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Do It Yourself: Research before making battery buy

Q. I live in a small condominium and not long ago went through an extended power blackout. The building has no generator and there is no way for me to use one. I’d like to be able to use batteries to operate some appliances during a blackout – a small electric heater, refrigerator, microwave and so forth. Is this possible?

A. It is possible to run some appliances with batteries, but it might not be practical in a small condo. The main problem, of course, is that most household appliances run on alternating current (AC), while batteries produce direct current (DC).

In order for the two types of current to be compatible, a device called an inverter can be used. Power inverters in several wattage ranges are sold at some home centers, at department stores and on the Internet (the more wattage the better). Prices for inverters are reasonable. An inverter is connected to a 12-volt car battery, and extension cords or appliances plug into the inverter. Researchers for Consumer Reports magazine tested inverters to run appliances such as refrigerators, sump pumps, lights and television sets, and reported good results.

If that paints a rosy picture, there is a catch. Batteries hold a limited amount of power and will rather quickly become useless unless recharged. An inverter hooked to car battery is usually kept charged by running the car at idle, which lets the car’s charging system keep the battery powered. Batteries can also be kept charged with plug-in chargers, but that won’t work in a power blackout unless the battery and charger are hauled to a place outside the blackout area.

If you still want to try battery power for AC appliances, I recommend spending some time on research before spending any money on equipment. A fine place to start is Consumer Reports magazine, which had several articles on the subject. Many public libraries have searchable files of Consumer Reports; I found several interesting articles searching with the term “power inverters.” There is also some information on the Internet, but much of it is from companies selling inverters or battery packs. Use a search engine and terms like “battery power for AC appliances.”

Q. We have a door with a medium oak finish, but the trim around it is painted white. We want to give the trim an oak finish to match the door. Is there any wood-tone finish that can be applied over the paint so it resembles the door?

A. You might be able to approximate the appearance of an oak finish over the paint with a technique called antiquing, but I think you would have difficulty finding a kit with the finish you want.

Antiqued finishes were very popular in the 1980s but have slipped in popularity. You can still buy kits at some paint stores, home centers and on the Internet, but there seem to be fewer colors available.

Basically, antiquing consists of applying a base coat to cover the paint, then applying a glaze that gives a wood-grain effect.

I think there are two approaches that would be simpler and give a tone closer to what you want.

The first: Buy new trim that matches the size and style of the existing trim, stain it with one of the many wood-tone stains available, and give it a protective clear coat. Then remove the painted trim and install the new trim.

The second, more difficult option: Remove the trim, take it outside and strip the paint with a good chemical stripper like Strypeeze. Sand the wood to make sure you have removed all paint, stain and varnish it, and re-install it.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.