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Wed Aug 13, 2014, 04:56 PM

For me, a rare brain flash regarding a McGyver solution

Several weeks ago the only electrical outlet in my master bathroom (100 yr-old house) got taken out by a power company surge or something. Anyway, I no longer have a way to heat the room at bathtime in the dead of winter because I don't like propane tanks of any size in the house and I couldn't make a candle/flowerpot rig because it takes 15 minutes to heat up and I'm a little afraid to leave any candle unattended even that long. Not willing to babysit it that long either while waiting for the rig to work. Can't afford those expensive camping heaters run by batteries.

So I spent the vast majority of the morning scouring the internet for solutions. Then I read about one setup that used heavy duty motor oil but it was heated by candles. Finally, after a good lunch and long nap to let things percolate, I awoke with a solution that should work safely although I'm reluctant to dedicate one of my precious collected small appliances to do it.

I'm adamant about making percolated coffee instead of drip. What I drink is more like espresso! Since I obviously can't afford the average price of a brand new 12-cup percolator - anywhere between $70-$100 - I latch onto every one I find at yard sales, etc. and save it for the sad day when the heating element wears out in the current one. At the moment I have 3 others waiting their turn! And a non-electric stovetop version (or 2) if I ever go through all the electric ones.

Anyway, as you've guessed by now, I've decided to buy a bottle of high-test motor oil and w/o the lid on, heat it in my oldest electric perc at a working outlet. Oh, and w/o the stem or basket too! Then I can put the lid back on and with a fair amount of safety move the pot to the bathroom. Since these pots aren't insulated, the hot oil should radiate what little extra heat the room might need. Luckily the room's directly above my downstairs heater, so w/o any extra help at all it stays in the lower 50's.

Of course I do plan to get the electric outlet fixed asap, but the friend who does that work for me won't be able to get to it before November at the earliest. He has a fulltime job and anything extra has to be worked in the rare free moments. His wife's my good friend, and anyone who thinks I'm going to try to jump ahead of her own kitchen renovation, they're not giving me any credit for what little sense I do have.

Meanwhile I'm content with my temporary solution.

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Reply For me, a rare brain flash regarding a McGyver solution (Original post)
IrishAyes Aug 2014 OP
NYC_SKP Aug 2014 #1
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #5
NYC_SKP Aug 2014 #8
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #10
Thor_MN Nov 2014 #33
noamnety Aug 2014 #2
noamnety Aug 2014 #3
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #7
NYC_SKP Aug 2014 #13
noamnety Aug 2014 #15
Curmudgeoness Aug 2014 #4
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #9
Curmudgeoness Aug 2014 #17
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #18
Curmudgeoness Aug 2014 #19
Starboard Tack Aug 2014 #22
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #23
Starboard Tack Aug 2014 #26
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #28
Starboard Tack Aug 2014 #29
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #30
Starboard Tack Aug 2014 #31
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #32
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #24
Starboard Tack Aug 2014 #25
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #27
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #6
NYC_SKP Aug 2014 #11
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #12
NYC_SKP Aug 2014 #14
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #16
dennisdavid Aug 2015 #34
RebelOne Aug 2014 #20
IrishAyes Aug 2014 #21
Name removed Aug 2015 #35

Response to IrishAyes (Original post)

Wed Aug 13, 2014, 05:55 PM

1. This sounds like a good solution, I can't think of any down sides.

 

I'm curious about your bath outlet, however.

There might be a safety issue: if a power surge came along and ruined the outlet or the conductors, it should have blown a fuse or tripped a breaker in your fuse box or breaker panel.

If so, be sure to NOT to replace the fuse or reset the circuit until you've had someone check the integrity of that circuit, the conductors, and the receptacle (outlet).

OTOH, if you can confirm that all is well, you might be able to use this receptacle again but I would advise against drawing more than 15 amps, better still keep it under 10-- this would be to say don't run a heavy duty space heater or a blow dryer beyond 1200 watts.

I suspect that your space heater overstressed the circuit and/or receptacle.

Some of them draw 1500 watts, that's a lot of power for one 100 year old circuit!

good luck, stay warm, be safe!

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #1)

Wed Aug 13, 2014, 10:12 PM

5. Excellent info and application, thank you.

Even though you were not given all pertinent details. I always worry about boring people, and my stories run long enough as it is.

But when I moved here, almost all the wiring had to be redone. The place didn't need redeocrating - it needed and still does need a lot of heavy renovation. Classic good bones, as they say, well worth the expense and time. I did leave the original wiring that was probably done in the 1930's intact - I just don't use it for anything heavier than a small lamp or radio, that sort of thing.

