Week 30, 2017: Keeping your electronics running when power goes out, Uninterruptable Power Supplies

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 30, 2017

Q. I read your column about getting started with home automation and the question I have is about my router. Several years ago I installed a full house standby emergency generator to keep my house powered during the many power outages that I experience in my neighborhood. The generator works fine, but when I have the slightest blip in my power, even if it is so short it doesn’t bring on the generator my router goes offline. Then I have to unplug it, wait a minute or so and then plug it back in. I have had the router for many years but it works fine for the wireless network in my house. I would love to make my house more automated but I fear that when I am away (vacation for instance) my router will go offline and then none of the equipment on my network will be operating. Is there an easy way around this problem?

-E.G., Pittsburgh, PA

A. It’s very easy to get around this problem. All you need is a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply.) A UPS is essentially a surge protector or power conditioner with battery backup. Depending on the type or model you buy, it will resemble a largish surge protector or a full-size audio component like a receiver. You plug it into the wall and multiple outlets are available, some with battery backup and some without. If the power from the wall is ever interrupted, the backed-up outlets will be powered by the battery and will not lose power.

Since the number of outlets with backup are limited you should be smart about what equipment you use with them. For example, I have a battery backup power conditioner providing power to my home theater. I use the outlets with battery backup for my DVR, so the hard drive won’t stop spinning, and for my projection TV, so the cooling fans will stay on. Stopping power to a running hard drive can corrupt the data, and having the fans shut off prematurely could shorten the useful life of my television. I would not bother using battery backup for something like a disc player or amplifier because interrupting the power while it is operating won’t have any long-term ill effects.

For a computer system, things like your router, an external hard drive, and the computer itself would be good candidates for battery backup outlets. Peripherals like a printer, scanner, or computer speakers would be fine for the regular outlets.

Of course, the standby power is limited by the size of the battery and the more you spend, the more backup capacity you will have. Given your standby emergency generator you won’t need much capacity as the generator will kick on in the event of a sustained outage.

You can find a UPS almost anywhere that sells electronics. Tripp Lite is a top choice for UPS units and they offer many models for computer and home entertainment applications. Their ECO550UPS would be a good choice for you, with 8 total outlets, 4 with backup and 4 without. It sells for $63. Popular online retailer Monoprice has a variety from several manufacturers, and APC by Schneider is highly regarded as well.