Debunking and Solving Battery Myths and Mysteries

Today’s security operations feature more combinations of different types of batteries than ever before. They are used in a variety of equipment, from two-way radios and cordless hammer drills to miniature wireless door contacts and two-way audio alarm remotes to backup for power supplies.

Alarm dealers, technicians, guard supervisors and security directors need to understand how these different battery technologies operate. Consider the following five mysterious scenarios:

Mystery No. 1 — A security director could not understand why the new radios for his guard force had to have their rechargeable batteries replaced after only 12 months.

Mystery No. 2 — On the other hand, an integration installation team literally abused its radios; left them on when working on the jobsite; used them all the time; and often never had to replace a battery.

Mystery No. 3 — A customer had a fire in which a local battery-operated smoke detector did not sound. It was found that the detector’s lithium battery was dead. No 30-day, low-battery warning was heard.

Mystery No. 4 — A wireless door alarm transmitter reported a low battery to the central station. The customer was out of town and the alarm company could not service the transmitter for a couple of weeks. The customer had a break-in and no alarm was reported. It was later found that the transmitter’s battery was dead only a few days after a low-battery signal.

Mystery No. 5 — A residential alarm system has been working fine for many years. It is summer and the lightning season. All of a sudden, the customer experiences a high false alarm rate. The pattern is intermittent, so the technician changes out the panel’s circuit board assuming that lightning has damaged it. The false alarm problem reappears after a few weeks. The panel checks out OK when the site is revisited.

What happened in all these cases? Let us take a moment to look at some of the types of batteries we can expect to run across in daily security operations and installations. In doing so, we will solve these mysteries. Batteries Fall Into 2 Main Categories
The two main types of batteries are primary and secondary. Primary batteries can be used one time and then must be discarded. Secondary can be recharged many times

Alkaline batteries are still used in some wireless security equipment. They are economical, handle low-current devices well, have a low shelf-discharge rate (10 years), and a predictable and gradual discharge rate.

Lithium batteries are the most popular primary batteries used today in wireless security equipment. They have a high density, very long shelf life (20 years) and keep their voltage up high until close to the end of the battery’s life. You will notice, however, (see diagram on page 30 of print magazine) the rapid final decline in voltage vs. an alkaline battery.

One longtime, popular category of secondary, rechargeable batteries is the nickel-cadmium, or NiCad, battery. This is a rugged, long-life, economical battery. It is also one of the most misunderstood batteries when it comes to demanding applications like two-way radios and cordless power tools. NiCad batteries require a periodic full discharge of the battery to counter what some refer to as the “memory effect.” This is the problem in Mysteries 1 and 2.

SLA Batteries Popular for Panels
The real workhorse battery for many years in the security industry has been, and still is, the sealed lead acid battery, or SLA. It has proven to be a reliable, economic battery for power backup in alarm panels. SLA batteries should arrive from the distributor fully charged and should always be stored fully charged. If they are stored and not fully charged, a condition called sulfation will occur making the battery very difficult, if not impossible, to recharge.

SLA batteries like to have a long 8-16 hour float charge to keep them healthy. Many large system power supplies have adjustable charging voltages. Make sure that the charging level is adjusted properly (about 2.4V/cell) as high voltage can shorten the battery’s life as well.

Mystery No. 5 could have been from an old SLA battery that could not hold a charge when power was lost to the panel. The technician changed out boards but used the same bad battery. Unfortunately, some alarm companies avoid programming for low-voltage or power-fail monitoring as they tie up phone traffic on large area power outages.

No Need to Discharge Lithium-Ion
I have saved the hottest rechargeable battery technology for last. Many have experienced the evolution of the lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which is now popular in high-demand devices such as laptops. The battery’s technology has come a long way. They are lightweight, of high density and discharge flatly like we discussed earlier.

Within the past year, power tool manufacturers such as Milwaukee Tool, DeWalt and Makita have come out with some really high performance lithium cordless drills. Some even have LED indicators on the power packs to show how much power is left before the dreaded lithium voltage drop-off. There are no memory problems with lithium batteries, as with the NiCad.

With all the many types of batteries, it is important to upgrade your battery tester to cover all the special battery test ranges. Basic multibattery testers can be found for less than $20. However, you may want to check out a battery analyzer (see photo in print version of magazine) that will let you know the charge status and health of batteries you are about to install. That’s right; test them out of the box, as you don’t know how long and at what temperature they were stored. It might save a service call later.

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