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Small inverter for emergencies

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Posted by Gordon on December 18, 2006, 2:53 am

I have seen these small inverters, mostly Coleman brand in 200W,
400W and 800W sizes.  I always thought it would be nice to have
one on hand in case of a power outage.  Well, a few days ago we
had a power outage that lasted about 20 hours.  And all the time
I kept thinking "Gee it would be nice to have one of those small
inverters right about now".  BUt, I had not researched the idea
so I did not want to spend money on somthing that would not be
completely usefull.

What I have in mind is to clip the thing to the battery of my car.
Run the car on a fast idle to keep the battery charged.  Run an
extension cord into the house and plug a few things in to get
lights, TV, computer, maybe even run the fridge a bit.  Not
necessarily all at the same time.

So my question is how much power can a Nissan Altima be expected
to supply. And how big (and what brands) of inverters can drive
a rather generic refrigerator for (say) 30 minutes at a time.
I've heard that motors have a difficult time running on inverters.

BTW: I am not about to go rewireing the house or installing a
permenent backup system since this is a rental.  Maybe later
when it is my own house.

Posted by clare at snyder.on.ca on December 18, 2006, 3:13 am


GOOD inverters generally have a "surge" rating of up to double the
steady rating. Many are closer to 160%.
Many refrigerators will draw over double their running current to
start (short spike, but enough to shut down many inverters)
Anything less than an 800 watt unit is really dreaming.

At idle your car can likely put out something like 35-40% of rated
output, which should handle an 800 watt unit.

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Posted by Gordon on December 18, 2006, 3:47 am

Thanks for the quick reply


That's what I thought.  TV, A couple of CFL lamps. that only
adds up to a few 100 watts.  With the TV taking most of it.
BTW: I would be more intrested in the TV for news updates.  I
don't normaly watch the thing anyway.  It's running the fridge
that I was worried about. I was thinking about unplugging
everything else and running the fridge for about 30 minutes
every few hours.

So it sounds like a well made 800 watt unit or a not so well made
1200 Watt unit (acording to another post) should work OK.
Any advise on brands names to look for??

Posted by Ulysses on December 23, 2006, 4:02 am

For cheap inverters I've had pretty good luck with Vector.  Stay away from
anything that says "Coleman" or "Galaxy" on it.  As soon as you get it make
sure it will run your fridge.  Some, such as Coleman, are overrated.  I had
one that was rated 400 watts that would not run stuff my very old 300 watt
inverter would.  I have a 1500 watt Vector Marine that I got on eBay for
only about $08.  It will handle my 24 cu/ft fridge or a small microwave but
I have 440 amp hours of batteries.  You need to have enough power supplied
to your inverter in order to get the watts out of it.  A small car battery
and alternator might not quite make it.

Posted by somebody on December 18, 2006, 3:25 am


You would want at least a 1200 watt inverter to power a generic
fridge.  (BTDT) If you have the alternator supplying roughly 500 watts
into the battery on a fairly continuous basis, then yeah, it could
work, even though it is terribly inefficient.

Be aware that you'll need something to push on the accelerator or grab
the cable to get that fast idle, and that your mechanic probably won't
like the idea, because cars and alternators aren't designed for that
type of duty.

A fridge can easily go a couple of days without power - especially if
you drape it with some blankets.  For emergency lighting?  Walgreens
has battery powered LED booklights for sale right now, 2 for $.  They
provide plenty of long lasting light and can be clipped or mounted
wherever you need it.

Laptops need minimal power, so unless you absolutely must have a big
computer, that can be a great option.  

On the refrigerator, one trick can be to freeze blocks of ice in
cut-off milk jugs to increase the thermal mass, then after a day or
two without power add salt, to melt them and absorb more heat.

TV?  One of the plusses of being without power is the absence of tv,
but little battery tvs are available for about $0.

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