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The Elderly, The Infirm and The UPS (Uninteruptable Power Supply)

A few days ago we had a power outage in our town. Ordinarily a power outage lasts no more than a few minutes, however this one lasted for many hours. Therein lies the rub. For most homeowners a generator to run the house for even a few hours would be a luxury. For those with an invalid or a semi-invalid parent they may not think it is an option. However, there is an option. A generator powered by diesel or perhaps by natural gas with an automatic start and automatic switchover is going to be quite expensive. Figure a minimum of $6,000.00. However a little calm thoughtful pre-planning will reveal a solution which provides nearly the same utility and can be had for 10% to 20% of the cost. I'm talking about a UPS. In my case I have a semi-invalid parent who is sometimes at home alone. If the power goes off and she's reclined in her lift-chair -- well she's stuck. At night if the power goes off there's no telling what she can run into in her wheelchair.

The solution was to run three separate circuits. One with a "steady on" to her lift chair, television set, walkabout telephone, and a fluorescent floor lamp. The other two circuits switch on when the power fails, this is accomplished with 3 pole double throw relays. One 115 Volt circuit snakes through the house and is connected to a small fluorescent light flush mounted in a ceiling fixture in each room. The other has a companion time delay relay on the HVAC (heating ventilation & air conditioning) which provides power to the blower so that natural gas or oil heating will continue. The time delay is set to 30 minutes. This accomplishes two goals:-

1. Iit eliminates starting HVAC if the outage is 30 minutes or less, more importantly

2. I t reduces the Starting Power requirement and the cost.

To calculate the size of the required UPS add up the power requirements in watts. A fluorescent lamp of 200 equivalent "watts" literally gives the same light output in lumens as a standard 200 Watt incandescent lamp. Please note it probably uses 45 Watts of power. Read the package or the label on the ballast unit itself. Do not confuse the misuse of "watts" to describe light output. To further confuse things the power requirement of most devices is listed according to W=VA or Direct Current Watts = Volts * Amps. This is the formula for DC (direct current) power. It provides a built in safety factor for electricians and homeowners because AC (alternating current) is more efficient. FYI: 60 Cycle Alternating Current Watts = Volts * Amps * Sin 45 Degrees. The Sin of 45 Degrees is .707. It is recommended you use the DC formula to calculate the power requirements of each device.

If you plan to design a system of circuits which will not be changed and to be supported by a UPS use the Starting Watt value printed on motors. Most motors have a relatively high Starting Watt value followed by a significantly lower Running Watt value. Use the recommended Watt value for all other devices. Therefore apply this formula to the sum of the Starting Watt values added to the sum of the Wattage of all other devices -- Watts = Volts * Amps. Now, when done, your grandmother who lives alone in Far Away will be comfortable and safe. The scenario is as follows. Sleet and freezing rain coat the power lines in the neighborhood. The feeder lines from the substation are directly exposed to the wind. Additionally warm water from a local industrial plant's wastewater discharge pumps clouds of vapor into the air. The wind is blowing in exactly the wrong way. The streets have glazed over. At 07:13 hours the line gives way and the loads are lost. When this happens the substation detects infinite load and the substation computer takes the station off line. At 07:17 lines begin to fall all over the place.

1. When the power outage occurs her lift chair, walkabout telephone, television and floor lamp won't even blink. Most likely she will feel no anxiety as she won't even know the power has gone out.

2. A fluorescent lamp will come on in important room. These lamps will draw very little power. 5 rooms = (about) 110 Watts.

3. Should the power not come back in 30 minutes the HVAC system and or furnace will come on providing heat. This only applies to furnaces using natural gas or fuel oil. No provision is made in this plan for an electrical furnace or a compressor.

