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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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Revisiting The Merits Of Battery Backup

According to a FierceTelecom article by Sean Buckley, “Verizon says fewer customers are purchasing battery backup for fiber home voice services.” The article describes how Verizon’s FiOS FTTH customers are tending to rely upon their mobile phones to stay on touch during a power outage.

This assertion comes right as the FCC is concerned about CPE remaining powered during an outage, something that cannot be done over fiber as it was over copper. Since customers were not buying traditional battery backup units Verizon has come up with its own solution called PowerReserve.

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Our Two UPS Have Gone Down

Belkin UPSsWe have a pair of uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) on the property. Both are somewhat vintage models from Belkin. A 1000 VA model (F6C1000) in my office rack powers our network core. A smaller, 900 VA model (F6C900) in a central closet, powers those network components that live in the house. Both of them have been misbehaved in recent weeks. At this very moment they are basically non-functional.

I’ve long believed that the network core should survive minor power line irregularities. This belief stemmed in part from our migration to IP-based telephones for home & office. Our phone service should survive a power line bump. With both UPS in their fault-riddled state a loss of line power, even just a power line switching bump, caused our entire network to go down. This situation eventually had to be addressed.

The sealed batteries is consumer UPS such as ours have a fixed lifespan. At a certain point they simply cannot retain a charge, and the device throws an error. From that point onward they become nothing more than an overweight outlet strip.

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The Mythical POTS Advantage: Line Powered Phones

When conversation turns to a debate of VoIP vs POTS one of the common arguments in favor of keeping at least one POTS line is the idea that a plain vanilla phone doesn’t require AC power. It’s power comes down that very same POTS line from the phone company, so in theory  it  remains operational in the case of a power outage. This is fast on the way to becoming a myth.

The idea itself is not wrong. You could have a very plain phone on your POTS line, and it would work during a power outage. However, the simple fact is that at least in the US…almost noone has a simple line powered phone anymore.

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Power To The People: Without Interuption!

Earlier this evening Leo Laporte of TWiT fame tweeted the following:

Power is out in Petaluma. TWiT Live is down until it returns but no ETA. Thank goodness for the iPad 3G. http://j.mp/dt8Oii

I must admit that I am surprised and a little shocked that such an incident would take TWiT Cottage off-line. Leo Laporte is unusual amongst the online media community. His TWiT related endeavors are an unparalleled success. His transformation from traditional to online media is the stuff of future textbooks.

An enterprise such as TWiT should not be taken down by something so simple as a power outage when standby generators are sold at every Lowe’s and Home Depot across the country.

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