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Steam boiler power outage backup

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brucem
brucem Member Posts: 44
Well as discussed in a previous post my 48 year old Burnham is pretty much done and a new Boiler is going to be needed. Old one had power -pile ignition and they are no longer made.
I've read there are ways to get it to fire from battery backup to generators wired into my main panel.
Since I hope this doesn't happen too often (yea right we are talking New England here) I am really hoping for a fairly simple solution (cheaper would be good too).
The only thing it has to do is light off the boiler(probably 24 volt ?), no fan or anything else.
Are there any ready made systems that aren't a DIY nightmare? My next door neighbor said installed it could be $5000-$8000 for one(wired in generator).
Ideas on alternatives ?
BTW hopefully a Utica boiler is a good replacement ?
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Comments

  • 109A_5
    109A_5 Member Posts: 1,387
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    Hello @brucem,
    I can run my old boiler from a old car battery that won't start a car any more. My boiler has a old school standing pilot. And for the normal (24VAC) gas valve I limit the current through a 12 Volt incandescent lamp. And I have other strategies for a longer run time if it looks like its going to be a long power outage.

    If your new boiler has an electronic ignition control module you may need something like this.
    https://www.outsidesupply.com/12-vdc-to-24-vac-40-watt-irrigation-inverter/

    There may be other equipment better suited for your needs.
    National - U.S. Gas Boiler 45+ Years Old
    Steam 300 SQ. FT. - EDR 347
    One Pipe System
    ratio
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,447
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    Depends a little on whether you want to run anything else in the house when the power goes out (it will). If you do, a suitable portable generator and a transfer switch it can plug into. A little expensive, yes, but it protects you and the power company lineman and your neighbours.

    If you just want to fire the boiler, as has been suggested a decent 12 volt battery and an inverter is the way to go. To avoid potential wiring problems, though, I would get the inverter to go to 120 VAC, and then arrange the boiler power supply so that it could be unplugged from the mains and plugged into the inverter when wanted.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    mattmia2JakeCK
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    edited October 2022
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    I like the idea of the battery, as the ONLY thing I want during an outage is to have heat, everything else is basically to me anyways just a convenience.
    I can keep a battery charged, but as to the rest, its a bit of a mystery. Hopefully I can have an electrician figure out how to have the power for the boiler on a plugin basis somehow.
    As far as a GOOD inverter, anyone have suggestions, other than the one that 109A_5 suggested ?
  • franzsf
    franzsf Member Posts: 13
    edited October 2022
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    I went for a pure sine wave inverter (GoWise PS1002 - edit: pure sine wave AC is likely easier on the boiler transformer) and added a plug to my boiler power supply. In case of power outage, I unplug from usual receptacle and into the inverter, which runs off a 12V deep-cycle battery. Power draw from the boiler is minimal.
  • 109A_5
    109A_5 Member Posts: 1,387
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    Hello @brucem,
    Keep in mind Inverters and UPS units typically will use power when the boiler is not running and even with no load from the boiler. This will reduce the run time of whatever battery capacity you have. Also converting twice (if heat in your home is your only goal) is also wasteful. First conversion, 12 VDC (the battery) to 120 VAC (with an inverter or UPS) then, Second conversion, 120 VAC to 24 VAC (a transformer) all is a heat waste by the conversion equipment and will reduce the run time of the batteries.

    If you are going to use an inverter or a UPS and the power outage looks like it is going to be a long one to maximize the battery run time you should be the thermostat and shut down the inverter when the boiler shuts down. Much more babysitting the situation but you will have heat longer.

    For me in your situation I would probably set up a standing pilot for emergency use with all the normal safety devices like a thermocouple and just run the gas valve with a battery. I'm thinking most won't like this idea. I can do this type of work, most can't or won't.


