Question

What is a Power Inverter Used for?

Over the past few months here at ToughAssTools.com we have spent a significant amount of time writing about the ways to obtain power through non-traditional means. What I mean by that is receiving power from a portable generator, a standby generator, or even from wind or solar energy. There are so many ways to get the power we need nowadays that it can be a little boggling. One option for power that we have not covered yet is power inverters.

Many folks are not familiar with power inverters or exactly what they are used for. To understand them first we need to understand the different types of electrical power that are available today. In your home, office, or garage you will be using what is known as alternating current, or AC, power. This AC power is the standard power used for these stationary applications and is sourced from the power grid. Anything that plugs into a standard one-hundred and twenty or two-hundred and forty volt outlet is using AC power.

The other form of power is known as Direct Current, or DC, power. Direct Current is found in any kind of mobile application. Examples of this would be your car, truck, jeep, motorhome, or even your boat. This DC is powered by your engine’s alternator. The alternator generates electricity which is then in turn stored in your vehicle’s battery. This is how your vehicle starts and how other electronics in your vehicle can run. Think of your car’s radio or indoor lights as an example of DC powered applications.

Now, let’s pretend that you and your family decide to do a tail gating event for your favorite local sports team. Here in Kansas City it’d be for that great Chiefs team and Mr. Mahomes! At that tail gating event you wish to power some basic appliances such as a crock pot or other other kitchen applications. To do this you would need to have a source of alternating current energy even though your car only produces direct current energy.

This is where a power inverter comes into play. A power inverter converts DC energy over to AC energy. When looking at an inverter you will see on one end there are wires and a connection point to your vehicle’s battery. On the other end of the inverter there are one or two one-hundred and twenty volt outlet plug-ins. Once you hook the inverter up directly to your battery you will then have a source of alternating current power that will allow you to run a crock pot, charge your laptop, or run a television to watch the pre-game show.

Sizing

If you wish to purchase an inverter please note that you will need to make a few considerations before purchasing. The first is exactly what size of inverter that you need. Inverters come in a variety of sizes ranging from a few hundred watts all the way up to four-thousand watts or higher. Now, the most popular sizes are one-thousand, two-thousand, and three-thousand watts. It is vitally important that you buy the right size for your needs.

You can determine exactly what size of inverter you need by adding up all of the required wattage of the appliances you wish to power. If the appliance you are wanting to power does NOT have a total wattage number then there is no need to worry. Chances are it does show the number of amps it requires. If you have the amps number then all you have to do is take that amperage number and multiply it by the volts. The volts is the type of plug-in that it uses. If it is a standard plug-in then multiply the amps by one-hundred and twenty volts.

Let’s look at an example. Say a coffee machine requires six amps and it uses a standard one-hundred and twenty volt plug-in. So, the math problem is six amps times one-hundred and twenty volts equals seven-hundred and twenty watts. It is also recommended to always go twenty or thirty percent higher in inverter size then what you have calculated. This gives you some leeway in case you want to add something additional down the road or if you miscalculated something slightly.

Batteries

Another point to mention here when dealing with power inverters are your vehicle’s batteries. The power inverter draws power from your battery in order to power your appliances. There are two ways to run an inverter. The first is with your engine on. When your engine is on the battery is constantly being charged by your vehicle’s alternator. The alternator is then powering your battery and your power inverter. Having the vehicle on when running a power inverter is the safest option as you do not have a risk of draining your battery.

The other option to run your inverter is with your engine off. In this case your inverter is directly drawing power from your vehicle’s battery. If left unchecked the inverter will drain your battery. This will leave you with a dead battery and not able to start your vehicle. The good news is that there is a way around this. Let’s say that you wish to have power from your inverter for a significant amount of time. What you can do is install an alternative battery in your vehicle. If you install an alternative deep cycle battery in your vehicle then your inverter will be able to run for hours without draining your main battery to the point where it is dead.

Conclusion

So folks, in closing a power inverter will convert your vehicle’s direct current power over to alternating current which will allow you to power appliances or electronics while in your car, truck, motorhome, or boat. They are great appliances to have around for tail gating, camping, or even a long road trip. Just remember that they do drain power and you should be mindful when running them so that you do not end up with a dead battery!

Our recommended power inverter is this model from Ampeak. It comes in one-thousand and two-thousand watt sizes which should give you more then enough power to get what you need powered. Click here to visit the product on Amazon.com.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools.com

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