What type of house battery is best?

Batteries, Generators, Solar, Wind and Electronics
Mike Holibar
Posts: 174
Joined: Mon Jun 01, 2009 12:41 am

What type of house battery is best?

Post by Mike Holibar »

Hi all,
My lead acid deep cycle house batteries are dying and must be replaced. I have fairly simple electrical requirements and the charge system is basic. i.e a 105 amp alternator with adjustable regulator driven off the engine. This feeds first the start battery then through a VSR goes to windlass battery, then another VSR to house bank 3 x 80AH. Airex wind generator with its own regulator goes straight to house bank as does towed genrator. A mains powered charger with settings for gel etc and voltage adjustable 13.2, 13.5, and 13.8 of approx 50A capacity is also fitted. I have been told by some that Gel batteries have a wider range of operation from charged to discharge and that these batteries accept a charge more readily than lead acid, meaning less engine running time to recharge. Others disagree. Sealed lead acid or AGM seem to have some advantages but need good regulation as over charging can apparently dry them out. What do you guys think.

Thanks, Mike.
Mike Holibar
S/V Fyne Spirit of Plymouth (Freedom 39PHS-1989)
Lyttelton
New Zealand

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OldRover
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Location: New York, NY

Re: What type of house battery is best?

Post by OldRover »

Since I have no batteries I am purchasing all new. My plan was to immediately start with three - one start and two house. I'll most likely add another when I start using the windlass and use as a backup. I am going with the Optima blue top D31M (I think this is a case of bigger is better). I have had great success with these compared to lead-acid. I'd agree they cycle better and run down slower. Plus they do not need to be vented which means much safer, won't promote corrosion in the compartment, and can be mounted any way you like (even upside-down) which means no spills/leaks. I have found that they respond well to low amp trickle chargers (as opposed to 'hot shot') if you have shore power, so wind and tow-behinds should work well too. I had one on a small boat for over five years. Not much electric use, but was only charged by the tiny generator on the kicker and once by a shore 'freshen up'. It still held a good charge when it left me, maybe still going strong. After that I never looked at another lead-acid. So my vote is thumbs up for the gel even though a little more pricey. Just the safety and cleanliness is worth the extra money, but I think the improved performance probably makes the cost a wash over time.
'82 F39 ph

daletournier
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Re: What type of house battery is best?

Post by daletournier »

Hi Mike, I have two 6v golf cart batteries in series. They may not be as sexy as the newer types but they seem to be very tough some people report getting 9 years out of them and there pretty easy to source most places. The main reason i use them is space, you tend to get more amp hours per area than all the other conventional batteries. I have 240amp/hr which are charged 90% of the time from solar and wind.
Cheers Dale Tournier.
Freeform

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THATBOATGUY
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Re: What type of house battery is best?

Post by THATBOATGUY »

I'm with Dale,

Biggest bang for the buck is still golf cart batteries. However... if the bucks are not a factor I'd have some fancy batteries like Rolls or Lifelines. There are 8 of them behind our companionway stairs as I type and they have been in service without a hiccup since 2007 and having a hard usage since last Nov. I left 4 of these hooked up in a boat that was hauled for long term storage once in Florida. I figured I'd replace them before I relaunched the boat anyway. Over a year went by and when I returned to the boat my financial outlook was not so good. Other things took priority. The boat had had a deck leak and soon the bilge pump took the batteries to zero and kept them there... for all those months. I charged them for 24 hours with a 20 amp charger and they all went nicely back into service... for years. And these were costco cheapos not Trojans. I'm a believer.

George
George and Kerri Huffman S/V Marquesa Freedom 40 CC CK Sail MarquesaImage

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GeoffSchultz
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Re: What type of house battery is best?

Post by GeoffSchultz »

Having been through most of the types of batteries listed, I'd go with (1) Gels or (2) AGMs if you have the charging system to support them. I'm currently back on AGMs but wish that I had gone the Gel route.

-- Geoff
BlueJacket
1997 Freedom 40/40
http://www.GeoffSchultz.org

Mike Holibar
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Re: What type of house battery is best?