    National - U.S. Gas Boiler 45+ Years Old
    Steam 300 SQ. FT. - EDR 347
    One Pipe System
  • Dan_NJ
    Dan_NJ Member Posts: 247
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    I have an inlet in the boiler circuit so I can feed 120v AC directly to it. There's a three way switch controlling whether the feed is from line voltage, inlet, or off. The AC that feeds your inlet can be anything that makes 120v AC. In my case I have a small inverter and an AGM auto battery on float nearby. Happens to be the exact same size and model as the car battery so it has been handy for dead battery situations too. No automatic transfer switch here. It definitely beats the rigged up doorbell transformer and car jump start battery I first set up in a pinch many years ago. Clean and simple. The battery was probably the most expensive part of this but I expect it will last 10+ years on float if lightly used. I won't use flooded lead acid batteries anymore if i can help it.

    https://www.odysseybattery.com/applications/auto-truck-batteries/
    ethicalpaul
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,077
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    There may be more than just the gas valve and ignition module to consider.

    Your new boiler may have an electronic LWCO and motorized flue damper.

    What I have done for furnaces and 120 volt water pumps is to convert them to cord connected appliances.

    Then outside generator with extension cord thru the window could power things as needed, including fridge and freezer.

    A UPS backup might work for the steam boiler.

    It would give you clean power for the electronics also.
    veteransteamhvac
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
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    Just have to figure out which boiler. So far I have a Utica 1603, and Williamson(Size not sure).
  • veteransteamhvac
    veteransteamhvac Member Posts: 73
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    JUGHNE said:

    ....
    Your new boiler may have an electronic LWCO and motorized flue damper.

    What I have done for furnaces and 120 volt water pumps is to convert them to cord connected appliances.
    .....
    A UPS backup might work for the steam boiler.

    This is my personal solution. Cord connected to UPS. I actually experienced a 2 day winter power outage about 15 years ago and the UPS solution worked perfectly. So nice to have comfortable heat with no worries about the power coming back on. And it was cold! My neighbors who had converted to forced air were SOL. Only caveat being my previous boiler had no motorized flue damper nor LWCO. Current boiler is still standing pilot but I haven't tested the drawdown of the UPS power with those items attached.
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,117
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    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,117
    edited October 2022
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    To go the next step change the electronic LWCO to one of these: https://www.supplyhouse.com/Mcdonnell-Miller-149400-67-Float-Type-Low-Water-Cut-off-Steam
    Then your new heater will be completely off the grid.

    I have the wiring diagram if you need it.

    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

  • JakeCK
    JakeCK Member Posts: 1,357
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    109A_5 said:
     Also converting twice (if heat in your home is your only goal) is also wasteful. First conversion, 12 VDC (the battery) to 120 VAC (with an inverter or UPS) then, Second conversion, 120 VAC to 24 VAC (a transformer) all is a heat waste by the conversion equipment and will reduce the run time of the batteries. 
    Claiming it is waste heat is like claiming heat off an incandescent bulb is waste in the middle of January. 

    It is not.

    An inverter and battery is a simple and quick solution that anyone with a half way decently equiped and supplied garage can pull of in a few minutes. 

    All one needs is a boiler where it has a corded appliance plug instead of being hardwired to j-box. Even that can be changed in a few minutes by someone who has a basic understanding of wiring. 
    EdTheHeaterMan
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,117
    edited October 2022
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    JakeCK said:


    109A_5 said:

     
    Also converting twice (if heat in your home is your only goal) is also wasteful. First conversion, 12 VDC (the battery) to 120 VAC (with an inverter or UPS) then, Second conversion, 120 VAC to 24 VAC (a transformer) all is a heat waste by the conversion equipment and will reduce the run time of the batteries. 

    Claiming it is waste heat is like claiming heat off an incandescent bulb is waste in the middle of January. 

    It is not.

    An inverter and battery is a simple and quick solution that anyone with a half way decently equiped and supplied garage can pull of in a few minutes. 

    All one needs is a boiler where it has a corded appliance plug instead of being hardwired to j-box. Even that can be changed in a few minutes by someone who has a basic understanding of wiring.


    You need to cut @109A_5 a little slack. He is the self proclaimed Short Circuit expert. The whole wasting energy thing might be out of his area of expertise.

    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,077
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    The reason I mention the vent damper, LWCO and ignition control isn't the added VA load, it is just that the electronics would require clean 120 VAC.

    If it came down to the UPS supply getting low I suppose one could open the vent damper manually and lock it open. That is probably the largest load of the items mentioned above.

