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Silent But Effective Backup Power

In the last month, major storms have swept through the Washington area, leaving thousands of homes without power.

Although being without power pales next to the devastation and deaths caused by a tornado, the storms have led many homeowners to consider generators and other methods of provide power in their homes in the event of an outage.

One Potomac, Md., resident turned the challenge of backup power into a growing business.

“I'm my own customer,” said Fred Banner, who started Banner Power Co. Inc. “I live on septic and well, and I didn’t want to sleep with [the noise of] a generator on, so I started assembling equipment for my own house.”

What Banner assembled was a bank of batteries that look something like car batteries, with a system that silently, automatically and instantaneously switches power in the house over to the backup system in the event of a power outage.

The system worked so well for Banner, he decided others might be interested as well.

“After I realized no one else was doing this, I turned it into a business,” he said.

Banner’s backup power systems are in place in homes, banks and police stations, among other places.

BOTH PEPCO and Dominion Virginia Power companies encourage their customers to consider owning backup generators to provide power in the event of an outage. Both companies say that besides providing for necessities like water and the ability to flush the toilet, and basics like heat, air conditioning and refrigeration — greater reliance on technology drives demand for reliable backup power.

“With today's high-tech lifestyles, more homeowners are purchasing generators than ever before,” says Pepco on its Web site, along with advice on hooking up a generator. “Homeowners want the security of a reliable power supply all the time, even during power emergencies.”

POWERING SENSITIVE electronics motivates some homeowners to seek a more high-tech kind of backup power than a generator. When the power goes off, a generator must be wheeled into place, plugged in and started. If it’s out of gas, it won’t work. And while it’s working, it makes a racket so significant, Pepco warns, that some areas have noise ordinances that could affect the operation of a generator.

For Michael Rozenman, an executive at AOL in Loudoun County, Va., providing power for sensitive electronic equipment led him to choose Banner’s backup system.

“If there is a power outage, it kicks in within 30 milliseconds,” Rozenman said. “I have some very sensitive electronic equipment that I didn't want to get fried.”

Among that equipment is a fully equipped media room. “If I am watching a movie and the power outage occurs while I am watching, I don't even know there is a power outage.”

Rozenman researched generators and other alternatives before choosing the Banner system, partly on recommendations from fellow AOL executives.

“Mr. Banner's technology is completely noise free,” Rozenman said. “With some other systems, if the power outage occurs at night, the system could wake you up. It might even wake your neighbors up.”

The battery-powered system has no moving parts, he points out.

RENAISSANCE HOMES recently began offering the Banner Power system as an option in all of its new homes, in part because houses over $1 million include a lot of amenities that won’t work without power, said Julia Pratt, design director at the company’s Oakton design center.

“Most of our homes have ovens that are computerized. It’s important to be able to open the garage door, or operate a security system, if the juice goes off,” Pratt said. “Wine cellars full of expensive white and red wines” are another reason to have backup power, she said.

New homes under construction in Loudoun County, Va., are on well and septic, making backup power that much more important, Pratt said. More wooded parts of Loudoun, Great Falls and Potomac tend to have more frequent power outages, especially during storms that can bring down trees and tree limbs on power lines.

The less expensive alternative of a generator doesn’t have much appeal to Renaissance’s homebuyers, Pratt said.

“Generators are incredibly noisy, and big and ugly and noisy, and give out after a few years,” Pratt said.

The optional Banner system would add about $20,000 to the price of a new home, she said. A generator can cost $1,400 and up.

Banner’s connection to Washington Gas, which recommends his system to its customers, was important to Renaissance, Pratt said.

SECURITY SYSTEMS are critical to some, like members of the Saudi Royal family, who use Banner’s backup system to ensure infrared security cameras on the perimeter of their property continue to run in all conditions. Powering automatic fences and gates was another reason they wanted an automatic backup system.

“The key to [a battery backup system] is that it is installed indoors, is silent and seamless,” said Mark Fink of Dominion Virginia Power, who was not familiar with the Banner system. “What I mean by ‘seamless’ is that it transfers over, in the case of a power outage, so fast that you may never know you had an outage.”