Depending on where you live, the effect of a power outage can range from mildly inconvenient to a near emergency. If you happen to live in the North or Midwest, a winter power outage could make it impossible for you to remain in an unheated home. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that many households in cooler climes have generators to use in the event of an outage.
While any generator can be helpful in the event of an outage, there’s a limit to what one can do without being connected to your household electrical system. Without a proper connection to a suitably powerful generator, a home’s central heating and air system will remain off during an outage; you would instead be forced to connect smaller and less efficient portable heaters to your generator.
If you want to be able to power your central heating and air system during an outage, you’ll need two things:
- A large portable generator – 10,000 watts minimum
- An interlock or manual transfer switch
Not every generator is capable of powering a household heating and air system. Per Consumer Reports, you could expect to be able to power a central heating and air system with a 10,000-watt portable generator. This assumes that the heating and air system requires 5,000 watts of power, and that other household devices will also be drawing power from the generator.
Please note that some central heating and air systems require more than 5,000 watts of power to run; these could be too large for any portable generator to power. Also note that some heating and air systems require more power at startup than they need to run; unless your generator can handle the extra demands of startup, being able to handle the running requirements won’t matter.
Central heating and air systems draw power from the household electrical system. So, in order for heating and air to run during an outage, you’ll need to be able to supply power directly to your home’s electrical system. In order to safely and legally connect your generator to your household system, you’ll also need either an interlock or a manual transfer switch.
Both interlocks and manual transfer switches perform the same basic function: Both allow you to switch the power feed from utility line to generator and back again. Both force you to connect to one power source or the other. Both prohibit you, mechanically, from connecting to the utility line and the generator at the same time.
Using an interlock or manual transfer switch ensures that power goes where it’s supposed to go. That’s important. Without one or the other, power from a generator could run backwards into a utility line; power from a power line could run backwards into a generator. Both circumstances can cause great damage, and even put people’s safety in jeopardy.
Preparing for a winter outage requires investing in a large portable generator and either an interlock or a manual transfer switch. But it’s the only way to ensure that you can ride out the outage in the comfort of a warm, cozy home. You’ll be able to enjoy the peace of mind all year long.