The circuit that blew out in the bathroom was one of the new ones where the electrician supposedly used the finest materials(?). He certainly charged a king's ransom. But yes, I had a little 1500 watt ceramic heater plugged in there via a surge suppressor. I use those literally everywhere. Normally I unplug everything when storms threaten. But I hadn't even used the heater in a while, and I forgot to unplug it last time we had lightning. So the event might've happened anytime over a 3-4 week period. I discovered it when the heater wouldn't work - I tried to turn it on and then noticed the surge suppressor was burnt to a crisp. Later on it turned out that the heater itself is okay, as is the heavy duty extension cord that actually plugged into the wall. Only the power strip surge suppressor fried, and of course I had nothing else attached.

The much better handyman/electrician husband of a friend, who now does virtually everything for the house, said he might be able to fix the outlet w/o having to entirely rewire. I hope so. I certainly won't ever forget to unplug a heater again, you can count on that.

Any further thoughts you might have on the matter would be welcome.

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Response to IrishAyes (Reply #5)

Wed Aug 13, 2014, 10:19 PM

8. From your further details, it sounds like the power strip worked as intended.

 

And they usually have either a consumable (meaning throw it away) device, or a reset device.

Super high current, a la lightening, can destroy both, but usually not at the expense of the system.

The entire purpose of the device is to be the sacrificial weak link, so I think you're good!

As I said, you might want to replace the receptacle with a grounded receptacle, and you can even upgrade to a GFCI ground fault circuit interuptor receptacle, just to get your power back.

And then use a quartz heater that draws less power, like >1200 watts.

Take care!

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #8)

Wed Aug 13, 2014, 10:45 PM

10. Thanks as always. You can bet I'm switching heaters now!

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Response to IrishAyes (Reply #5)

Sat Nov 15, 2014, 10:31 AM

33. Sounds like a Ground Fault Interupter circuit.

 

They are code in most places for outlets near sinks and in bathrooms. One GFI outlet can cover the entire circuit, so it may not be the one in the bathroom, but there should be an outlet with a test button and a reset button somewhere. Push the reset button and your outlet(s) will work again.

http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/GFCI

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Response to IrishAyes (Original post)

Wed Aug 13, 2014, 05:56 PM

2. Would it work just as well with plain water?

 

Not sure of the advantage of using motor oil.

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Response to noamnety (Reply #2)

Wed Aug 13, 2014, 06:36 PM

3. Now that my electrical engineer is home

 

he said water would radiate more heat because it would evaporate and carry the warmth more around the room. (He made a scattering molecule gesture with fluttery fingers as he said this.)

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Response to noamnety (Reply #3)

Wed Aug 13, 2014, 10:18 PM

7. Especially since I don't know the technological expertise of the writer who

recommended the motor oil, I think now that I'd rather listen to your electrical engineer! Please relay my thanks. I wouldn't be heating the bathroom over half an hour anyway. Thanks again.

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Response to noamnety (Reply #3)

Thu Aug 14, 2014, 12:54 AM

13. Um, evaporating water has a cooling, not a heating, effect. Change of state.

 

Please check that with him.

And, ask how beneficial it is to have a resistive heating element left on after the fluid has evaporated.

I, frankly, think it's unsafe.

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #13)

Thu Aug 14, 2014, 09:00 AM

15. That's a yes and no thing.

 

Excuse the translation from engineer to plainspeak, but this is what he says: When we sweat and it evaporates, it cools us - but it does it by transferring heat to the air. That's the goal here, to transfer the heat from the coffee pot to the air relatively quickly. The evaporation will cool the coffee pot slightly and warm the air, whereas the oil that doesn't evaporate would keep longer residual heat in the pot, and not warm the air as quickly.

I may have misunderstood, but I read this as they're planning to heat the pot in another room where an outlet works, then unplug it and move the pot to the bathroom. So it wouldn't be left on after the liquid has evaporated - which I agree would be a safety issue.

He also added that the amount of heat you'd get off a coffee pot once it's unplugged - no matter what fluid is in there - probably wouldn't make a difference in a full room, though.

I'm not sure about that. I lived on a 21 foot sailboat for 6 months, and in the morning I lit a single candle to warm the space slightly so I could bear to get out of bed and get dressed. (In the harbor, not at sea.) That did make a difference. I have no clue how a candle flame compares to a pot of boiling water, though.

