Y2K - A Lighting Suggestion From The Trenches

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We used candles for the first couple of days of the great ice-storm which was pretty depressing after the novelty wore off. After a friend in town had his power restored, he loaned us a car battery and a 12 volt light and we used it each night, dropping the battery off in town each day for charging. Believe me, this made all the difference in coping with our problems.

Even though we have a generator now, we have still picked up a couple of used car batteries and a charger to give us similar lighting in the evenings. To avoid stockpiling very large amounts of gasoline, we plan to run the generator for only a couple of hours a day to pump water, use the microwave occasionally and to recharge the batteries.

If anyone wants to follow this route, used car batteries can be picked up at your local garage either for free or for a couple of dollars. While not robust enough to start a car, they should easily light a 25 watt DC bulb for several hours. The 25 watt DC bulbs, which fit a standard AC socket, are equivalent to about a 50 watt AC bulb for light output and are stocked by auto supply stores for recreational vehicles.

In our setups, we used heavy extension wire (14 guage) to connect an ordinary 120 volt wall outlet and box to the battery. DO NOT FORGET to add an Inline fuse (5 or 10 amp) near the battery terminal as you can get enough current under an accidental short circuit to melt the insulation and perhaps start a fire. For a fixture we used a plain white fixture and box connected to an ordinary 120 volt plug. This setup is much more rugged than using an AC lamp fixture.

Just something inexpensive to think about if you have a generator and want to extend your fuel.

PS - We still keep wick lanterns and candles in reserve.

-- John (jh@canada.ca), October 13, 1999


Just a couple of additional points.

Any acid on the outside of the used car batteries can be neutralized with some baking soda disolved in water.

We also placed the batteries in covered plastic storage boxes to keep them away from pets, kids, etc.

Batteries should not be stored on concrete floors, especially on the ground floor of an unheated garage or basement. Heat will be drawn from the battery until it reaches the temperature of the ground, significantly lowering its capacity.

-- John (jh@canada.ca), October 13, 1999.

The '120 volt wall outlet' in the original post should read '120 volt wall style outlet' ... I wouldn't want someone that knows nothing about electricity to try to connect the battery to an existing AC outlet.

The outlet, plug, light socket and boxes are just a method of wiring the light to the battery.

Also, make sure if you are buying an inline fuse holder and fuse, that you get a heavy duty DC one from an auto supply store. DC fuses and AC fuses are not identical.

-- John (jh@canada.ca), October 13, 1999.

Old batteries, especially car batteries are a waste of time and should be avoided unless you are so flat broke that you can't afford the right type of true deep cycle battery.

Two important considerations: Charge efficency and self discharge rates. As a batterie's plates become sulfated they are effectively insulated from participating in the current flow process. That part of the plate is not only useless electrically, it is also tying up some of the sulfate that should be in solution to make charges seperate in the battery. You may need to put several times (300%-400% or more) more current into the battery to replace the amp hours removed than you would with a new or well cared for healthy battery.

Then too the self discharge rate, the rate at which the battery will discharge internally, goes up the older the batt gets. Around 5% a week is common for a new battery at around 70 degrees F. It goes higher as the batt gets older or warmer.

If I were serious about backup power, fuel conservation and reliability I would not use old cast off batts. I would also avoid the "RV deep cycle" batts which are just slightly warmed over car batts (still sponge lead plate). I would want batts with sheet lead plate, ie., true deep cycle types. Golf cart batts are likely the best cheap choice for a true deep cycle type; 2 6-volt GC batts in series yield 12 volts and 220 amp-hours of storage....Sam's has them for around $50 per.

Don't waste time on old batts.....DCK Home Power Magazine....The Hands-On Journal of Home-Made Power http://www.homepower.com

-- Don Kulha (dkulha@vom.com), October 13, 1999.

Hi Don,

Your technical points are certainly valid, but my sense is that many people posting here are becoming 'Y2K spent out' and my posts were in that light. Running a 25 watt light for 6 hours is only about 12 amp- hours, way under the 220 amp-hours available from your suggested setup.

Now if I were running a TV or a television set/satellite receiver on an inverter, I would need and purchase your kind of power.

BTW, there is a difference between being frugal and poor. Often frugal = rich. IMHO, recycling or extending the life of used batteries isn't such a bad idea for the environment either.


PS - I enjoy visiting the homepower site regularly.

-- John (jh@canada.ca), October 13, 1999.

Just bought a unit called a Portawattz Power Pac, which features a 12 volt battery and inverter together in a molded plastic carrying case. It also came with a solar panel to recharge and also has a wall plug-in. Also comes with cables to jump start a car battery and plug into a car lighter socket to recharge. The inverter has 2 115v outlets and there's also a 12v dc outlet. It can carry small appliances up to 300 watts. I have a couple of 22 watt flourescent lights which go for several hours til battery is discharged. It has a warning buzzer when the battery gets too low. Solar panel will charge battery in 8-10 hours on sunny day. Pretty nifty outfit. See at: www.solarsense.com


-- J Werner (jwerner15@hotmail.com), October 13, 1999.

I agree with John in that an inexpensive and readily available source of DC is from used 12v car batteries. A variation on the theme John posted is to use garden tractor batteries. I have several from old garden tractors, that while still capable of holding a charge, don't have quite enough life in them to reliably start the garden tractor. I have also salvalged several light reflectors from garden tractors that serve well as small lamps hooked directly to the battery. Using some PVC pipe to make a "table model" is also an inexpensive project. the small 3k lamps are not enough to have a dance, but they sure take the gloom off a dark room. I too plan on only using the generator to charge the batteries every couple of days. the smaller size garden tractor batteries do not hold as much juice, but are much easier to manhandle when moving and don't take as long on the generator to charge.

-- Bill (bill@SHF.com), October 13, 1999.

I'm a little dismayed that no one has mentioned the dangers of running lead-acid batteries inside a dwelling.

-- Ron Schwarz (rs@clubvb.com.delete.this), October 17, 1999.

f your counting, put a hash in Don's column. I have been investigating the situation for many months now. I have almost completed a four tier power availability program. No mater which source is unavailable, I'll have a backup available. I'm currently working on a storm water power generation unit. One thing we can count on in the Great Northwest is storm water. That should be redundancy enough for just about any situation.

Anyway, Don has just about summed it up with his assessment. The only thing I could add would be; if you're looking for a used battery, also consider a heavy equipment battery. Caterpillars, backhoes, fork lifts, etc. used some of the strongest batteries made for combustion type power trains.

Respectfully Michael

-- Michael (mikeymac@uswest.net), October 17, 1999.

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