In the States it is recommended you purchase a UPS unit able to draw current from a 230 Volt circuit, and alternately from the 115 Volt leg. Stateside, power metering is done on the 230 Volt circuit. YOUR POWER COMPANY WON'T TELL YOU ABOUT THIS If you have an excessive 115 Volt load on one leg you effectively get half the power you are billed for. Check out "Load Balancing" you may be in for a surprise. If it is an old house which has been remodelled it probably would be a good idea to have a licensed Electrician check and balance your load. Doing so could significantly reduce the electrical bill and pay for itself in less than a year. In the UK, Europe, and other places where your single leg circuits are not 115 Volts but instead are 230 Volts a similar approach would be recommended as the metering method is the same. Now don't call up your local computer store or electrical supply house and ask for a 5KW UPS. They will peel the checkbook right off you! Instead go to one of the auction sites on the Internet such as EBay and watch the bidding and final prices on some larger UPS units. Check the manufacturer's site for several units to see about getting specifications, repair manuals, parts and inquire about the cost of replacement batteries. Take your time learn the market and make the right decision. That's what I did. I bought a 5KW UPS including shipping for $735.00. I charged the batteries to 100% and tested them individually, then I ran the UPS down to 75% capacity, repeated the tests, doing the same at 50% 25% and at fail out.. The test load was as close as I could come to the real thing using a 230 Volt blower motor (to simulate HVAC), a TV, incandescent lights and fluorescent lights. I plugged the numbers into a spreadsheet and graphed each battery. It was immediately obvious which ones needed to be replaced. This was done at the cost plus shipping of $244.00 . As a result, I have a 5 KW UPS in prime condition for $979.00 with a total cost of the unit of $0.19.58 cents per watt! The circuits described would apply to either a generator or UPS installation so their costs equal out. Please understand. This lash up is intended to do only the things listed above. Do not connect your deep freeze, refrigerator, microwave, vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, curling iron, electric heater or in fact any other large or small appliance. Again, this will keep her house warm and bright, will keep the TV, the phones and the lift chair working for quite a long while if need be. The process is entirely automatic. You won't have to slosh Jerry Cans of diesel around at odd hours of the night in the cold wet darkness. Think about it. Best of luck with your project.-- Bill McCaslin, Dir. Technical Support  Document Imaging Solutions, LLC 


UPS.  Dear Sir  Thank-you for the advice on you web pages regards building a ups for home use they are very informative. Can I please ask you a question?  Can I run fluorescent lights on a UPS. I have heard from a number of people that this is not recommended.  Thanking you in advance  -- Mr David Hart  UK Manchester 

Answer: UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) Circuits and a Pure Fluorescent Load  

The question has been asked by one of your readers whether a UPS can support a pure fluorescent lamp load. The answer is yes and no. It depends on the circuitry of your UPS. As most of them are rather inexpensive and every corner has been cut, then on smaller units it is safe to assume the "ballast" load has been removed. On larger units a 15 to 75 Watt Hour ballast is often considered insignificant. In either case plug two 7.5 watt incandescent night lights into the circuit. This is usually enough to give the UPS the impression it is supporting a traditional resistive load of motors, incandescent lights and power transformers. This is not the traditional solution but it will approximate that preferred solution sufficiently that you may consider 15 watts of incandescent load for every 1000 Watts of fluorescent load... But don't try to run an entire building on this formula. I'd say 5 kW is the maximum practical with this scheme.

The problem: How fluorescent loads initiate when power is applied. There is no point in going into all the gory details but a pure fluorescent load, that being several different kinds of fluorescent fixtures or all being of the same kind, send noise and Back EMF. These signals sent from the ballasts, starters and the lamps as they initiate can confuse the UPS circuits giving the impression that there is an infinite load. This can result in either a breaker flipping the load out of circuit or blowing a fuse accomplishing the same result. The latter is the most likely. On certain very inexpensive UPS units, the circuitry of the UPS will simply give up the ghost. The resistive loads will take the power from the UPS and also take the power from the noise and Back EMF from the fluorescent lamps thus stabilizing the load on the UPS.

Happy Thoughts, Bill McCaslin


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