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Taking Care of your deep cycle batteries

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By Ray - Posted on 05 June 2009

Below is a good article on taking care of your batteries.

>>> The battery cabling connections should be kept clean and tight at all times, and inspected at least annually. Anti-corrosion chemicals can be used to keep them clean and fit; petroleum jelly works well.

>>> All new batteries should be fully charged prior to use.

>>> New batteries need to be gently cycled several times before reaching full capacity (20 to 50 cycles, depending on what kind of batteries you have). Like a new car, do not work them too hard during this "breaking-in" period.

>>> Always wear protective goggles and gloves—and old clothes—when maintaining your batteries. When maintaining your batteries, it's not a bad idea to cover all the batteries with canvas or an old blanket, save for the battery you're servicing. A dropped wrench could change your perspective REALLY quickly!

>>> Use only distilled water to replenish batteries.

>>> Add distilled water AFTER charging; the plates should be covered by approximately 1/8" of acid. Check levels after charging. The acid level should be 1/4" below the bottom of the fill well in the cell cover.

>>> Batteries should never be discharged below *80% of their rated capacity. Shallow cycling of your deep cycle batteries will promote battery longevity (*some batteries can be regularly taken to an even greater depth of discharge without damaging the plates).

>>> The maintenance requirements of older batteries change. This means longer charging times, and probably higher finishing amperage. Older batteries will need more water, and their capacity will decline.

>>> Avoid charging at temperatures above 120°F or higher! And be careful above 100°F. The ideal temperatures for batteries are 55-80°F. In below freezing temps it will take more power to charge your batteries, as cold batteries have a greater self-discharge rate. Liquid lead-acid cells should be protected from freezing. At high temps gassing is excessive and you may have to add more distilled water to maintain your cells. Batteries basically like the same temperatures that we do. Too hot or too cold is hard on them!

>>> All deep cycle batteries (excepting gel cells or certain glass mat technologies) should be equalized on a regular basis. This is a "controlled overcharging" which removes sulfates off of the plates and mixes it back with the electrolyte. It helps keep individual cells in balance. A battery bank should be equalized at least every three months; certain electronic regulators automatically equalize your batteries every two to four weeks. Some manufacturers feel that heavily used batteries should be equalized once a week to once a month. Equalizing produces gassing--which consumes water; add distilled water as needed after equalizing.

>>> Where multiple batteries are in series, parallel, or series/parallel, do not mix batteries differing in age, size or usage level. Your best batteries will operate only at the capacity of your poorest or oldest cells. When purchasing batteries, plan on their longevity, and upgrade as needed at the end of their expected life span. If you add new batteries to old, expect them to perform at the capacity of your poorest or oldest cells.

>>>Do not equalize sealed or gel-type batteries! Their upper voltage range is around 13.8 to 13.9V. Higher charging rates will shorten their life span significantly--or just kill them quick.

>>> Use a hydrometer—a tool to test the specific gravity of each cell in your battery—to give you an indication of the quality of each cell and true charge level. A good time to do this is after equalization; a written record is handy, to compare results with previous equalizations and to keep an eye on any cells that may be a problem in the future. A weak battery can cause premature failure of companion batteries--or simply pull the efficiency of your entire system down. If you don't check and maintain your batteries, you will never know what problem cells you may have. Don't call your service person about a problem without a basic check of battery condition.

>>> Match your voltage charger to the size of your battery bank; you will not be happy with the performance of an undersized charger, and an oversized charger can cause excessive heat and gassing—and even a deadly explosion or other problems. With certain grid-tie applications, folks are using a minimal battery bank with a utility-tie sine wave inverter. Make sure you are really taking care of your batteries--they are the buffer between your DC charging sources and utility power.

>>> Bring your lead acid batteries up to full charge as soon as you can; using them in a partially discharged condition will compromise their longevity and reduce their capacity. If you are using you batteries hard in a home power system, they should be brought up to a full state of charge at least once to twice a week

>>> Inactivity can kill a lead acid battery. If seasonal usage is mandated, try the following:

1. Completely charge the battery before storing.

2. Remove all electrical connections from the battery.

3. Store the battery in as cool a place as possible—but not below 32°F. The colder the temperatures, the more the rate of self-discharge.

4. When not in use, boost with a charge every two months or so; or, buy a small (10 watt or less) solar module (per battery) to "trickle charge" your battery.

>>> Batteries like the same temperature range we do; extreme temperatures can negatively affect battery performance and charging. Cold reduces capacity and retards charging. High temperatures increase water usage, gassing, and can result in extremely unsafe conditions.

>>> When a battery is charging, hydrogen and oxygen are being liberated. These gases will burn—explosively! Keep matches, cigarettes, fire and sparks of all kinds away from a charging battery. Sometimes batteries are kept in the power shed with a generator---make certain one doesn't ignite the other. Proper venting of both parties will prevent problems.

>>>Liquid acid batteries emit hydrogen sulfide gas; they should be in a vented, enclosed battery box. A pipe or stack coming out of the highest point of your battery box will suffice; the taller the pipe, the greater the "stack effect". Passive venting will work fine in a well designed box, as the hydrogen gas is lighter than air and will naturally rise to the highest point in the box. We have some "generic" battery box designs we can mail or fax you. Do not place any electronics directly into the battery box, as the fumes are corrosive.

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