The Extended-Run UPS Trick

For those of you who know how to mess around safely with car batteries and other high-amperage/low-voltage applications, here’s an interesting one (please note the warning below!:

APC makes an extended-run UPS called the Smart-UPS XL, which supports external battery packs. The ones I have (Smart-UPS XL 1000) are a 24V system, which means that the internal batteries and the external battery packs are all 24V. The external battery packs and replacement batteries are expensive.

So when my batteries gave up the ghost, I wondered what would happen if I replaced the 20 amp-hour gel-cell batteries with 100 amp-hour RV batteries, which were cheaper in spite of having five times the capacity. read more...

Power Outage Tips

I don’t know about you, but here in Western Oregon, all the power outages happen during the winter. They vary from flickers that last less than a second to outages of around three days. Here are some tips that work for us:

  • Have a wood stove you can cook on and heat the house with. I have two! If you have propane or city gas, pilot-light-style ranges, water heaters, and some kinds of furnaces will keep working when the power is out. (I don’t have gas.)
  • Have a ridiculous number of flashlights and lots of batteries. Trying to get anything done during a nighttime power outage is very difficult without a flashlight! Everyone in the family needs a flashlight, and you need a bunch more because they get misplaced.
  • Pick your poison where lamps are concerned. I’ve settled on propane Coleman lanterns even though they are expensive to run. They’re convenient, bright, and clean-burning. Gasoline Coleman lanterns set off my smoke alarms. Kerosene lanterns are too dim for area lighting. I’ve put hooks in the ceiling in my living room and bathroom just for the lanterns.
  • Have your water situation figured out. I have a generator and can run my water pump during an outage. Your situation might be more complicated.
  • Get a Honda generator. It’s sort of fun to go without electricity for a couple of days in the summer, but it’s a pain in the winter, especially when your basement floods without a sump pump, you have freezers full of chicken, or, worst of all, if you brood chicks with heat lamps during the winter. Honda generators are good. Some other makes are probably just as good, but I don’t know which ones they are. Figure out how to use your generator before the power goes out. Remember to have some gasoline. Buy plenty of extra-heavy-duty extension cords and multi-outlet adapters and store them somewhere sensible.
  • Use APC Smart-UPS UPS systems. These are the only ones I know of that work well when plugged into a generator. Put them on your computers and your TV/DVD/Tivo setup. There’s a “sensitivity” adjustment on these to determine how eager they are to switch to battery power. Set the sensitivity to “low.” Your equipment won’t mind. I always buy used units, since the systems themselves last forever, though the batteries (which are replaceable) rarely last beyond five years. See if you can find a local source for both UPS and batteries: they’re expensive to ship.
  • Have a good library. Even if you keep the Tivo running during the outage, the loss of power restricts your actions.
  • Have a method of brewing good coffee. This is essential! A Melitta one-cup coffee maker and a stack of filters will see you through until the ol’ Mr. Coffee starts working again.

There are plenty of other ways to do it, but these work for us.

We’re probably going to get a super-insulated electric water heater this winter, and we’ll get one that’s twice as big as we need, so it will take a long power outage to run out out of hot water. read more...

Achieving a Negative Carbon Footprint

Carbon abatement is for sissies. Let’s stop thinking like consumers and start thinking like producers. If there’s surplus carbon dioxide, instead of releasing somewhat less of it by modifying our personal consumption, let’s figure out ways of sucking it back out of the air and using it for our personal production.

So what can we make with all that carbon dioxide? Well, lots of things, but for the sake of this post, let’s make trees out of it. A good stand of trees will turn greenhouse gases into biomass and lumber. Planting a stand of trees on our own property is a way to take charge of the problem directly. You can buy a lot of rural land in need of TLC for the price of a hybrid car, and doing so will be much better for the environment. read more...

Water in Your Gasoline? Use Mr. Funnel!

Here’s a spiffy product for you: A funnel that lets gasoline (or diesel) through but hangs onto any water. It works! I salvaged about 30 gallons of water- and rust-contaminated gasoline from two different vehicles by running it through “Mr. Funnel.” All the crud and water stayed in the funnel. This single use more than paid for the funnel.

The instructions tell you to test the funnel before each use by filling it most of the way with water and verifying that it doesn’t pass through the filter. It’s sort of freaky to see how fast gasoline passes through a filter that’s watertight! read more...

Looking for Tractor #2

My tractor used to have problems that made it sit unused for months. Mostly I fixed this through a few simple repairs, such as replacing the broken fuel shutoff to prevent constant evaporation and its attendant crud in the carburetor, replacing the corroded distributor points with a Pertronix electronic ignition (which is almost as easy as putting in a new set of points), and replacing a dying starter motor.

But any tractor that’s more than 50 years old is going to require some unplanned maintenance.
Over the past few months, I’ve had to replace the starter motor bendix and deal with my fuel-cap-related problems, each of which required a wait for parts and some miscellaneous delays which kept the tractor out of service for a week. read more...