    And you can take the UPS somewhere to charge it as the battery level drops.
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
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    All these changes are great,but do they fall within MA laws under the electrical and plumbing codes ? I'm sure they are all easily done If you know how, or If you happened to be a contractor.
    Would a competent electrician know how to wire up an inverter ? I know the plumber wouldn't, because I asked. Just getting a contractor to actually give me an estimate seems to be difficult to say the least.
    It appears I'll have to try other contractors as well.
    So far the one and only one to give an estimate is good ,but am I wrong thinking 3 is the magic number?
    All I know is winter is coming, and I would like to have heat.
  • JakeCK
    JakeCK Member Posts: 1,357
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    The only change that you would need to make is for the boiler to have a three prong 15amp appliance cord instead of being hardwired. Any competent HVAC technician should be able to do that as some boilers and furnaces actually come that way. And I'm not familiar with the laws in MA, but I can not see how it is against code anywhere. Other then that we are literally talking about a UPS for a PC that can be purchased at any office supply store or just a decent inverter with battery clamps and a 12v car battery, preferably an AGM battery. 


    And I wonder if anyone has used a lithium Ion battery for a camper... those have much wider duty cycles.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,447
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    The potential code problem with the just plug it in idea is that a boiler is usually classed as a fixed appliance -- and in some jurisdictions the AHJ will insist on that being hard wired on an independent circuit with an appropriate emergency switch (or switches). It varies. You might be able to get away with having any plug within reach of the cord wired on that independent circuit, with the required emergency shutoff switches. You might not.

    Any competent electrician would know the local codes and, if it is permitted, just about do the job in his or her sleep.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JakeCK
    JakeCK Member Posts: 1,357
    edited October 2022
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    I get the independent circuit requirement. That's easy. A single outlet mounted to the side of the boiler. An unplugged appliance is a better emergency shutoff then a fancy red light switch in my opinion. 

    But yes if the ahj say it must be so, it must be so. Unless one wants to fight city hall. 

    Personally I think most ahj are idiots who probably got the job because they had a family member do them a favor. Lol
    BobC
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,077
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    Does anyone know of any actual danger/hazard from doing the appliance cord?

    We have all seen more hacker work that is much worse.

    You can get a 3' 14 gauge power cord, as for a garbage disposer and change the disconnect switch to an outlet. If you have a remote emergency switch outside the room it would shut off the outlet if needed.

    I am almost more familiar with the NEC than I want to be.
    I have done this on new installs that require inspection, my AHJ understands the situation and allows it.

    How often would any AHJ visit your basement?

    Power vented water heaters come with a power cord, how about HP water heaters if 120 VAC?

    I did the power cord on the furnace in my rental house.
    The tenant has a portable generator (would be outside) and is concerned about losing power.

    He indicated he would wire the furnace to it himself......this could be a little sketchy and I can imagine a back feed into the house or worse.

    Now he can power the furnace and power vented WH as and if needed.
    ethicalpaul
  • PMJ
    PMJ Member Posts: 1,265
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    It really is worth it to get a small gas generator and wire it through a 240 breaker in the main house panel. In a power outage what about your refrigerator? Don't you want to keep that on too? That requires very little power and the steam boiler next to nothing so a small unit will power those easily. When you connect to the main panel everything inside the house remains as normal except that you can't run everything all at once. But every light will work etc. Best way to go. You won't regret spending the money.

    The wiring is simple, safe, and inexpensive.
    1926 1000EDR Mouat 2 pipe vapor system,1957 Bryant Boiler 463,000 BTU input, Natural vacuum operation with single solenoid vent, Custom PLC control
    TonKapecmsg
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,077
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    I agree with PMJ on all he posted........HOWEVER.....

    You need a transfer switch to disconnect your power company from your generator.
    Without that you may be trying to backfeed the entire grid.

    Your 240 volts could, by passing backwards thru the utility transformer, turn into 7200 volts on the outside system, at best it would cook your generator....at worst linemen have been killed by this method.

    When we are in storm weather and likely to have power failures, there are PSA's on the radio warning of this situation.

