With a major winter storm headed our way, I thought it might be helpful to post some notes on using power inverters for emergency lighting, phone charging and more when the power goes out.
A power inverter converts the 12V DC from your car battery into 120V AC that can be used to charge cell phones, laptops and other mobile electronics but power inverters can also be used for lighting, television (if the outage didn't get the cable lines too) and even some gas or oil heating systems.
Inverters are rated by the number of watts they can provide. The number of watts determines what will work when you plug it in; a 1500 watt electric heater cannot be run from a 200 watt power inverter. You can, however, run two 100 watt light bulbs. Chargers for mobile electronics (phones, etc..) use very little power so you can charge several from a single power inverter but any type of electrical heater or appliance that uses a lot of power is not going to work (washers, older refrigerators, etc..).
Lower power inverters (100-200 watt) connect to your car through a cigarette lighter adapter which itself is usually limited (fused) for 20 Amps (volts x amps = watts so 120V x 20 amps = 240 watts). Higher powered inverters typically provide clamps like jumper cables that you can connect directly to a battery. Nearly all inverters have over-power protection that shut the inverter down if too much power is being drawn from it to prevent damage.
If you do use your car with a power inverter as an emergency generator, be sure to run the car out doors or with plenty of ventilation. Car exhaust WILL kill you.
A couple of good blogs on using an inverter to run an oil/gas heating system:http://www.diybanter.com/home-repair/172641-oil-furnace-running-off-inverter.htmlhttp://community.cartalk.com/discussion/2041009/power-house-with-inverter