice I can give is to buy the one with the best and most informative reviews, and make sure there’s a return policy that’s not going to cost half again as much to send it back. That way if an item feels a little bit cheap when it comes out of the box, we can put it right back in and try again. Doing so prevents regrets on day 32, 61, or 93 when we have that “I knew it” moment – right after a warranty or a replace-refund time period has elapsed and our receipt has gone … somewhere.

That kind of goes with anything, but especially with an item we’re buying so it’s safer and easier for us to maneuver around in darkness at our home or incorporating into our security systems.

Are Solar Lights Really Prepper Must-Haves?

In my world, yes. Being able to see at night, and further away than our porch lights, is huge for a ton of reasons.

Solar Light,URPOWER 8 LED Outdoor Solar Powerd,Wireless Waterproof Security Motion Sensor Light for Patio, Deck, Yard, Garden,Driveway,Outside Wall with 2 Modes Motion Activated Auto On/Off(4 Pack)
Solar Light,URPOWER 8 LED Outdoor Solar Powerd,Wireless Waterproof Security Motion Sensor Light for Patio, Deck, Yard, Garden,Driveway,Outside Wall with 2 Modes Motion Activated Auto On/Off(4 Pack)

It makes my life safer from insects and tripping, prevents my dogs from tangling with an unseen raccoon, prevents us from having to go outside without knowing if the thing by the birds is animal or human, armed or a kid. It tells us if we’re in a “release the hounds” situation, a shotgun situation, or if we need to head out the side door and very quietly take one of the unlit paths that are worked in (because we’re freaks) because more trouble than it’s worth risking a life over is cutting through the gate chains, or one of the lights got shot out.

They’ll provide that service regardless of whether we’re home, the area has an outage, or the alarm is set.

And they’ll do some of it for less than $30-50 bucks, most for $50-100, and absolutely all for $100-200. The cost of sets is low enough for them to be holiday presents and still have something “fun” to ask for, or we could jump above the level that only requires a screwdriver and a thumb to install, and get a really nice system by setting back ten bucks a week or twenty bucks a month.

For some of us, that amount can be saved by skipping a couple of coffees or takeout, or changing or phone plans. Some of us have already cut the cord, but if we really want to become prepared and a $120 item isn’t even an annual option, it might be time to explore Prime, Hulu and Roku and ditch cable and the house phone (there are good free and low-cost VoIP house phone service out there – I use the Google one).

When something makes our life a whole lot easier in daily life, can prevent injury, and can help us keep our homes, gardens, pets and livestock safe, and can do it for <$100-150 bucks spent in $30-50 increments with an expanding system, I call that a must-have.

Teenagers sneaking in or out and those of us arranging for a surprise in predawn blackness may not agree. (Smile and encourage a sense of humor; life’s hard enough as it is.)

12 comments
  1. Great article as ever.

    I’d disagree about lighting up your property however. If you have a very large, well armed group that patrols all night, ever night then I can see the use.
    For me dark means dark. Sleep, rest, and indoor work. Sure I can throw on outdoor lights for security but night to night I’m dark, normal, and invisible. No wandering around with my rechargeable head lights on, etc. Up at dawn and bed at dusk.
    Yes I have outdoor light systems but no I do not feel seeing helps me much if it means I’m lit up. Again very area and group dependent. Use a bucket instead of the outhouse at night or better yet creat a safe pathway to it.

    Stake traps, etc will discourage visitors at night better than lights.

    I’d also add in Biolite systems as I find they are the best working lights going and require tiny amounts of wood to recharge. The Biolite kettle boils 1.5 litres of water in 5 to 6 minutes with a handful of twigs. Costs a bit but the light system is awesome and electricity from wood is a great add on.

    1. Hey, boss,
      Not ignoring you. We’ve circled the “only the worst” preparations versus “big and small” preparations arguments before, and you’ve mentioned a more foraging lifestyle, which is not my goal.
      We just don’t see eye to eye on that one.

      Plus, I kind of figure that if you’re producing any kind of wood smoke or cooking-foods smells, you’re already a target. Being a hunter and with some trapping exposure, I’m also kind of aware of game trails and sensitive to noticing paths that end up converging somewhere.

      So long as light discipline exists to avoid having a cone point toward a handy head or chest shot, and to avoid skylining yourself or making yourself a silhouette target in a window, having options to draw from is better than not having options to draw from.

      We just don’t see it the same way on these. Is okay. We’re allowed to not see eye to eye, and hearing other perspectives is how we can measure our own assertions – whether we keep them, discard them, or modify them. Is good.

      Hope you have a good one,
      Rebecca Ann
      🙂

      1. Lol boss indeed. I’d rather be hanging in your place than mine in shtf!
        I’m unconvinced about regular use of yard illumination but I see the occasional need for it so largely we agree 🙂

  2. “Cut Through the Dark – Grid down Light Options”

    The only option in a “grid down” situation is dark; hence the term “grid down”. I guess if one wants to light up your place like a Wal-Mart Store that’s fine, but why would one want to advertise? Why let your worst nightmare (neighbors) know you have the ability’s to light up the sky?

    I’m going directly off of the title here; do NOT “light up” if the “Grid is Down”, period. You’re only inviting troubles to your door.

    NRP

    1. NRP,

      R. Ann says in her article “Most of our grid-down situations are temporary, and tend to relate to a localized or regional storm or somebody who dug or hit a line (or pole) or a piece of equipment that fritzed. Rolling brown-outs are something that used to be of issue, and could become so again.”