Post by Mike Holibar »

Geoff,
thanks for your reply. What sort of charging system is required to support Gel or AGM?

Regards,
Mike Holibar
S/V Fyne Spirit of Plymouth (Freedom 39PHS-1989)
Lyttelton
New Zealand

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GeoffSchultz
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Re: What type of house battery is best?

Post by GeoffSchultz »

Mike,

Just make sure that you have an appropriate charge controller on both your inverter/charger, solar/wind (if you have these) and on your alternator.

-- Geoff
BlueJacket
1997 Freedom 40/40
http://www.GeoffSchultz.org

briank1946
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Re: What type of house battery is best?

Post by briank1946 »

Hi Mike

Funny how you and I keep having similar problems. My lead acid batteries (one 80 amp start, 2 x 135 amp house in parallel, one 110 amp house a 'spare') are on their way out after a cold winter here. Charger is an old Mastervolt which still seems to work fine, and an Ampair 100 wind/towed, with a Sterling alternator controller. I really don't know whether to stay cheap and cheerful = lead acid or go for gel or 'better'.

The guy who makes the Sterling charging products has some views on this which are worth reading:
http://www.sterling-power.com/support-faq.htm
He's pretty well respected in the UK.
On balance I think I'll be sticking with lead acid unless I suddenly feel spending on other kit is about to wane - not.

Best wishes

Brian Kerslake
Freedom 39 Pilothouse Schooner (going junk)
Portland Marina (2012 Olympic site), Portland UK

Mike Holibar
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Re: What type of house battery is best?

Post by Mike Holibar »

Hi Brian, good to hear from you.

That was a very interesting read which leads me to lead acid traction or liesure batteries as the mot suitable. Many questions answered and one or two more posed. The original system in Fyne Spirit had a 90 amp alternator with external adjustable regulator connected to two banks, start and house via a make before break 3 way switch. Unable to resist i gave the alternator a tweak taking voltage up to about 14.8v . generally when motoring I would have both banks on chargeand after a few hours running I would get gassing of the batteries. So I would turn off the charge and try to keep a load on the alternator by running various equipemnt. Didn't work that well though, Tended to blow diodes. Now I have a new 105 amp alternator, external regulator and three banks, start, windlass and house. Charging is through two voltage sensitive relays (VSR), first to start, then windlass then house. I think the VSRs operate at 13.5 volts. As I understand it the VSR system works like an overflow, as the start battery reaches 13.5, it switches in the next (windlass) and then switches in the house bank and at this point all batteries are on charge and at the same voltage. With 12 or more hours continuous running at 14.8v, I would be worried about cooking all of the batteries, or was our man saying that a lead acid battery will stop accepting a charge when it reaches 14.8 volt, and can sit at that level without damage.
I think I'll read it again!

regards,
Mike Holibar
S/V Fyne Spirit of Plymouth (Freedom 39PHS-1989)
Lyttelton
New Zealand

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OldRover
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Re: What type of house battery is best?

Post by OldRover »

