Affordable backup power supplies work well in a storm

Updated 1/9/2018 6:30 AM

Q. We had electric power outages from storms lately. It is inconvenient, so I want to find some type of backup electric power. What are my options that are not extremely expensive to purchase or install?

A. A small gasoline-powered generator is a 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 of these battery packs use older lead acid, deep-draw 12-volt batteries. These are very reliable and hold a charge for a long time, but they are heavy like a car battery. Some new models use smaller lightweight lithium ion batteries. They work as well as the lead acid ones, but expect to pay several times more for one.

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 small 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 and how long it can operate appliances or lighting.

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. Even though the electric power is coming from a safe 12-volt battery, the 120-volt power from the inverter outlet is as dangerous as from a wall outlet.

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.

To keep food fresh in a refrigerator, which usually needs more than 400 watts, purchase a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) for a computer. Select one with a maximum output greater than the wattage requirement of your refrigerator. This will probably be much greater than your entire computer system requirement, but this is not a problem.

When my power goes off, I carry the UPS to the kitchen and plug the refrigerator into it. When the UPS battery power runs down, I unplug the refrigerator and plug the UPS into a battery pack to slowly recharge it.

The battery packs can also be recharged from your car or can take them and the UPS to a friend's house that still have electric power for recharging.

The following companies offer portable battery packs: APC,, (800) 800-4272; Black & Decker, (800) 544-6986,; Clore Automotive, (800) 328-2921,; Duracell, (800) 300-1857,; and Xantrex, (800) 670-0707,

Q. I built a small air-type solar collector myself. Does it make sense to attach it to the exposed foundation and brick wall near the ground or must it be on the roof?

A. As long as the solar collector is not shaded by trees or adjacent buildings, a ground location is great. This allows you to clean it often and provides easy access for the ductwork or electric blowers. A large vertical collector, mounted against a wall, works well with no blowers.

Make sure it is attached snugly to the masonry foundation and wall. This will help it capture and store heat and reduce the amount of heat normally lost out the back of a collector. Steel sleeve anchors are the best method to attach it. Use a percussion bit to drill the holes the same size as the anchor.

• Write to James Dulley at 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit

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