Thursday, September 7, 2017

"Backup Power Is A Consideration We All Need"

With Hurricane Harvey still fresh in our experience, and Hurricane Irma approaching, a discussion of backup power seems appropriate.  In fact, there are very few areas in the country, if any, that are immune from power outages that last for more than just a few minutes. There are many reasons for short outages, and while they are inconvenient and potentially uncomfortable, the power soon returns with little disruption in the quality of our lives.

However, with tornadoes, the hurricanes, unexpected wind events or squalls that can unleash violent weather, ice storms, heavy rains, flooding, earthquakes, and other natural events, the electricity can remain out for hours or even days. This is where having a backup system becomes important. It is even vital.

There are many individuals that we will work with as aging in place professionals that are going to have appliances and devices that are electric - either directly or battery operated - and this energy source needs to be supplemented when it is interrupted. There needs to be some type of backup system in place.

This is a true backup system of some design that provides power when the main electrical service is disrupted for more than a minute or two. This is not an auxiliary system in the sense that it supplements the existing power but a true replacement for supplying electricity to the affected dwelling when the main service is not available.

There are so many items, powered by electricity, that we depend on or just accept without much thought, that we would miss when the power is off. This underscores the importance of having a backup system available. When there is medical equipment present, the need is elevated to necessary or urgent.

In almost any home, there are going to be lights, refrigeration, microwaves, small appliances, hair dryers, heating and air conditioning equipment, fans, telephones (landlines or cell), televisions, and radios. In many homes, there are going to computers, modems, printers, laundry machines, and dishwashers as well. Some are going to have outdoor lighting, electric garage door openers, intercom and security systems, elevators, freezers, game consoles, and more.

As far as needs for people who depend on power for the daily activities, there are electric wheelchairs that need charging, stair lifts (also called chair glides, stair slides, and chair lifts), oxygen systems, refrigeration for insulin and medication, overhead lifts, whirlpools, and other assistive and therapeutic devices.

Except for very simple, low-budget remodeling projects, some type of backup power system (generator) needs to be considered and included in the scope of work as often as possible. The size can vary along with the budget, but this is an item that nearly every home will need.

In addition to evaluating the size of the backup generator and what appliances, devices, or systems in the home it needs to power, from a couple of circuits to the entire home with heating or air conditioning running, the power source needs to be selected.

The ideal power source is natural gas. This is essentially a limitless supply of energy that doesn't require the generator to be refilled. Propane is a good energy, but it can run out unless there is a very large storage tank. The same for gasoline or diesel. Solar can work if there is sufficient sunlight to charge the battery cells. 

Therefore, a kitchen, bathroom, entry, or other substantial remodeling project should also include a generator, the wiring, and the programming to start on demand and feed the house circuits without backflowing onto the electrical grid.

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Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist-Master Instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.