I few comments. As an electrical engineer my training is more regarding voltage, current, resistance, and power. The Chem Es are the experts with the actual materials selected for batteries. Unfortunately I tend to think of Gels and AGMs synonymously although the AGMs are more advanced and the Optima that I use is an AGM. In the end the type of battery can be debated and what is most important is quality and purity of materials used since you’re dealing with an electro-chemical reaction. So regionally one type of battery may be made by one manufacturer using high quality materials and the other type made by folks using poor quality. Also there is plate size (including thickness), spacing, and even shape (flat, spiral...). Quality is more important than type. But all things being equal I will never have any type of a traditional vented lead-acid battery on my boat. The gases cause too much corrosion (and since there is usually plenty of electrical connections in the battery compartment area you end up with frequently breaking things apart to wire brush and/or sand), the off gassing is a health issue, and at worst can explode. Simply sealing a liquid lead-acid battery isn't a good solution since the electrolyte is designed to off-gas. The fellow from Sterling Power is a little misleading when he said the electrolyte is the same for all types. The additive for the Gel makes a sealed battery possible and the AGMs are even better. As a matter of fact, I am mounting my windlass battery below the v-berth so I only have to run light gauge cable for charging instead of all that heavy gauge. Plus the short distance means less line loss. I’d never do so with a lead-acid. Also, if I were talking to a guy who sells an apple juice maker it would not be surprising he would condemn oranges especially if his juicer works only with apples. Sterling Power’s charger product is a ‘hot shot’ device and cannot be used with Gels and AGMs. In my original post I said they don’t respond well to hot shots, but should have said can be destroyed by them. Oddly, in the Sterling Power write up he implies the Gels/AGMs liked the high voltage chargers, which did not make sense. I'd think they could program the device to provide a good charging cycle for AGMs. The Sterling Power comments regarding cycling are the most misleading. In the end I want a battery that will last 5 years (and hopefully a little more). Cycling needs to be defined. If you are simply saying charge/discharge he is way wrong. If your system plays in the nominal 12V range and cycles between 10-14V, the AGM will outlast the lead-acid. If you mean running dead and recharging, his numbers seem exaggerated, but is correct that the lead-acids can be brought back to life more times. Also, AGMs deplete slower, so they fall below 10V less often and therefore ‘cycle’ less. Final comment on the Sterling Power charger product. I am sure it is great for what it was designed for and he is very correct up computer program control (otherwise damage probably would occur). So in that sense it seems like a quality product (impressive product data). Currently I am not too concerned with quick charging and prefer ‘low and slow’. Personally that product and similar will not be use by me, so I am not forced to exclude AGMs. I also do not anticipate running on battery only with heavy draw for longer periods of time.
Also, working voltage should probably be discussed. I too have the old rotating battery selector and am going to upgrade to VSRs which are so much better on many accounts including battery life. To Mike’s last question, basically any 12V battery regardless of type can cook above 14V. Vented batteries have a tiny advantage in that they will off-gas and may simply loose electrolyte which can be replaced and battery charged again. If physical degradation occurs, battery life is negatively affected. 14.8 volts is a little high and I personally would back off just a tad. Usually charging at 14.8-15.6 needs to be limited to short duration (OK, like running the engine). If the battery is close to ‘top’, I would not charge for more than an hour. For a sailboat you probably don’t need to worry. Electronic equipment for the most part uses 5V and some 12V. Usually power is internally massaged, especially for the 5V circuits. Performance and life expectancy should be able to handle some voltage fluctuation, but too much and/or depending on the internal regulator circuitry damage may occur, and too little may (I have had issues below 10V) may degrade performance. Ideally all electrical, electronics, and batteries perform and last great at 12V. Practically there must be some fluctuation. This should be kept to 10-14V. Charging systems should be set close to the upper limit, but not over to avoid issues. Batteries (and power systems) should not fall below the lower limit. Time outside the limits should be limited. If you feel a need for ‘hot shot’ charging, cannot keep voltages below 15V, and/or find you frequently are operating below 10V, the old lead-acid may be best. Otherwise AGMs are the way to go. I like the Optima spiral cell design. I’d suggest looking at the manufacture’s sight and comparing tech sheets for the various choices. The best choice is a compromise of what is available, budget, and your specific working requirements. The term traction battery is more of a usage and not a manufacturing process. You can get an old vented lead-acid traction battery which I personally would not use. There are also more modern sealed traction batteries which are great. I’d love to use a bank of lithium batteries if I had way too much money laying around. Gel or AGM deep cycle are often used as traction batteries. The only difference is the traditional traction battery is designed to be run down (to like below 25%) and then ‘hot shot’ charged and sent back into service. The AGMs should not be depleted that much, nor charged in that fashion. But when sized correctly (OK, maybe physically heavier) AGMs will not be run down that much and can be charged in a ‘freshen up’ fashion. So if you anticipate running heavy loads for longer periods of time with shorter charging times, a traction battery is better. And even the old lead-acid traction batteries will cook if charged over 14V. Its just that almost never happens since they are pulled off the charger prior to overvoltage for long duration, or a ‘smart’ charger is used to drop to a trickle (both lower amps and volts) as full charge is reached. They are not usually charged via an alternator or other method (solar, wind…) which may be longer duration.
Sorry for being so long winded...
'82 F39 ph

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