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I'm looking for a simple/inexpensive way to have a longer power backup time.
My fist thought was putting 2 cheap UPSes in parallel. But I quickly found it's not that simple. You would need another device that synchronizes the waves, otherwise... boom!!.

Then I thought of connecting them in series, but I read somewhere that that wouldn't work because the output of a UPS in backup mode is not a true sine wave. So feeding a second UPS with that fake wave would make it think the power went off and it would switch to battery mode as well.

So then I thought, what if I could use a car battery as an extension to the UPS' internal battery. And I found this instructable that shows exactly how to do it.

The article gives the important warning that a UPS is not meant to run at full capacity on battery power for a long time (just for the time its battery last, which is a few minutes) so you should choose a UPS with twice as much power as you will need.

Keeping that in mind, is this safe to do?
Is it as simple as putting a car battery in place of the internal one and expect it to work seemlessly? Will the UPS be able to charge the car battery considering it's way bigger than the UPS is meant to have?

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Good quality (APC) UPS can be used like that. I have two units running at the moment. I use them for different purpose, they trickle charge my motorcycle battery and the battery I have left from the previous car. APC UPSes are very good storage chargers for Lead acid batteries (after all, that's one of their primary purposes) and I have a shop nearby giving them away for free.

The unit will run non-stop with any battery, and you can even swap batteries while running on them. The car battery might not be too happy though, they don't appreciate deep discharge, but if you're planning to drain it to the floor only once a year it won't make much difference.

Charging will be quite slow since the unit is set to the battery which comes with it. The battery inside 600 VA APC Back UPS is 7 Ah so the car battery will be charged with 700 mA current.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is it possible to put the car battery in paralel with the UPS' internal battery? Is it a problem the difference in charging times? \$\endgroup\$ – GetFree Jan 23 '15 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes but why? What problem are you trying to solve? \$\endgroup\$ – Oleg Mazurov Jan 24 '15 at 4:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just thought if I could use both batteries instead of replacing the internal one and wasting it. \$\endgroup\$ – GetFree Jan 24 '15 at 5:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not sure it's a good idea. \$\endgroup\$ – Oleg Mazurov Jan 24 '15 at 17:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ You should not mix batteries in parallel if they are not quite the same. If they charge or discharge at different rates, one will draw current from the other. You might think they would reach some equilibrium but if they are different batteries made of different materials, they will not and you will waste charge driving one battery against the other. In some cases it could actually damage something. \$\endgroup\$ – squarewav Jan 12 '16 at 1:17
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I have used external batteries on several old, out-of-warranty UPS models over 15 years, ranging from 500VA to 1500VA (about 400 watts to 1000 watts). I prefer sine wave UPSs for their universality with small transformers and solenoid valves, but most computers and peripheral equipment use switching power supplies that work fine with modified sine wave (a kind of square wave) UPSs - I have one of those, too.

My TV and DISH receiver have a 500VA sine wave UPS, as any power glitch causes the DISH receiver to spend 5-minutes re-syncing to the satellite. That's annoying. The brick-sized AGM batteries I currently have on that UPS would run the system for 15 minutes or so.

I have sometimes added a tiny thermostat to the main internal heat sink to operate an add-on fan (inside or outside, depending on space) for longer run times. (Look for ~95°F KSD9700 N.O. thermostats, but some are NOT electrically isolated so they can't touch anything.) However, in my circumstances I have rarely used a UPS at it's full rated capacity. Most modern electronics consume little power - just a few amps usually. If you are going to run a UPS at 25% (or so) of its rated VA (or watts) you probably don't need an additional fan… although it doesn't hurt.

The most important thing is to use AGM batteries if you can possibly afford to, as they have a slightly higher charge voltage by about 0.3 volts compared to flooded (wet) batteries which (per the manufacture's email) should float charge at 13.5V. AGM batteries prefer about 13.8V. AGMs are not as tolerant of overcharging as flooded batteries. If you use flooded batteries the UPS will continue trickle charging after the batteries are actually at 100%, resulting in 'gassing off' distilled water from the cells. Flooded cells tolerate overcharging well but then you MUST add distilled water every 2-3 months to prevent the plates from being exposed - that's death to a flooded battery.

Since UPS manufacturers don't document how to adjust their charging circuits or offer a AGM/Flooded selector switch (pity), it is possible (for a 24V system) to add a pair of opposent-facing power diodes to drop the UPS's charging voltage to the flooded batteries by 0.6V (0.3 for each battery). I have built an interposing "charge matcher" to do this, but it gets much too complex to explain here and I don't recommend it. It was an interesting project, but you would be better off buying $100-$300 of AGM batteries instead.

I would suggest a digital voltmeter for each battery, and a digital amp meter from the UPS to the battery(s). The amp meter should ideally read both positive (charging) and negative (discharging) current to a resolution of at least 0.1 amps. These will allow you to monitor your battery(s) charging rates and health. I used LED meters from Amazon and they have worked fine so far.

ALWAYS fuse the batteries appropriately in case of a short circuit - large batteries can start fires. Mine have 50A and 100A low-voltage auto-marine fuses respectively. In a 24V system, placing the fuse in the link between the two batteries is a good idea.

ALWAYS use a battery box with flooded cells. A heat detector on the battery boxes and smoke detectors nearby are a good idea.

WARNING! Flooded batteries can release hydrogen and a nearby spark or heat source can cause an explosion in a cell which can spray battery acid over the room. Use extreme care!

WARNING! A UPS is designed to provide 120VAC even when NOT PLUGGED INTO the wall outlet! That voltage can kill you! Be careful!

