Hurricane Sandy, the weather monster that forecasters have dubbed "Frankenstorm," has already left dozens of fatalities in its wake and is predicted to cause power outages and other havoc in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast states starting this weekend and continuing into early next week. There's been a run on portable generators in areas in the storm's path so if you don't already have one, it may be too late. But you might still be able to buy a power inverter locally or online (with one-day shipping) that can keep your refrigerator or sump pumps running when attached to your car battery.
Consumer Reports tested two power inverters during last Halloween's freak snowstorm that left millions of homeowners in the Northeast in the dark including our lab technician. Much to his chagrin, he was able to test the power inverters under real-life conditions. He tested two models from PowerBright, a brand sold in home centers, warehouse clubs, and other retailers such as Sears and Walmart. The PW900-12, $80, provides 900 watts (1,800 peak) and 7.5 amps; the PW1500-12, $180, is rated for 1,500 watts (3,000 watts peak) and 12.5 amps.
An inverter resembles a rectangular box about the size of shoe box. At one end are wires that connect to a power source; at the other are AC receptacles. An inverter takes in direct-current (DC) power—in this case, from your car's 12-volt system—and converts it to the alternating-current (AC) power required by refrigerators, sump pumps, and most other household devices. Our staffer found that the inverters could keep at least some of his home's essentials energized. Even the smaller, 900-watt PW900-12 was able to run a freezer, two refrigerators, two sump pumps, lights, and chargers for various electronics—but not all at once.
Granted power inverters have their limitations and, like generators, must be used safely. And while they can't power as many things as a portable or stationary generator, they provide enough to keep your refrigerator full of food cold and your sump pumps operating. With temperatures expected to be mild during the storm, heating your home shouldn't be an issue.
For the fortunate few who can find generators. Consumer Reports recently tested 14 and recommends four portables and two stationary generators including a portable Generac that at $670 is a CR Best Buy. There's also a newly tested Honda on our list of picks that costs four times that—$2,800. In our tests, we measure how much power the generators deliver and how consistently. We focus on moderately priced portable and stationary models that deliver 5,000 to 7,000 watts, enough for most needs.
For more information on power inverters and how to use them read our full report: Can a pint-sized power inverter replace a generator? For full generator Ratings, check our generator buying guide.
—Mary H.J. Farrell