Newsletter subscriber Sam Boggs, like many who suffered the joys of power outages after Hurricane Katrina, wrote to ask:
Any guidance on how to interpret the specs on UPS backup devices? I understand the primary reason for these is to give enough power for an orderly shutdown in case of power failure.
But it would be nice, if we can quickly shut down the computer, to have the remaining power available for other modest uses. Examples would be to plug cordless phones or laptop computers for a while.
A comfort-enhancing possibility is to plug a very small fan (110v, about 30W type) to run overnight to provide a little comfort when a/c is not available (such as after a storm). Obviously this little bit of stored power would not be adequate for a making toast or brewing coffee (sorry about that one!).
This would be far less expensive than a generator, but still, anything beyond about $50 wouldn’t be attractive for the rare occasions it would be needed.
Sam, that is a cool idea (pun intended), but I don’t think it would work. You would never be able to put up with the warning beep – a UPS beeps every 2-5 seconds to warn you that the power is off. You might be able to open it up and disable the beeper, but I would not consider doing that.
Also, I don’t think there is enough to run a 30w fan overnight — a friend had a 1000VA one, and it could not hold his home theater pc operational to complete a 1-hour program. They really designed for temporary use to carry you through a short blackout — and to encourage you to do a safe shutdown of your computer.
For portable power, I picked up a combination battery/inverter a couple years ago at Sams for about $100. You could use the cigarette lighter socket in it to get 12V DC or turn on the inverter to get 120V AC. We used it to watch some news during our Katrina power outage — got lucky, too, because I don’t know how long it had been since it had been plugged in. The power test on it said “almost out” from the very beginning.
My unit even came with a cable with big alligator clamps and a cigarette lighter — not to jump-start the car, but to recharge the portable power supply by hooking it up to the car.
This one isn’t quite the same, but it looks like it might be what you want.