The Prius powering our home during Hurricane Sandy
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Our town got hit hard during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Our home lost power for almost 2 weeks and I hadn’t purchased a generator for our house. Time to move into a hotel, right?

Nope.

I had a couple of small inverters and a Toyota Prius with a full 10 gallon tank of gas that kept our house lit and computers/phones/internet on for the better part of 2 weeks. I even had enough power for some Halloween lights…

Almost everyone knows DC/AC inverters are good for turning that car cigarette lighter into AC power – the kind that can run a computer, a LCD TV, or most anything else (small) that plugs into a standard 110V wall outlet. These inverters are relatively cheap and a good one will last a long time. Most even add extra USB ports for charging small DC items. Here are some excellent models we can recommend right now:

All 3 of these are great options but I find the Energizer to be unwieldy – it is big and unless you have a lot of room around your lighter, it will be hard to fit in. I love and have long used Bestek Inverters and both of these are great. I feel like the 300W with 2 AC outlets and 2 USB plug is the most realistic. The advantage of the Energizer, though is that it comes in 1 piece and doesn’t have an annoying fan – but that fan is also a good reminder to turn the Besteks off when you don’t need them.

You’ll also need some heavy duty 100/50/25 ft. 15A extension cord to run from your car into your home. You might also want to pick up a power strip – this one has 8 AC outlets, 4 USB outlets and costs $21.99. Also, make sure your car isn’t in your garage or an enclosed space because you WILL KILL YOURSELF WITH CARBON MONOXIDE.

300W will give you about 5 LED lights, a laptop or 2, some smartphones with a few watts left over for making coffee, fanning a wood stove and other light duty tasks. But what if you want to keep your refrigerator cold, run a sub-pump or microwave some food?

Unfortunately, most light duty cars (consult your manual) will have a 10A fuse on the lighter outlets meaning at best you can hope for drawing around 150W of power per lighter. That’s a lot of LED lighting, phones, routers and even a laptop or 2, especially if you have 2 separate fused lighters in your car. But if you want to start moving heat around your house, power a refrigerator or microwave or live anything like normal, you are going to need more power than the lighters in your car can handle.

Jumper inverter

We need to move directly to jumper cable-like connection to the car battery. One option is buying a $5 adapter for the above inverters that goes directly on the battery. That will guarantee you won’t blow a fuse in the car. But you might blow the inverter if it isn’t made to handle the amount of power you are drawing (the Besteks have a breaker which will turn off for a brief time if there is too much draw). You also want to make sure you know your black=negative, red=positive battery poles and your basic Watts=Volts X Amps equation.

Here’s when it is time to step up your inverter game. Most home gas powered generators will hit something like 1000W to 4000W. Most cars’ alternators can handle this kind of output, especially for short spikes, since they have a battery backup and  all of the internal car systems and lights are off.  Here are some good 4+ star large gas generator alternative Inverters for your car:

 

That 15A at 110V extension cable can handle about 1500W of power so if you are going over that make sure to double up your cables into your home. With this type of power, you can hook these up manually and through power strips to individual devices like above or you can do something that requires some technical abilities.

Off Grid:

With the power out, you can switch off your main breaker in your home and run that 110V AC power directly into your home wiring (WARNING: if you don’t shut off that main breaker and go off grid, you could electrocute those electric company guys trying to fix your wires). Obviously your car/inverter isn’t producing as much power as the grid so you are going to want to unplug all but the necessities in your house. Cooking, washing/drying clothes, Air Conditioning and any other big power draws will need to be kept off or used sparingly while the car is powering your house.

That being said, once you are “off grid” by flipping your main breaker switch and connecting your Inverter to your home breaker box through a transfer switch, you can go a few days living a relatively normal existence powered only by your car and an inverter.

You also save a ton of money skipping the expensive, noisy generator that needs maintenance all the time.  You’re welcome!