      Your power grid could go out for 3 weeks (happens in winter all the time) and you would technically be in a “grid down” situation that wasn’t so dire you had to practice Light discipline so much…

      1. Hi Pat,
        It’s a risk even in short term situation. The ability to light up the yard in a tactical situation is great. To do so to find the outhouse is a risk. Your night vision is zero, the waiting attacker’s is near 100%.
        Three weeks in the boonies is likely safe enough but in the burbs and cities not so much. At best a bunch of morons will knock on your door night and day wanting to recharge their phones to find those pokemons.
        I still think up at dawn and in bed at dusk is the way to go. And have a safe and clear path to that outhouse:-) or use a bucket at night.
        Lights are great but they whack night vision and creat a false sense of security. Embrace the night and work with it not against it.
        I’ve a system that allows me to do surgery in the home but it’s for emergencies like that not pretending life is still normal in shtf. My main concern these days is identifying ways I would fail to adapt in shtf. Bathing and lights were a big issue when I broke that down. Food as well. Three meals a day is foolish. Breakfast and dinner. Water in between. Bathing once a week, less in the Winter. Clothes get washed each and every month. Adapt or eventually die. Energy is life.

        1. Huples, you’d be surprised how easy it is to let bathing go. A year in the sandbox taught us that in less than a week.

          As for washing, we did our own laundry for the first maybe four months. Spending an hour a week doing laundry isn’t hard. Having enough t-shirts, skivvies, and socks to cover the week is important. Just have 7 sets of these. Outer garments are less an issue. I see it as important to have at least three sets of outer garments on hand for each person.

          There is nothing quite like putting on a clean set of clothes, even when dirty. The morale boost was noticeable in just about everyone.

          1. yeah, I remember numerous times I had no idea how bad I smelled until getting back to civilization. That, in it’s self, is dangerous because “they” can smell you. While I’m at it let me reiterate the fact tobacco smoke can be carried in the wind and give you away, too. Probably faster than warming an MRE.

    2. Hi, NRP,
      I understand where you and Huples are coming from. I do leave provisions in the article for the worst “Z” level disasters that can befall us.

      I presume you guys see normal life (A, maybe even B and C in order, maybe out to D & E) and then, poof, blap, life-ending, widespread, WROL extinction-level event or lifestyle (Z).
      I presume from your responses that you see nothing in between the two, short-term or long-term.

      I don’t.
      While I do prepare for Z as well, I see the full alphabet, with stages of varying bad that can happen. As I mentioned, there’s Great Depression, similar events that have hit Europe and South America, widespread but not shattering illness such as in 1918, and other unrests.

      There’s the short-term localized and regional issues that Pat cites me on as well.

      I expect that in some cases even a Z-level event will have slowly or even exponentially increasing degrees of bad, that may lead to periods where there may be a thief or prowler, but it’s not quite everyone against everyone.

      There are great upheavals in societies that still require us to go to work, and with triple digit heat, a lot of times that I am up doing yard work and chores in the predawn semi-cool and then snoozing in basement in the afternoon. I expect that especially if the electricity is iffy or I’m trying to conserve money/power, that will continue.

      Lots of reasons to have backup light outside the home.

      Lots of reasons to have an affordable light on a shed and near a henhouse or rabbit coops right now. Some I mention in the article. Really nice to have that light not require running a line, and to pick it up for less than an electrician would come out for, without need of an electrician to get it up and running. I’ve also hauled game in late in the evening (and hauled game in to discover that the power is out), and I have routinely lived somewhere with varying outages, sometimes hours, sometimes days, sometimes a couple of weeks.

      I have no problem with the title Pat chose for the article. It’s an accurate reflection.

      Hope you have a good day,
      Rebecca Ann

      1. Hi Rebecca Ann,
        I get where you are coming from but unless you are miles from roads and neighbours and those neighbours are good folks you are asking for trouble. People remember things like ” oh Rebecca Ann had power during last Winter’s storm” especially week five of an Emp. If a major shtf is never happening then lighting up the yard is a great idea. Secure the hen house and prepare the game in a shed or tent that is light safe.

  3. First and foremost, thank you for having an article up for the consumption and benefit of the community.

    I would have liked to see a little bit more development on the differences between the situation in an urban setting and a more rural setting.

    For instance, in an urban setting, I honestly don’t think that I could ever agree that the benefits of lighting wouldn’t be worth the risk of, literally, highlighting yourself as a target. The act that there is someone who still has lights would tell people you had electricity. Now, whether or not you actually did, I firmly believe that people would still have that internal reaction. If you’re lucky, people will simply approach you asking to make use of it first. If you’re not, they’ll try and take it first, but either way you’d be showcasing something that I don’t think too many people would take “no” for an answer about. Regardless if you actually had it to share (and were inclined to do so) or not.

    In rural settings, I actually can say that I’d be somewhat okay with that. As was pointed out in the article, there would be numerous uses to scare away animals that are potentially going to damage your survivability through various means. Whether or not that was livestock, or breaking into the house, garden etc. Having a sudden light source can be less revealing than a gunshot.

    All in all, I think it was a good introduction about options, and I think that a follow up on other sources of light, and the ability to see in moonlight, etc.

  4. I’m in a rural area, very close to a state highway. Back when, numerous years ago, we used outdoor lighting it was not unusual to have stranded motorists come knocking in the middle of the night. Since I turned off the lights we’ve only had one group of interlopers. They ran when the alarm went off. The night is my friend because I invested in really good night vision optics that allow me to clearly see for more distance than my carbine can be effectively used. Considering that hours of darkness are roughly half of the 24 hour period it makes, IMHO, optics a necessity just as important as weaponry. I wish I could afford thermal, too. DOL

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