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Response to noamnety (Reply #2)

Wed Aug 13, 2014, 07:39 PM

4. I think that you are right

if the purpose is to heat the room for a short period of time. Oil is often used for heating because it holds the heat for a long time. So I guess it really depends on how long the room needs to be heated.

The great part of using water would be that she wouldn't ruin the precious percolator. Win/win.

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Response to Curmudgeoness (Reply #4)

Wed Aug 13, 2014, 10:40 PM

9. Yes. Please see #7.

I certainly do value my precious percolators. That's the kind of coffee I prefer, damn near espresso and you won't get it from a dripolator. Can't afford a French press! Can't afford the new electric percs either, so I snap up every used one I find. Currently have 3 others waiting in the wings in addition to the gorgeous Art Deco I bought off eBay. Cotton covered cord and everything. If President Obama ever drops by for coffee, I'll take it down off the top of the frig and use it, but otherwise it stays put where it is. Beautiful thing. Carved wood handle, too.

Sometimes these old ones I find for $5 max will still last for years and years. I think impatient people buy them because they do make better coffee than a damn drip, but then most people aren't willing to wait 10-12 minutes either. That's probably one reason they ditch the percs.

Since you're one of my favorite thrifters, I'll share what I found curbside the last couple weeks. A like-new Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner, and farther on, a giant mahogany office desk where someone had vacated the premises. Must've run out of room on the truck. I took out all the drawers so maybe nobody else would snatch it up before I could return with a truck and help. By evening it was in a far corner of my porch, well hidden from the street by tall spirea and 1/2" lattice. It now serves as a stand for all my potted shade plants, the restored drawers hold various tools etc, and the knee well would make a fine shelter if the dogs ever needed it in an emergency. Of course I covered the top with several layers of newspapers and a tarp, then pieces of leftover tub surround. Thing weighed way over 100 lbs before I put the drawers back and loaded it down with plants; hope the porch boards hold!

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Response to IrishAyes (Reply #9)

Thu Aug 14, 2014, 08:14 PM

17. I am in awe

of your recent acquisition of the mahogany desk. A Dirt Devil that is working is also a great find. Ah, but the desk! Such a shame to have it outside since it sounds incredible, but it seems like a good use for it. I could use an outdoor plant stand, potting stand.

I have seen the back and forth about water or oil for the heat. It seems that one poster is under the impression that you will be leaving this pot of water plugged in, and that was not the case, so don't worry. And also, the water will not have a cooling effect on the air in the bathroom---it will have a cooling effect on the pot and a heating effect on the air. I am not sure how much this will heat the room, but it is certainly worth a try. It hurts nothing to try. And if the water doesn't work, try the motor oil as an experiment to see if it works better. (Have you noticed that I love experimenting? )

Good luck. I hope you can keep the room warm enough to bathe. And I hope you can get the outlet fixed soon. I know all about the problems with an old house. Mine isn't as old as yours, but 70 years old is still a challenge.

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Response to Curmudgeoness (Reply #17)

Thu Aug 14, 2014, 09:02 PM

18. Well, the desk has to stay outside (covered) because it's too big to fit through the narrow doors

in this house. I have a certain Art Deco wardrobe downstairs too, because nobody could fit it up the steep and narrow cattle chute stairs. Not complaining - several people told me they would've fought me at auction for this house except for those stairs, so I have reason to love them. Who needs a gym here?

Like you, I love experimenting. Necessity being the mother of invention, and all. Another fortunate double find one trash day was a crappy Art Deco desk with great hardware (I'm never w/o a screwdriver) that I took off, and on the other side of town miraculously the exact same desk in great shape except no hardware. I'm good at simple math.

I forgot to tell you about the set of 5 big deep wooden drawers from a missing chest that I also found last week. Three of them will go under the elevated bed upstairs and 2 will stay downstairs for dog beds. I'm tired of blankets scattered all over the living room floor.

Happy bargain hunting!

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Response to IrishAyes (Reply #18)

Thu Aug 14, 2014, 09:14 PM

19. Your trash days are much better than the ones here.

No one here throws anything out that isn't broken.

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Response to IrishAyes (Reply #9)

Wed Aug 27, 2014, 11:30 AM

22. On the subject of coffee

You say it's almost espresso. So, why not have an espresso maker? They make the best coffee and are cheap and economical in terms of how much coffee you need. Do you cook with gas?