    Our rural REA's install a double throw double pole transfer switch with the meter (all in a single box on the pole) as a standard for all installations.
    They are assuming farmers/ranchers will have a standby power generator, and if they did not have this as a standard installation practice there would be all forms of electrical hacking.....rural folks are just that way.
  • JakeCK
    JakeCK Member Posts: 1,357
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    In addition to a transfer switch a listed interlock bolted on to the main panel is also acceptable by code, and allows you to pick and choose which circuits you want to power. Just remember to keep the limits of the generator in mind. Obviously you won't be able to run your 240v 50amp stove with a 30amp generator. Maybe a burner or two but don't plan on cooking Christmas dinner...
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,077
    edited October 2022
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    Good time to have a gas range or cooktop.

    On this site, or perhaps some other, someone in a long term power outage, posted that the neighbors wanted to use his gas cooktop.

    The neighbor had gas also, but he said when he turned it on "it wouldn't light....he could only smell gas". :|
    Apparently the "clicker" wouldn't work and he did not understand that.
    Maybe never had to light an outside grill.

    Keep in mind that these people are among us.
    JakeCK
  • JakeCK
    JakeCK Member Posts: 1,357
    edited October 2022
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    The battery died in my propane grill once. I didn't have any new batteries on hand and I really wanted my grilled steak. 

    And it was winter, probably why the battery was dead.

    Lighters are such a handy little tool. 
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
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    I think the Inverter or change to millivolt changeover is the way to go. But again I'm not sure If a changeover to a different gas valve is legal. That leaves the inverter which seems a great way to go, but I'm not sure If I could actually do it myself. I know a contractor could do it with there eyes closed. How about an electrician for the inverter? BTW thanks for all the great ideas, I would never have thought of them thats for sure.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,447
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    An electrician should be able to hook up an inverter from your 12 volt or whatever battery.

    The main thing, as @JUGHNE said, is to avoid any possibility of backfeeding the grid (not only will it blow the breakers on your generator, it will re-energize the grid, and linemen don't like that much), and there are a number of ways to do that.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • PMJ
    PMJ Member Posts: 1,265
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    The panel must have an interlock which makes it impossible to have the utility main and the 240 breaker to the generator closed at the same time. I had my whole panel replaced with one made for this.

    If the panel configuration has a 2 pole breaker directly opposite the main breaker then an inexpensive interlock can be installed between them.

    By "safe", this is what I meant. Not optional.



    1926 1000EDR Mouat 2 pipe vapor system,1957 Bryant Boiler 463,000 BTU input, Natural vacuum operation with single solenoid vent, Custom PLC control
    JakeCKpecmsg
  • JakeCK
    JakeCK Member Posts: 1,357
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    Here is the interlock on my panel.
    CLamb
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
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    Could you do the cord plugin with the inverter as well? If I unplug from house current and plug boiler into my inverter, that should eliminate the possibility of backfeeding into the grid.
  • dabrakeman
    dabrakeman Member Posts: 556
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    Roughly what size inverter would be needed to run eg-65 gas boiler with electronic ignition, probe LWCO and auto damper? I.e. 1500W (3000W surge) sufficient?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,447
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    Should be
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    dabrakeman
  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 1,343
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    One of the problems with some of these solutions is they don't get exercised, or the operator forgets how to use them in the"heat" of the moment.
    I had a personal experience of trying to start my neighbor's generator at -10f during an 8 hour power outage. 14 horse briggs, elec start. It involved multiple trips trudging through the snow back and forth to my house to get the either bunny, battery jump pack, and finally jumper cables and a running vehicle. Can you drive up to your generator? In the snow? I don't give up easily, and finally got it started 7 hours into the 8 hour outage.
    One solution that has not been mentioned yet is the Ryobi 40 volt inverter.
    https://www.homedepot.com/p/RYOBI-40V-1800-Watt-Portable-Battery-Power-Station-Inverter-Generator-and-4-Port-Charger-with-2-6-0-Ah-Batteries-RYi1802B6/308738209
    Not cheap, but if you use or are considering battery lawn and garden tools such as a:
    • lawn mower
    • chainsaw
    • leaf blower
    • hedge trimmer
    • weed wacker
    then the Ryobi 40v inverter may be for you. Since they all take the same 40 volt battery and you are using them regularly, the chances of you having charged batteries in the event of an emergency is pretty good. It is not a UPS and will not fail over.
    Far easier to swap batteries between the weed wacker and the inverter than your car and the inverter. I am an experienced car battery swapper. Been there, done that, and have the tee shirt with battery acid holes.
    If you have a limited budget, and go with the garden variety inverter, you can run that off a battery jump pack.
    I DIY.
  • PMJ
    PMJ Member Posts: 1,265
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    WMno57 said:

    One of the problems with some of these solutions is they don't get exercised, or the operator forgets how to use them in the"heat" of the moment.

