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Central Air Conditioners: Variable-Speed vs Soft Start Kits

Some time ago I detailed our 2021 decision to upgrade to a variable speed central air conditioner, the various features and benefits underlying that decision. That was the same year, after the Great Texas Freeze of 2021, we went about implementing a practical strategy for backup power.

We had been planning for these projects for quite some time, setting aside the necessary funds. Things might have been quite different if the old air conditioner had outright failed unexpectedly, requiring immediate replacement. We probably would have opted for a single-stage replacement purely on the basis of cost. After all, that’s what happened in 2002 when, as new homeowners, we were more-or-less forced into buying the American Standard Allegiance 12 system.

Single-stage systems certainly get the job done. They’re standard, builder-grade equipment. They simply don’t fit into our current strategy for backup power. At least, not without some fiddling. What follows in an exploration of that fiddling.

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Backup Power: 9kW-ish Portable Invertors

Just a few days before Christmas 2021 we bought a Predator 9500 portable invertor generator. Back then, it was one of the first of a new generation of inverters delivering 7,500 watts continuous power, with 9,500 watts peak.

The Predator brand is sold by Harbor Freight. The 9500 model was introduced in 2020 at $1899. Demand was strong, and they were in short supply for a long while. By the time supply was improved the list price had gone up to $2399. It has since gone to $2499, but you can still get them for less during special promotions. We managed to get ours using a last-minute pre-Christmas coupon good for a discount of 25%!

Over time, similar models have emerged from several other companies like Genmax and DuroMax. It’s quite apparent that these are all made by the same manufacturer. They vary only a little in specific features and the color of the plastics.

Three Inverter Generators

Not long ago, Gavin’s Garage offered an unboxing video of the Pulsar PGD95BISCO Super Quite Dual Fuel 9500W Home Use Backup Portable Inverter Generator.

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Decisions: 2021 Household Projects

As we come to the end of the year, I’m looking back across a range of substantial household projects. We rather famously lost power for a few days back in February 2021 during an unusually cold snap. This lead to some additional thinking about household projects, including the new air conditioner. Specifically, how best to adapt our home to operation without utility power? After all, the Great Texas Freeze of 2021 was not the first time we lost power for days. We were without power for several weeks after Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Generac Standby Generator Beauty Shot copy

The most common approach that we see around the neighborhood is the installation of a standby generator. These are permanently installed systems that startup and take over when utility power fails. Generac, Kohler and Cummins are the most common brands. They typically run on natural gas and I’ve seen systems from 14 kW to 32 kW hereabouts.

Standby Generator vs Air Conditioner

Given the position of our home on the lot, and the location of the gas meter and breaker panel, it’s not really practical for us to install a standby generator. It would be prohibitively expensive given the required location of the generator. We’d need to run buried pipe for natural gas, and conduit for electrical cable, a considerable distance. The cost of the installation is much more than the generator itself. The entire project cost is as much as a new air conditioner, for a benefit that that would only occasionally be realized.

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Augmenting An Ultrabook

Lenovo X1 Carbon and Docking StationWay back in January when I bought a Lenovo X1 Carbon (X1C) I was a bone fide corporate road warrior. The decision to move into an ultrabook was motivated largely by the desire to have less to carry.

More recently I’ve transitioned into a more stay-in-the-home-office role. Sooooo, I’m not carrying things around very much…but I am living with some of the compromises entailed by the ultrabook class of device. All of this has me wondered when it’s ok to spend a bit more to augment the X1C vs going in another direction entirely?

Allow me to share some of the things that have come to light about the X1C. These are not so much defects as practical realities attached to the ultrabook form factor. For example, there aren’t very many ports. To be more specific, there’s one USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.0 port and a displayport.

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A Reader Question About A Grandstream BT-200

Grandstream-BT-200Last week I received a question via email from reader Marshall Wilgard. It seems that he is having trouble with a Grandstream BT-200 desk phone.

For five years, I used a Grandstream BT-200 IP phone without any problems.  Six weeks ago, a loud hum appeared on the phone as soon as I picked up the handset.  About 10 days later, the hum vanished, for no apparent reason.  However, about 10 days after that, the hum came back, for no apparent reason.  Despite my rebooting the phone three times, the hum remained.  Then approximately 10 days after the hum returned, it vanished again, for no apparent reason.  My phone has had the latest firmware for more than a year, and my VoIP provider says the problem is not with it.

Hum like Marshal describes is usually an analog phenomenon, not something that I’d associate with firmware. It sounds to me like a problem with the hardware. Issues of hum tend to revolve around a problem with the power supply. Given the age of this phone I’d guess that most likely some kind of capacitor is failing.

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Powerless At FAT: What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Last week I had occasion to spend several days in Fresno CA. Their airport code is FAT. But FAT is not PHAT. In fact, it’s powerless.

Like many places in the country Fresno is busily enhancing their airport. The terminal from which I arrived and departed looks like a brand new building.

The terminal had all the traditional conveniences; public restrooms, a few places to eat & drink. Of course it had seating for all the waiting passengers. It has free, but very slow, internet access via wifi. What it lacked was sensible access to AC power for people using their personal electronics.

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