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          HOW TO MEASURE 'TERMINAL CHARGE VOLTAGE' FOR A UPS

How do you know what voltage a given UPS will charge its battery(s) to? It's actually fairly easy to determine. You will need a large capacitor, at least 4700uF. Mine happened to be 36,000uF and was the size of a soup can. You will also need one or two batteries - whatever your UPS requires. They need not be new or large, but should be capable of providing, say, 10 amps for a few seconds. And a digital voltmeter.

Turn off your UPS with the front panel switch, unplug it, and remove the battery(s) if there are any. On a workbench, arrange the equipment as follows: UPS, capacitor & voltmeter, battery(s). Connect the voltmeter to the capacitor with alligator clip leads. Pay careful attention to the capacitor's polarity! Using a handy ~1K resistor, pre-charge the capacitor from the battery(s) - important for really huge capacitors - and then connect it to the battery(s) with alligator clips which can handle 10 amps (18 gauge wire should do). Now use alligator clip leads to attach the capacitor to the internal UPS battery connector or wires, positive to red, negative to black! Plug in the UPS and turn it on at the front panel.

The UPS will wake up, test the battery(s) by drawing a few amps from them while monitoring the voltage, and then begin normal operation by trying to charge the batteries. The wake-up process takes under 20 seconds in my experience, but give it a minute or so. Now disconnect the battery(s). The UPS will quickly charge the capacitor to what I term the 'Terminal Charge Voltage' and the charging current will drop to zero. The voltmeter will show you what voltage the UPS will try to charge the batteries to. Since it expects AGM batteries, that should be 13.8V for one battery or 27.6V for two. A tenth of a volt per battery either way is likely okay - my hobbyist experience with AGM battery life is limited. But if it's too high it will shorten the life of the AGM battery(s).

Addendum: The best battery pack -to- UPS connector is the SB50. Gray is for 24V systems, yellow is for 12V systems. Each color is keyed differently. A given color can use different wire gauges, like 4-6 or 8-10 gauge, so choose the SB50 terminals that you wish (the housing is the same). Once soldered onto your wire the terminals just push into the connector. There is an internal flat spring in the plastic housing that can be depressed with a small screwdriver to remove each terminal. SB50s are sexless, so you will receive two identical pieces. There are larger versions of the SB50 available, like the Anderson SB120 and SB175. The number is the amp rating.

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The Outboard Charger Method

If you have a good used UPS that creates power but over- or undercharges its batteries, you can use an external low amperage charger intended for your battery type and smart enough to not overcharge it. To prevent your UPS from trying to charge the battery(s), install a hefty diode (on an appropriate heat sink) that will allow power to flow from the battery(s) to the UPS, but not to them from the UPS. Thus only the outboard charger can charge the battery.

You may also install a bypass relay that is line powered, so that during a power failure the NC contacts bypass the diode and allow full power to the UPS. The contacts must be rated for the maximum current you expect to draw, perhaps 30 amps or more. The relay's coil must be rated for "continuous duty". Without the bypass relay, the silicon diode and heat sink will heat up due to the 0.6V drop across it and the amps through it. V x I = watts (i.e.: 0.6V x 30A = 18 watts). Without the relay, you will need a cooling fan on the heat sink as it can get quite hot over time. Note that some smart UPSs might complain that the battery is weak due to the 0.6V drop when they periodically check the battery, so test your design on a lab bench to see if it is going to work for you.

Design and test with care as your UPS will operate when you are not present.

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Assuming the UPS uses a common 12V SLA battery, you can replace it with a 12V lead-acid car or deep-discharge battery. All are common lead-acid batteries and should work identically.

That said, it's a bad idea for several reasons:

  • The UPS electronics, as the link you provide mentions, are not designed for operating for long periods of time. Typical home/office UPSs are passively cooled and in poorly-ventilated enclosures. Overheating is a big concern and you easily risk a fire. You could do lots of modifications to add cooling fans, heat sinks, etc., but at that point you might as well just buy a bigger UPS.

  • Car batteries are optimized for high peak current without being discharged very much, but can be damaged if regularly discharged too deeply. Deep discharge batteries are a better choice if you can get them.

  • The charge circuit is designed to charge a smaller battery. It may take a very long time to charge a larger battery. In addition to taking a much longer time to charge, the charger may overheat. You may be able to supplement the built-in charging circuit with a "Battery Tender" charger, but having two chargers trying to charge the same battery at the same time may cause problems as neither would correctly be able to measure the battery voltage.

  • Again, UPSs are designed to operate for a short period of time. They typically only have enough power to give a computer enough time to shut down gracefully or to bridge the time needed for a generator to come online and the electronics are sized and designed to operate for that relatively short period of time. Longer operation can cause damage.

Have you considered buying a small generator, such as the Honda EU-series, and connecting that to your UPS in the event of an extended power failure?

I have an EU1000i which produces 1000W (peak, 900W continuous) AC power. Unlike most other generators, where the motor directly drives the generator (this tends to produce "dirty" power, and many UPSs won't accept that power), the EU series has the motor drive a pure sine-wave inverter that produces utility-grade, regulated power that will work perfectly with UPSs and computers. They're quiet, fuel-efficient, and work well.

(I have no connection with Honda whatsoever, except that I used to own one of their cars back in 2003 and currently have an EU1000i generator.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I know about those silent generators, unfortunately there are no such things where I live. The smallest thing you can find here is this. Quite bulky and noisy. \$\endgroup\$ – GetFree Jan 23 '15 at 0:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Deep cycle batteries are commonly available as they're used in marine work. \$\endgroup\$ – ThreePhaseEel Jan 23 '15 at 1:12

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