What kind of generator do I want?
May 31, 2016 7:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a generator that will power a landline phone and medical alert system during a power outage.

I've discovered that my mom's landline and attached medic alert system do not work during an extended power outage. Is there a device that I can plug into the wall then plug the phone and the medical alert base station into it and the device will have stored back up power to run the phone and the base station until the regular power comes back on? I'm picturing something like a power strip that has batteries that charge up from the wall outlet.

Do I want something like this?

Can I find what I need for under $200?

To summarize, I'm looking for something to:

-Use indoors

-That is powered by a regular A/C outlet, not gas or solar

-Will automatically kick in when there is a power outage and stop doing its backup function when the power comes back on.

-Is only needed for two small electronics, a cordless phone base like this and a medical alert base station

Also, in case anyone comes across this question looking for medical alert info: I can heartily recommend Bay Alarm Medical. It worked exactly as intended the one time my mom did have a fall (no injuries, thankfully) and they actually called me today to let me know that the base station appeared to be unplugged (the extended power outage prompted an alert on their end.) When I finally got a hold of my mom on her cell, I found out that the power company was doing some work on her street. So, anyway, Bay Alarm Medical is on the ball.
posted by fozzie_bear to Technology (12 answers total)
Best answer: The term you're looking for is Uninteruptable Power Supply (UPS). Amazon has a bunch of them, and the form factor is that often of a large power strip.

The biggest question is going to be how long you want it to power those items.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:38 PM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For $200, I would lean toward a battery based uninterruptible power supply rather than a generator. Getting a generator that will automatically power on and off on demand and properly isolate itself from the grid while it is running seems unlikely to me at that price.
posted by Bruce H. at 7:41 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

You can get around the phone, if she still has copper lines (these are still powered where I am, at least), and use an old school handset phone. For the rest, have you looked at computer/workstation UPSes? Are you talking about hours, or days?
posted by kellyblah at 7:42 PM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

FWIW, if you got her one of these, she could plug it into her landline jack and be able to call during a power outage.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:42 PM on May 31, 2016

That medical alert system says it has a battery backup for 32 hours. If that isn't long enough, then a small UPS will work fine - that's exactly what they are supposed to do. You don't need anything as large as the one you link to, but it depends on the power draw of the base station and the time you need it to last for.

For the phone, why not just get a plain phone that doesn't need power?
posted by ssg at 7:43 PM on May 31, 2016

Neither of those devices is likely to pull more than half an amp. In which case a 1500 VA UPS will give you at least 12 hours of standby time; probably more.

ssg: "a plain phone that doesn't need power?"

Plain phones still need power they are just phone line powered. In Canada these will work even with internet phone service because the modems are required to have backup battery power, don't know about the US.
posted by Mitheral at 7:48 PM on May 31, 2016

Response by poster: Ah, I think a UPS is it. I'm imagining needing to power it for ~6 hours, but longer is better. I'll explore those options. I should also follow up with Bay Alarm about the advertised 32 hour battery back up; thank you ssg for pointing that out.

Unfortunately, as far as a "plain phone" ATT changed their set-up a few years ago and now I think it's Voice over IP (?) I can't remember the details, but I was annoyed that you could no longer have just a phone plugged into the jack. Also, it was a production to get that set up working with the medical alert, but it is possible.
posted by fozzie_bear at 8:38 PM on May 31, 2016

In that case, the phone will stop working when the power does without a battery backup. imho a backup ought to be required, but in the US the company is just required to offer a battery backup for sale, rather than bundle it with service.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:01 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if an "extended power outage" in your area is measured in hours rather than days or weeks, you don't want a generator. A (gasoline powered) generator is like a car: you can't just let it sit for years and then be certain it will start when you need it, particularly if the power outage is related to extreme cold or a blizzard. It needs constant maintenance and testing to be sure it will work when you need it.
posted by XMLicious at 9:20 PM on May 31, 2016

Do check the power consumption of your devices versus the capacity of the UPS you get. I was surprised when I realised that my first UPS (~$180AUD) would only run my PC for ~3mins in the event of power failure. The idea was that the UPS would have time to send a safe shutdown signal to the PC and that was about it. The PC was drawing about 350watts though, and your devices consumption would be tiny next to that.
posted by quinndexter at 12:58 AM on June 1, 2016

Phones and small equipment like this draw SO LITTLE power.

Is there a used office equipment or computer recycling store near you? A nice big honking rackmount UPS will run a whole offices phone and voicemail system for hours(whereas it will run say, a couple servers for 15 minutes). You could buy used for $200 a ginormous UPS and an extended battery that would run your stuff for like, seriously, 24 hours~(basically how long the unit will run its inverter and fans with no load, since there is essentially none). This is the bang for buck zone, as compared to a brand new $150~ UPS they'll have like 10x the capacity. These things cost like, $2000 new+extra battery packs

The caveat here is that UPS+battery bank will probably weight something like 200lbs+, so bring a handtruck.

Bonus: these units test their own batteries and will warn you if the batteries need servicing, and the batteries are dirt cheap as brandless(but identical) replacements on amazon, and available at most big electronics supply shops. They're also designed to last years. The one in my house is probably 10 years old, and still hasn't squawked on the battery being toast. It runs all the network/phone stuff and the tv at my moms house(she has regular short-medium outages) and i've literally never seen it go down one "dot" on the amount of power remaining, so it must stay above 90% all the time.
posted by emptythought at 9:37 AM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Buy a SMALL UPS first; lately I'm partial to $40 CyberPower models like this one.

Plug everything in (equipment into UPS, UPS into wall) and wait a day.

Then unplug the UPS from the wall, so that the equipment is now getting its power from the UPS, and see how long it lasts. Should be at least an hour, possible many hours.

That time is directly correlated to the battery size in the UPS. If it didn't keep running long enough, at least now you have a better idea of how big of an UPS you need.

FYI, as soon as you unplug the UPS from the wall, it will probably start beeping, alerting you that it thinks the power has gone out. You will quickly find that you want an UPS that has an alarm mute button, so look for that too. I've got about five of the above-linked UPS model, and when the power goes out it's like an aviary in here.
posted by intermod at 10:06 PM on June 1, 2016

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