Parts Bin Emergency Lights Deal With Tornado’s Aftermath

Sometimes having a deep inventory of parts in your shop is a pain – the clutter, the dust, the things you can’t rationally justify keeping but still can’t bear to part with. But sometimes the parts bin delivers and lets you cobble together some emergency lighting when a tornado knocks out your power.

It has been hard to avoid discussions of the weird weather in the US this winter. The eastern half of the country has had record warm temperatures, the west has been lashed by storms, and now December tornadoes have ripped through Texas and other parts of the south, with terrible loss of life and wide-ranging property damage. [TheTimmy] was close enough to one massive EF4 tornado to lose power on Saturday night, and after the charm of a candlelight Christmas evening wore off, he headed to the shop. He had a bunch of sealed lead acid batteries from old UPSs and a tangle of 12V LED modules, and with the help of some elastic bands and jumper clips he wired up a bunch of lights for around the house. Safer than candles by a long shot, and more omnidirectional than flashlights to boot.

The power came back before the batteries ran out of juice, so we don’t get to see any hacks for recharging batteries in a grid-down scenario. Still, it’s good to see how a deep parts bin and good mindset can make a positive impact on an uncomfortable situation. We’ve seen similar hacks before, like this hacked cordless tool battery pack or powering a TV with 18650 batteries. Be sure to share your story of epic power-outage hacks in the comments below.

27 thoughts on “Parts Bin Emergency Lights Deal With Tornado’s Aftermath

  1. A couple winters ago we had a power outage in 10 degree F weather, and I ended up having to wire the furnace to the small generator we have just to keep the house from freezing. We have natural gas, but with no electricity the furnace doesn’t work. The power was out for 2 days. Luckily we had enough gasoline to keep the generator running.

    1. Convert your generator to natural gas, its easy and relatively cheap. You never run out of fuel and only lose a little headroom on wattage. You can even keep it as a duel fuel in case of Big emergencies

  2. Fine and dandy – but I have a couple of Streamlight Siege lanterns – the 3D one gives 270 hours or so of low light or 30 hours on high high – the way old Mag Light with an LED conversion is mounted in the kitchen pointing up and gives 20 hours or so – plus a couple of other LED lights that are bright and run a fair time – no need for the parts bin – just push the switch

  3. I have been putting in a 12v lighting system in my house for over 10 years. Money is all ways short with us.
    the solar panels were the start. I now have 600w of power coming in. and charging the for car batteries in my shed.
    The hardest part was the LEDs. as you know or not it has only been the last 3-5 years that we have been getting LEDs that will last. I have a 2000 watt inverter connected up to a controlled system for either furnace, fridge, freezer and pool. pool is now gone. ( I forgot to take out the vacuum hose in the summer after i cleaned it and drained the hole thing. 21 foot round. Had lake Ontario in the 3 back yards. every one was not happy and neither was I.)
    At night I have led lights come on and each room has about 15 wats of led lighting that is switched.
    The power goes Off about 3 – 4 times a year here. It is nice to see my house lit up like a christmas tree when it is so dark out in the city. If the batteries are full and it is peek power time I will put some of the stuff on to save power and money.

    I am working on controlling everything with a arduino Raspberry PI, and ESP8266 moduels threw out the house.The 120v lighting is still working but is is kind of funny seeing so many lights in a room. The Arduino will be controoling the outputs.
    The Raspberry PI will be controlling the web page and monitoring all the devices, and will also be a hard drive backup system with 20 T of storage. and of course ESP8266 will be replacing the switches with motion, photo, IR i/o, and temp.

    I cant wait to finish it all up. When I finely get most of it done I do plain on posting it here.

    1. well, yeah. when you break it down to the basics, that’s exactly what I did.

      when it was determined that the power was going to be out for more than just a few hours, we were lighting matches and applying them to candles. actually we were using lighters to save the matches, but whatever.

      while certainly capably of engineering and crafting something far greater, I just didn’t see the need to overdo it this time. but next time, I’ll be sure to give you credit for inspiring me to come up with something much more unnecessarily complex and impressive; something harder to repair or replace in a pinch that requires more than hand tools –and I’ll do it by the light of my 12v LEDs.

  4. Our Duke remotely maintained grid had a transformer pop the other night. I have some of those 12V strings of LED modules under the shelf over my bench hooked up to a power supply, the end of the string is exposed for further lights to be added. I just grabbed a UPS battery that was charged and two clip leads and had a well lit space in no time.

    1. Until the lamp gets knocked over and sets fire to the house.

      I have an oil lamp for backup lighting also, but I also have a couple of portable SLA battery boxes and 12v LED strips that I turn to first in the even of an outage. Those are good for roughly 3 days worth of 24-7 usage, and if the lights aren’t back on by then I can break out the oil lamp. Better safe than sorry.

      1. Yeah, Chicago has outlawed oil lamps because of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. B^)
        Naw, they probably haven’t, otherwise, fires would be breaking out left and right.
        They outlaw guns and each weekend is a shootfest.

    2. I agree an oil lamp would have been better long term. Before I went to he parts bin, I was wishing I had one and even considered crafting some kind of alcohol lamp instead. But in this case, while not necessarily reaching out to “new tech” for new tech’s sake, the answer I was looking for was to the question of “what can I do with what I have readily available that is the most practical solution for the problem I’m facing: existing lighting options on hand not enough, and are too inefficient.”

      Now that things are getting back to normal, I don’t think I’ll be running out to supply up to be able to return to the Victorian era at the drop of a hat in the event of another local disaste, though. My collection of surplus and scrap “new tech” should continue to serve me well. In the event that I am unable to pull my immediate resources together when needed, I believe it to be one where the solution will be far beyond my reach as an individual.

