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By James Dulley, Published October 07 2011

Sensible Home: Gasoline-powered generator option for outages

Dear Jim: We had two electric power outages from storms lately. It was very inconvenient, so I need to find some type of backup electric power. What are my options that are not extremely expensive to purchase and install? – Mike J.

Dear Mike: The best and most convenient emergency backup system is a whole-house generator powered by natural gas, propane or diesel. It comes on automatically when the electricity goes off, and can power everything in your home. Unfortunately, one costs thousands of dollars, and you cannot install it yourself.

A smaller gasoline-powered generator is a more reasonably priced option. You can buy these at any home center store. Various appliances plug directly into the generator outlets. Don’t try to connect one to the electrical wiring in your house. It likely cannot produce enough electricity output, and it can be a hazard for electric utility repairmen.

Another simple and inexpensive option is in an emergency portable battery pack. These battery packs have 12-volt lead-acid batteries inside of them. These batteries are somewhat similar to the battery in your car, but these are designed to be completely discharged without harming the battery. These are available at most automotive supply retail outlets.

Most battery packs have a 12-volt d.c. (direct current) outlet similar to a car cigarette lighter and jumper cables to start a car. Many electric appliances that are designed to run on 12-volt d.c. power are available at camping supply outlets.

Battery packs also have a 120-volt outlet into which you can plug standard household appliances. They use an inverter that converts the 12-volt d.c. battery to 120-volt a.c. (alternating current). The amp-hour rating of a battery pack determines how much electric power it can store.

Although the batteries can usually produce a large electric current flow, the 120-volt power is limited by the maximum output of the a.c. inverter. Most have a maximum output of only 400 watts, so check the wattage of the appliance before plugging it in to the battery pack. If the appliance electricity usage is too great, it will trip a circuit breaker in the pack but not damage it.

The following companies offer portable battery packs: Black & Decker, (800) 544-6986, www.blackanddecker.com; Clore Automotive, (800) 328-2921, www.jumpstarter.com; Duracell, (800) 300-1857, www.duracellpower.com; National Solar Tech., (800) 310-7413, www.nationalsolar

online.com; and Xantrex, (800) 446-6180, www.xantrex.com.

Dear Jim: We have a recirculating system on our hot water tank. We recently had to replace our water heater with a new, more efficient one. Now the recirculating system does not work. What caused the problem? – Jane N.

Dear Jane: A recirculating system must allow for the free flow of water through your plumbing. Assuming the water heater was installed in the same way as the old one, the water heater itself should not be the problem.

There probably are heat trap fittings on top of the new water to reduce heat loss. They allow water flow in only one direction. Have your plumber remove the heat trap fittings and replace them with standard fittings.

Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit www.dulley.com