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Response to Starboard Tack (Reply #22)

Wed Aug 27, 2014, 11:35 AM

23. No. I like to electrocute my food.

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Response to IrishAyes (Reply #23)

Wed Aug 27, 2014, 12:11 PM

26. Hmm! Gas is usually less expensive and more efficient for cooking

Also, in terms of heating small spaces, you might look for something like this


Not cheap, but a very effective space heater, especially if you have a heat source like a wood burning stove or small gas appliance. We have used one of these for several years now as our principal source of heat, though I must admit that we haven't needed it much since moving to Mexico. But it worked great in California.

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Response to Starboard Tack (Reply #26)

Wed Aug 27, 2014, 05:34 PM

28. Love those, and they're worth every penny. Got mine on eBay and it was STILL pricey.

If I have to resort to a zinc tub in the living room, I'll be fine.

The reason I have electric in the kitchen is because solar can't convert sunlight to natural gas or propane. I hope to go as off grid as possible asap. My legally mandated standby charge for electric would only be $7 a month. I've always been willing to spend $ to save $ if I can get my mitts on it in the first place. That's the difference between being cheap and frugal - not being penny wise and pound foolish, which is what most shortsighted people are.

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Response to IrishAyes (Reply #28)

Wed Aug 27, 2014, 05:56 PM

29. Oh, that's great if you are going solar.

Are you hooking into the grid or going grid free? I would hook in if it is an option and have a backup system for emergencies, which would mean either a generator or battery bank or both.

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Response to Starboard Tack (Reply #29)

Wed Aug 27, 2014, 06:23 PM

30. I do want to go solar; unfortunately $ slows me to a snail's pace.

That and my extreme aversion to debt. Off grid system prices continue to fall, however, and that may well be what saves me. At my age I couldn't care less about luxuries, but I almost lust after the new German silent wind turbine that looks remarkably like a snail. They're expected to go to market at $5-6K early in '15. If I can get one somehow, I'll paint eyes and put a couple of antenna on it just for fun. Shipping and installation would probably add another $500, though.

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Response to IrishAyes (Reply #30)

Wed Aug 27, 2014, 07:05 PM

31. Do you have a link?

Also, do you have consistent wind where you live. If not, I would be very hesitant to go with wind. You need a steady 15 mph plus wind for most wind generators to be efficient. I have 400 watt unit (very quiet) on the boat, and we get plenty of wind, but it wasn't cheap and the amount of energy it gives us is marginal compared to our solar panels, which cost about the same (4 Kyoceras, total 530 watts). Entire system, including 10 golf cart deep cycle batteries cost about $6k, and gives us all we need except hot water and cooking (propane). Honda 2000 gasoline generator ($1000 new) for emergencies. Propane runs about $8-$10/month.

The beauty with solar is, it is maintenance free, except for cleaning mud and debris off the surface, and you can keep adding panels if you want more output. Cooking and heating with electricity will draw a lot of power. So beware. Do the math.

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Response to Starboard Tack (Reply #31)

Wed Aug 27, 2014, 10:59 PM

32. Yep, got a link but no $ yet - so there's plenty of time to plot.

Actually we do have a good bit of wind here, being 850' above sea level. No tornadoes, thank goodness, but straight-line winds up to 85 mph. That's one reason I went for a metal roof.

You seem to be pretty much up on solar, which I try to be but know I'm not - just aware that prices are falling and power increasing. Also that the chance to rent rather than own is growing apace. But I don't like the idea of renting anything if I can get out of it. That said, I've looked at Pear Energy. What do you think? I had high hopes for Bloom Boxes and they do seem to be working well for gigantic applications but no immediate hopes for affordable home sizes yet.

Please keep me posted on interesting developments, won't you?

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Response to Starboard Tack (Reply #22)

Wed Aug 27, 2014, 11:41 AM

24. Sorry, I forgot to add

that few around here have probably even heard of an espresso machine, so there's not ever going to be one available second hand, certainly not in my price range. I pass if a regular electric percolator has more than $5-6 on it. Most people in the area do know what the traffic will and won't bear, too. It's always an amusing shock when I find something priced otherwise. One time I found a pretty, empty popcorn can marked insanely high, and I snickered to my friend that I could find one full of popcorn at the store for a lot less.

Unfortunately I snickered a little too loudly, and the seller must have the ears of a fox. I'll leave the ensuing merriment to your imagination.