      1. “what can I do with what I have readily available that is the most practical solution for the problem I’m facing: existing lighting options on hand not enough, and are too inefficient.”

        Found the hacker…

  5. Deep Parts Bin.
    if we ever break through the Space-Time Continuim, we could use the vast emptynes of space to store our stuff!
    We could all live in Tiny Houses, and if we ever needed something from storage, we could bring it back. There could even be community storage spaces for sharing, each user would be given the coordinates of the storage, and non members would have to search a lot of space to find it. My wife could use one for her craft supplies as well…
    Each house would have its own Narnia Wardrobe….

  6. couple summers ago we had a major wind storm followed by 100f+ temps. power was out for a week. I made emergency fans with old computer fans and 12V batterys from power tools. I had plenty of lighting but no fans, after that a couple battery powered camping fans went into the emergency box.

  7. Those who fail to PREPare, prepare to FAIL. Seriously ? How weak is it to not have simple emergency lighting in the house ? Go down to Walmart and buy a Chinese LED lantern for $9.99 and some AA batteries. It will stay lit for days on end – and you do this BEFORE you need to use it.

    My house, I have multiple Streamlight “Light Boxes” (the big yellow, incandescent bulb ones – in case of EMP – used on fire engines), a couple of Coleman LED camp lanterns, a few Surefire flashlights, not to mention food, water, fuel for the generator, and lots of ammo (in case some of the “grass hoppers” – the peasants who didn’t prepare for an emergency) decide to come and try to grab my stuff….. I also have 2 SATCOM (Iridium) handsets.

    Mac-gyver’ing stuff is a last resort in circumstances that were un-planned and you do what Gunny Highway said “you improvise and overcome”.

    Living in tornado and alley and being unprepared is simply being a dumbazz

    1. In case of EMP my plan is to jump in a river with rocks in my pocket. Seriously, what sort of shitty post-apocalyptic life are you planning for? Why bother? Spend the money on doing something enjoyable. You’ll probably get cancer or run over by a bus or something.

      1. Good! You “jumping into the river” will help reduce the surface population. “post-apocalyptic” ? Oh, you mean like after a severe tornado rips through your town and leaves it in ruins ? Where all the roads are blocked and power is out for days ? Or a major ice/snow storm knocks out utility service for perhaps weeks ? Oh, what’s that ? You don’t live on Long Island, NY – where hurricane Sandy left residents without power for weeks – if not almost 2 months I believe. Gas stations had no power, no food delivery, etc. The chumps who were un-prepared were begging “the gubmint” – ‘please come and help us!!’…. I’ll bet those who were laughing at the “preppers”, were the ones begging them for food & water.

        You are indeed the “grass-hopper” not preparing for winter. The studious “ant” will survive, fools like you will perish.
        Making emergency plans for an EMP event on the scale of the Carrington event is similar to home owners insurance. You may not use it, but it’s there if needed.

        All this modern living has made everyone into a society that will be incapable of self sustenance should the supporting infrastructure collapse. Y’all better have a “Plan B” – just in case.

    2. in the case of apocalyptic conditions locally contained, I’m prepared to leave and seek food and shelter in some place not devastated by disaster; take up the offer of friends and family, or even check into a hotel on the other side of town while the whole mess gets sorted out. a good mountain bike or pair of boots and a backpack’s worth of gear should be enough for that. I don’t need a humvee on standby, loaded with MREs, thousands of rounds of ammunition and camping gear for weeks or months on end.

      something larger like isabel, katrina, sandy, etc.? if I happened to survive the initial storm, then likely there would be nothing left for me here anyway, and off to start over elsewhere I’d go.

      if it is truly the apocalypse with a total collapse of infrastructure and there is nowhere to go, and it comes down to shooting “peasants” (more like zombies judging by the way your preparedness speech presents itself), then there will be much bigger problems to worry about than the spirit of this particular hack: affording myself with the luxury of comfortable light (not to be confused with utility or emergency light), by using what I had on hand.

      I never said I didn’t have emergency supplies or wasn’t prepared for being offline for a longer amount of time. I just found it unnecessary to break out with the flares and emergency rations when at any time I could have just gotten in the car and casually driven away. we were the fortunate ones to have had an intact street with running water and cell service, I was sure the power would have been back within a day or few.

      no, the only preparing that would have helped in this situation is if I had previously bought some tools and supplies that I’ve been wanting to get for a while: mapp torch, power inverter for the car (could probably just build one, even in a pinch), and maybe a propane grill –none of which are technically emergency supplies, and none of which I absolutely needed in order to get by.

      those that are truly prepared don’t need to keep a room full of supplies they hope they’ll never use in an event they hope that’ll never happen. all you really need is the room or even just box of stuff that the significant other in your life hopes you’ll get around to using eventually.

      really, you should be telling the grasshopper peasants left with a pile of broken lumber for a house that they should have prepared better before you have to start shooting them all.

  8. 6v or 12v lead acid batteries are sure handy during a blackout or after a hurricane or superstorm. I used to work for a lighting maintenance company and had a bunch of 6v12ah batteries for emergency lighting. After hurricane sandy I borrowed two 6v12ah batteries and charged them in series using my car as a power supply with my icharger 106B+ (awesome charger, can do any battery chemistry up to 6s lipo). Took a few old 12v USB car adapter’s and soldered them in with a butane torch/soldering iron combo, and also wired in an iHome radio that usually worked off a 15v dc adapter so for 2 weeks we were able to charge our phones, listen to the radio until power came back and only had to recharge the batteries once. If it were the apocalypse or something of the sort, that charger is definitely one of the things I’d throw in my backpack. Being able to charge any battery with as low as 6v power source is handy.

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