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An Affordable Strategy For Whole Home Backup Power

Predator 9500 InverterSince the crazy storm of May 16th took out power for much of Houston, there has been a lot of chatter about strategies for backup power. So much so that I posted to NextDoor to see what interest there might be in a seminar on the matter. My intent being to share our own experience and that of a few friends who have followed a similar path. The response was very strong, the thread resulting in over 160 comments in just a couple of days!

So, I guess I have to get busy crafting the presentation. While I do that, and for the very impatient, here is a list of related items I’ve written previously:

  1. Decisions: 2021 Household Projects – Describes our strategy for backup power and a new air conditioner.
  2. Connection Options for Backup Power – Details four ways so connect a portable generator to your home.
  3. Backup Power: 9kW-ish Portable Invertors – An overview of large, portable inverters in the 9 kW class.
  4. Central Air Conditioners: Variable-Speed vs Soft Start Kits – Considering how central AC can be run from a modest generator.
  5. How-To Geek: Be Careful Before Running Your Computer From a Gas Generator – Comparing a generator to an inverter.
  6. NYT on Household Energy Monitors – Using a cheap energy monitor to learn how much power our home uses, which informed our choice of generator.

It will take me some time to tie everything we’ve learned into a single (hopefully) coherent presentation. Given the level of interest, it will most likely be conducted as an online webinar. Details to follow as it progresses.

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Rewiring the Network Core: Part 2 – Beats, Wi-Fi & Brittle Cables

As was mentioned previously, I’ve been upgrading the network installation in the central hall of our home. The new vertical rack cabinet is now installed.

The paint job is a little splotchy. A contractor we had working for us the other day commented on the “neat cloud effect” I had achieved. I had to admit it wasn’t intentional, but it’ll do for now. It’s mostly hidden from view. At least the color is a good match for the wall.

Vertical Rack

As you can see, power is still being supplied by way of a pigtail out the bottom to a nearby outlet. That’s temporary. It will be replaced by a wire fished through the wall.

You can also see the holes in the floor where network cabled once passed from under the house. I need to get wooden plugs to fill those holes. The cables now run into the wall, onward to the patch bay in the cabinet.

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How-To Geek: Be Careful Before Running Your Computer From a Gas Generator

The web site How-To Geek has long been a useful resource. Last week they published an article entitled, “Be Careful Before Running Your Computer From a Gas Generator.” Given our experience during the Great Texas Freeze of 2021 this hits close to home. It’s a reasonable article overall, but it has a couple of holes that I’d like to fill.

How-ToGeek on Lenovo X-1-Carbon

Mr. Butler is absolutely correct, a traditional generator can be a problem when running sensitive electronics like computers or TVs. We discovered this in February 2021 when our reasonably new furnace would not run reliably on the generator. I would not have guessed that a gas-fired furnace would present a problem. However, the electronically controlled, variable speed blower struggled to start when connected to the dirty and lumpy generator power.

He suggests using a UPS to protect your sensitive devices from the generator. That’s a nice idea, but there is some subtlety to that as well. The type of UPS matters.

Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS)

Our older, admittedly inexpensive, line-interactive UPSs absolutely freaked out when connected to generator power. They saw the variability in the generator output as something to be corrected, but way beyond their scope. They reacted very badly, cyclically putting backup power in/out of circuit every couple of seconds.

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NYT on Household Energy Monitors

Last week the New York Times Wirecutter ran an article whose headline posed a question; Do You Really Need a Home Energy Monitor? It’s an interesting question.

Wirecutter - Do your really need a home energy monitor

They say only that you might save some money. Maybe. And they even question that assertion. Well, we installed a Shelly 3EM last year for reasons that the Wirecutter article completely fails to mention. So, I thought it worth sharing our experience.

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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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New Gear: Eaton 9130 Dual Conversion UPS

We have a pair of UPSs here; one in the office and another in the house. In both cases, they run the network core; Ethernet switches, Wi-Fi access points, IoT hubs and the like. Our reliance on power-over-ethernet means that there are actually quite a lot of gear that’s on the UPSs.

For many years the UPS in my office was made by Belkin. It was cheap. It did the job, sustaining the network core through many a minor outage. Being fanless, it was silent…which I deeply admire.Eaton 9130 2UHowever, as with most low-cost UPSs, it was “line-interactive” design. In such a design the power provided by the batteries and invertor is connected in parallel to the utility power. When utility power falters the local circuitry tries to make up the slack. The design is simple. Any UPS under $500 new is almost certainly a line-interactive design.

More sensitive gear is better served using a more sophisticated design known as “online” or “dual-conversion.” An online UPS puts its active circuitry between the utility power and the load. The utility power is turned into DC, which feeds the batteries and the invertor, which makes brand new, pristine, stable AC power for the load.

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