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Response to IrishAyes (Reply #24)

Wed Aug 27, 2014, 12:01 PM

25. That's a shame

I've found them in thrift stores before for less than $5, both electric and stovetop versions. In have both, in different sizes. Bought a single cup stovetop one new a couple of weeks back for less than $5.
Coffee is something I refuse to compromise on, though. Has to be espresso unless there is no other choice.
I used to drive across the US, from LA to the east coast, 4-5 times a year, in the days before Starbucks, and I got to know every place I could find a "real" cup of coffee (espresso/cappuccino) along the way, no matter which route I took. Wasn't easy back then, especially outside of major cities. But there were these little coffee houses that I discovered all over the heartland, from Winslow, Arizona to Huntington, West Virginia.

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Response to Starboard Tack (Reply #25)

Wed Aug 27, 2014, 05:28 PM

27. Not in this godforsaken little spot on the road.

I swear, these people will be kissing Pig Boy's arse even after he's dead and buried. If you explained furrin werds like 'espresso' to them, they'd think it was a communist plot. I've yet to encounter anyone who's even heard of Harry Bridges. They'd recognize Juan Valdez, maybe, but that's about it. Three people SO FAR have asked me, "Who's Bob Dylan?"

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Response to noamnety (Reply #2)

Wed Aug 13, 2014, 10:14 PM

6. From what I read, supposedly the greater viscosity of the motor oil will make it

retain heat longer than water, although water would certainly work. I've brushed up against those hot percolators in the kitchen before.

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Response to IrishAyes (Reply #6)

Wed Aug 13, 2014, 11:15 PM

11. You are correct, sort of. Properties differ.

 

The thermal capacity for oil is different from that of water. There are patents, in fact, for internal combustion engines that use oil rather than water as a coolant fluid for some of these differences in properties.

Also, with water we have to worry about evaporation, not so with oil.

In fact, some electric space heaters that look like old school radiators are actually filled with oil, so you're on the right track.

If we really wanted a high efficiency system, it might use liquid sodium but DANG, if that stuff leaks it's all over.

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #11)

Thu Aug 14, 2014, 12:49 AM

12. Due to recent posts w/info from an electrical engineer,

I think I'll stick with water short periods and not use motor oil until and unless I need it for longer term use.

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Response to IrishAyes (Reply #12)

Thu Aug 14, 2014, 12:59 AM

14. I've replied to that reply. If you use water, please also use a timer.

 

The engineer is mistaken, evaporation or change of state of any material from liquid to gas has an endothermic COOLING effect, not a warming effect.

Physics 101, change of state. It's why we feel cool when we perspire and the moisture evaporates.

All this aside, a heater (in this case, a percolator) that runs out of water is a hazard.

Now, my caveat, a percolator filled with oil has it's own risks: oil is a fuel, it could become a fire.

Water won't do that, at least.

No need for all this conjecture: Buy a used or new UL approved EnergyStar space heater under 1000 watts.

And be safe!

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #14)

Thu Aug 14, 2014, 09:18 AM

16. Thanks. I'll certainly buy a new bathroom heater and

despite a bit of decision whiplash, be extremely alert to UNPLUG the heater after every use. Maybe even start setting a timer downstairs so when it goes off, I'll be reminded. So long as I don't get so ditsy I forget what the timer's supposed to remind me about.

Until that happy day when I actually have a working (improved) outlet for the new heater, I'll have to do one or the other about the percolator contents. At least a percolator won't create enough heat to evaporate the water very soon at all, especially with the lid on. Someone I know left a full 12-cup perc on for almost a week when they left on vacation. On return they had a slightly lowered level of sludge but no fire. As for motor oil, extra safety's one reason high-performance motor oil was recommended - the greater heat tolerance.

Thankfully I don't need to create too much extra heat. The downstairs plus the steam from an extra deep, extra hot tub already make the room almost tolerable. I only need another 5-10 degrees at most, and that in safe proximity.

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Response to noamnety (Reply #2)

Fri Aug 14, 2015, 08:03 AM

34. agreed

agreed

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Response to IrishAyes (Original post)

Wed Aug 20, 2014, 05:47 PM

20. I have what what is called a Powerpack150 that I bought

from QVC several years ago. It is kept plugged in for emergencies. I unplug it when it is needed and it will power appliances for up to 3 hours. Then plug it back into your wall and it will recharge in a few hours. You could just plug a small space heater into it for your bathroom. That little device has come in handy many times when I have had power outages.

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Response to RebelOne (Reply #20)

Wed Aug 20, 2014, 11:26 PM

21. Those things are great. I've simply been trying hard as hell

not to have to pony up for one.

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Response to IrishAyes (Original post)

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