    Good point. My generator is just outside the garage in a weatherproof sound box. I start and run for half an hour once a month. All in a bit pricey but way less than commercial whole house unit. The box cost more than the generator, but much quieter(same levels as commercial units) so neighbors are happy.

    Many more outages than when I was a kid here but then 50-60 years grows a lot of tree so there are lots more limbs way above the wires now.

    1926 1000EDR Mouat 2 pipe vapor system,1957 Bryant Boiler 463,000 BTU input, Natural vacuum operation with single solenoid vent, Custom PLC control
  • Dan_NJ
    Dan_NJ Member Posts: 247
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    WMno57 said:


    ...
    Far easier to swap batteries between the weed wacker and the inverter than your car and the inverter. I am an experienced car battery swapper. Been there, done that, and have the tee shirt with battery acid holes.

    My "car battery" solution uses a sealed AGM battery. No spill and up to 400 charge/discharge cycles at 80% depth of discharge (more if you go easier on it). It's only a car battery when the car battery goes dead unexpectedly. My particular model is around 55 Amp hours capacity, so in terms of $$/ah it's a pretty decent deal.

    ethicalpaul
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
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    At least now I know it will be a Williamson. Thats something!
  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 1,343
    edited October 2022
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    @brucem , you had a couple of posts where you had concerns about the electrician installing the inverter and battery. The inverter and battery are not permanently installed. Those two items can be bought at walmart and stored away until you need them. The battery does have to be charged monthly.
    With the exception of the Ryobi 40v inverter, I've owned and used all the above. Currently have a Generac 16KW natural gas permanently installed genset. Purchased by the previous owner. I don't like it. Too big, too loud, costs too much to run. It is an overly expensive glorified lawn mower engine.
    I DIY.
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
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    But If I do use an inverter, when I do have the Boiler wired I should have it done as a plug? So I can then plug the boiler into the inverter, correct ?
  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 1,343
    edited October 2022
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    @brucem , yes having the installer wire the boiler with a plug will allow you to run off an inverter.
    Dan_NJ said:

    I have an inlet in the boiler circuit so I can feed 120v AC directly to it. There's a three way switch controlling whether the feed is from line voltage, inlet, or off.

    Dan's setup with a three way switch will also allow running off an inverter. There will be an outlet on the wall with a covered male plug. You would use a normal male to female extension cord to connect the inverter.
    Explain to the sales person and installer that you want to be able to run JUST THE BOILER off a small portable inverter or generator. Insist they pull a permit. They should have a relationship with the town's inspector where they can all agree how this should be done so it meets local electrical codes.
    I DIY.
  • Long Beach Ed
    Long Beach Ed Member Posts: 1,212
    edited November 2022
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    We offer some gas boiler customers an electric backup. We wire into the boiler input a selector switch and a male connector, as used for a 120V trailer shore cable. They can plug in a generator or a "solar generator" for backup after isolating the power line from the boiler with the switch.


    The "Solar Generators" are nothing more than a lithium ion battery pack with a small inverter. Jackery (China) makes a nice line of them in several sizes. This is easier than wiring up a separate battery, charger and inverter and the little self contained battery pack / inverter can be used for camping or other power purposes too.

    We find that a gas boiler with thermostat, relay, low water cutoff and draft damper draws about 24 watts. A 300 watt-hour battery pack solar generator will fire that boiler continuously for 10 hours. That's 20 hours' use in 30 degree weather. Units rated for 500 and 1000 watt-hours are also available.

    That Jackery solar generator costs $300 and can be charged in five hours with a $300 solar panel or can be plugged into the wall or gas generator to charge in five hours.

    The package is offered with new boilers, and the inspectors here in NYC are fine with it.

    New York is considering pulling "rolling blackouts" to encourage "green energy acceptance" so it's an easy sale.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,737
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    > Jackery (China)

    Every brand (China)
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Long Beach Ed