Dear Jim: We often have electric power outages. I checked into installing a backup generator, but the cost is too high. Is there anything I can use to keep a lamp, my computer and a few other things running? - Julia L.
Dear Julia: As modern families rely more and more on electronic devices for everyday activities and basic needs, an extended, or even a brief, electric power outage can be an inconvenience. Installing a standby backup whole-house generator is most effective, but, as you noted, the initial cost can be very high. It helps if you already have natural gas or propane for simpler installation of the backup fuel source.
I recently had a three-day power outage because of a severe wind storm from the remnants of hurricane Ike. By using backup portable battery power packs, I was able to keep my computer, reading lamp and security system running. The packs are not powerful enough to run a refrigerator for long, so the foods spoiled, but I did not feel totally isolated or a lack of security.
For general lighting at night, I brought my solar-powered yard lights indoors at night. The light from these is not bright enough to read or use for tasks, but they provided enough brightness to move safely around the house at night. During the day, I placed them in a very sunny spot by my driveway so they would receive the maximum charge from the sun.
Another tip when using the solar lights indoors is to remove the batteries when you go to bed or no longer need light each night. This keeps the batteries from running down completely so they need less energy from the sun to be fully recharged the next day.
During storms, clouds block the sun so the batteries may not fully charge from a completely rundown state.
I also keep two portable power battery packs fully charged for emergencies. These power packs have from a 10- to 20 amp-hr (ampere hour) lead acid battery inside. The power pack has an output socket for 12 volts d.c. (direct current) which can be used to run any appliance which can be plugged into a car cigarette lighter.
Most power packs also have a built-in inverter which converts the 12-volt output to 120-volt house power with a standard plug outlet. The maximum wattage output (usually about 400 watts) depends upon the size of the inverter. If you plug an extension cord into the power pack, make sure the wattages of all the appliances you attach to it do not exceed the inverter maximum.
During winter, when there is a power outage, even a gas or oil furnace shuts off. I use a freestanding corn/wood pellet stove to heat part of my house. I keep it connected to a battery power pack. When the electric goes off, it automatically draws electricity from the power pack. It can keep the stove running for more than a day.
The following companies offer portable power supplies: Black & Decker,
(800) 544-6986, www.blackanddecker.com; Clore Automotive, (800) 328-2921, www.jumpstarter.com; Duracell, (800) 551-2355, www.duracellpower.com; National Solar Tech., (800) 310-7413, www.nationalsolaronline.com; and Xantrex, (800) 670-0707, www.xantrex.com.
Dear Jim: I have made my house more airtight to save energy, but I am now concerned about chemicals trapped in the air. I have heard charcoal is good for removing chemicals and odors. What type of charcoal is best? - Jamie W.
Dear Jamie: Charcoal is an excellent material filtering dangerous chemicals and odors from the air. Standard activated wood-based charcoal works well, but charcoal made from bamboo is several times more effective.
The C60 Bamboo Carbon Co., (877) 587-6484, www.c60bamboo.com, now imports bamboo charcoal in pillows, canisters and decorative stalks. It is an earth-friendly product because the bamboo plants grow back every three years to be cut again.
Send inquiries to James Dulley, Billings Gazette, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.