I work in a home office, in a town where power outages are not at all unusual. Just the other day, a healthy thunderstorm rolled through in the early evening and, sure enough, the lights flickered a few times. Once it was long enough to knock out the router that supplies my Internet and Wi-Fi connections. I knew immediately because I subscribe to an online music service (Rhapsody– could not love it more) and use a wireless music player to stream it throughout the house((Sonos, also wonderful). When the music stopped, I knew the router had shut down.

It came back on again in just a minute or two – no big deal, really. But this was dinner time. But this was dinner time. Had I been at work, and if the outage had been longer, it could’ve really put a damper on my productivity for the day. My laptop would still run for a few hours, but I wouldn’t be able to use the external monitor and my VOIP-based phone service would be useless, as would Skype. And of course, I’d have no Internet connection. I’d be on a virtual island, probably trying to make do with my smart phone.

I needed to replace my old UPS, so it was with great interest that today I read a piece in a forthcoming issue of APC Currents magazine entitled “How to pick a UPS for your home office.” In short, the piece says to consider four items when choosing a UPS for home office use: sizing, runtime, management and energy efficiency, and data line surge protection.

APC has anonline tool that helps with the sizing issue, enabling you to enter the load capacity of the devices you want to protect, by the type and number of devices. To do the former, you need to check out the nameplate information on each device, which typically lists its power draw in terms of Watts (W) and volt-amperes (VA).

In terms of runtime, the idea is to allow enough so that your equipment can ride through at least shorter outages. And most are just that – the article says 90% of outages are less than 5 minutes. If you know you frequently have outages of a longer duration, go for a larger UPS that offers more runtime.

Management and energy efficiency is where things get interesting. Many devices in a home office aren’t really used all that much, such as printers and scanners. Yet they still draw a bit of power even when they’re in hibernate mode. Devices such as the APC by Schneider ElectricBack-UPS Proenable you to turn off such devices and eliminate these so-called “vampire loads.” And should the blackout outlast the runtime of your UPS, it comes with software that will gracefully shut down applications and equipment so you don’t lose any work or data.

Finally, UPSs should also protect against data line surges. Finally, UPSs should also protect against data line surges. A decent power strip will protect against AC line surges, but surges can also come through Ethernet cables, CATV links and phone lines. So you need a UPS that provides appropriate protection depending on how you connect your computer and networking devices to the Internet.

Here in New England where I live, summertime is thunderstorm season. But before long it’ll be winter, when things can really get hairy and any decent snowstorm can mean a power outage. I’ll certainly be in the market for a new UPS before then.