First let’s discuss the difference between a battery back up and a surge protector system. A battery backup has many names: battery back up surge protector, UPS surge protector, uninterruptible power supply or simply UPS. The difference between a battery backup and surge protection is both do two completely different jobs.
A surge protector will stop surges in your power flow, minor spikes in current levels created by high-powered equipment with electric motors switching on and can sometimes shut off the power supply at the outlets in the event of a brownout or extreme surge. Sometimes one can protect your from distant lightning strikes and many are made with telephone and network line protection.
Let’s back up a second to mention brownouts. These are dips in the power supply that can last a few seconds and are marked by flickering lights. The usual cause of brownouts is generators being switched at local power stations. Often it will be followed by a surge.
What a battery back up supply does is switch to reserve power in the event of total power loss. One is often used on mission critical applications like network servers where power loss could cause widespread data loss, a result that could prove disastrous. The UPS is a battery supply that is constantly plugged in and being charged so that when these emergencies strike it is ready to take over. This allows ample time to properly turn off these networks without the worry of losing important data.
The cost difference is quite substantial as well. You can find a relatively inexpensive but quality surge protector for less than twenty dollars; while you won’t likely find a uninterruptible power supply for under a hundred dollars. While you aren’t supposed to daisy-chain these two devices as they will more or less cancel each other out, you can find with both surge protection and battery backup for relatively the same prices as a UPS without surge protection.
When it comes to picking a brand of battery back up surge protectors, most people only look to one company that has a long reputable history of manufacturing serious quality. That company is APC, or American Power Conversion. You can visit their website to see what APC surge protector battery backup systems they offer.
Within the UPS is a gel-cell battery that powers the device during an outage. It produces a standard 110 VAC (voltage alternating current) which is what most homes in the U.S. are wired for. Outside of the U.S. 220 VAC or higher will be found. When the power goes out the battery backup comes on and gives the user between 5 to 10 minutes of power so that any equipment tied into the battery can be shut down without damage or loss. The devices can be as small as a CPU or as large as a wall locker. The larger ones can supply power to a whole house.
Depending on the size of the computer system or network you are using, you should buy a surge protector with battery back up that has enough wattage. How do you know what the wattage is? It’s not hard to figure out, but the wattage rating is less than the VA (volt-amp) listing. The math is about 2/3 the VA = wattage, so 1000VA would be equal to 660 Watts. It’s not a precise science, but you get the point. A simple rule to start is the outlets on the UPS should not have anything plugged into them that use more wattage than what the outlet can handle. You can get a device called a Kill-A-Watt that measures Volts, Amps, Watts, Hz, VA and Watt-hours so that you can find the exact wattage of a device you want to protect.
You can find ample protection in something with at least 700VA but over time (usually a couple years) the batteries can’t hold their charge as well and you will gradually lose how much time a surge protector battery can provide power. It’s best to find something with 700-800VA minimum, but find the highest VA rating you can. If, for example, you were running a network of computers then for the best battery backup computer unit you should not use anything with less than 1000VA. Belkin makes a couple well made UPS systems like this. For wattage, look for something with at least 600 watts of power and you should be fine for any large home network.
When it comes time to replace the gel-cell battery, they are not cheap. They can even be a little difficult to find. A work around for replacing these batteries (and this is totally a DIY project that will void any warranty) is to use a car battery for the unit to pull power from. This little tweak will give you an hour or more power supply in the event of an outage. The battery charger in the APC battery backup will keep the battery charged.
Again, this is not recommended if you want to carry the warranty of the battery backup surge protector as defined by the manufacturer, but it will give you more power to work with if you live in an area prone to power outages and lightning storms. With this kind of power you could keep a large home theater system powered for the duration of the outage and not miss a beat. The device senses a power outage immediately and kicks in the battery supply so that nothing is harmed and dips won’t affect normal operations.
Car batteries installed on a home office battery backup and power strip surge protector will far outlast the gel-cell battery and costs about the same price. And once again you can prolong the run-time of the UPS to hours instead of a few minutes. Even during storms you will be able to carry on your work without interruption and threat of power surges. Battery back up surge protectors typically have phone line and LAN line protection so you can still have access to communications if necessary.
Sometimes your battery back up surge protector will beep. This is an alarm that signals an APC battery and surge protector error that the battery can’t hold a charge. IT could also be a AC power disruption or surge damage indication. Your best bet is check with your manual to determine other causes. Usually, there is a reset button you can press to stop the noise.