Emergency lighting is always a problem, and to solve the problem a lot of people use a flashlight. It’s a good thing to do, but we always have the problem that comes with using batteries, and that problem is a limited useful lifespan. Alkaline batteries are generally not rechargeable today as most chargers are engineered to charge NiCad batteries, which are actually 1.25 volts as compared to the 1.5 volts the alkaline batteries are rated for. In other words, if you try to charge an alkaline battery on a NiCad charger, you’ll never charge the battery, fully.
My suggestion, in order to avoid the problems involved with battery life pans in flashlights is to begin phasing out your older incandescent bulb flashlights and get the newer LED type of flashlights. You can get a brand new 9 LED flashlight powered by three AAA batteries for very little money today. I bought a bunch of aluminum bodied flashlights for $3.00 apiece a month or so ago and they all work as well, or better than any of the other flashlights I own, with the exception of a couple of high end (read expensive) flashlights.
I have used one several times and the batteries that came with it are still pumping the juice to the LEDs so I know it was a good buy. But batteries always crap out, and in an extended power outage there is no way to power up an electric battery charger, so we should have a solar powered charger available for the job. But if you don’t have either one available, there is a solution. Just steal your neighbor’s solar powered patio lights. Or more appropriately, use your own.
These tiny lamps are pretty slick little numbers, but they are not very powerful. Their sole purpose is to provide a minimal amount of light to an LED when it gets dark, and nothing more. And they generally do that very well. If you look at the top of one of these lamps, you’ll see a big black square piece with some lines on it. That’s the power cell that collects the suns ray’s and send it to the electronics in side. You’ll also see a little round thing with squiggly lines on it. That is the sensor. What that does is detect sunlight, and when the sun is shining, it cuts off the juice to the LED that lights the night, and when it gets dark out, it allows it to flow again, turning the LED back on.
The LED does not run off of the solar collector cell. Instead, what that does is charge a little AAA NiCad battery. This battery supplies the power to light the LED. Figure out what I’m getting at here? Turn the unit over and twist the globe off of the top of the patio lamp. For most lamps you’ll be holding a round black puck shaped assembly that holds the guts of the lamp. There are many different models on the market so the one you have may come apart a little differently, but I am sure you will figure it out.
There will be a small switch on the bottom. With some there is only an off/on function, but others may have an off/on/charge function. The simple switch simply turns the LED on or off when it gets dark. This is so the light doesn’t stay on during the months you may have placed it into storage. You’d wind up with a very dead battery and quite probably leakage if it were not shut off in storage. The other type of switch allows you to turn the light off while allowing the battery to continue charging if you’d rather not have the light on at all. Simply flip the switch to on and the light will shine, but only when it is dark enough to trigger the sensor on top. You can test the function of these lights by covering the top of the fixture with your hand. That fools it into thinking it is dark out.
Flipping the unit over again you’ll find one or two small battery compartment covers. Open these up and remove the battery inside, and place the AAA NiCad you want to charge in its place. Bear in mind that these lights are very low power units, and it could take an entire day, or longer to charge your little flashlight battery this way. But it is better than not having any way to charge your batteries at all, isn’t it?
There are variables involved in using a patio light as a charger, such as not all work on an AAA battery. Sometimes they use an AA battery. Usually you will find that only one battery runs the light, and there are some models that utilize two batteries. Pick up some cheap ones at a discount store and experiment with them. That way, if you have to bug out, you’ll be able to help yourself down the road when you come upon somebody’s lighted walkway and nobody home. Just make sure that there isn’t anyone to accuse you of stealing. In the ultimate meltdown scenario, you do what you gotta do, right?
One big point to remember is that if we do suffer an EMP attack as some have suggested is waiting for us in the wings, these lights are made of solid state components and may get fried if the pulse reaches them. If that’s the case, have fun in the dark. There are other ways you can utilize these simple and cheap patio and walkway lights as well. I’ll be working up a longer piece and post that later on, possibly at www.survivingtimes.com if you’d like to keep checking in on the site.