Is It Possible to Run My HVAC on Generator Power?

Here in the Louisville, KY, area, homeowners often come to us at Absolute Services looking for ways to deal with power outages. Although power outages aren’t frequent, Kentucky residents do face more hours without electricity per year than the national average, per US Energy Information Administration statistics. When they occur in the heat of the summer or the cold of the winter, though, they’re quite unpleasant. One of the most frequent questions we get asked on this topic is whether it’s possible to run an HVAC system on a backup generator. Here’s everything you need to know about how and when backup generators work with HVAC systems.

Understanding HVAC Power Needs

Before we can answer the question of whether it’s possible to run an HVAC system on a backup generator, we must first discuss the varying power needs of different HVAC system types. For example, if you’re trying to keep your natural gas-powered furnace running on a generator, that’s not too difficult. That’s because such furnaces only use electricity to power their ignition systems and blower fans.

However, if you’re asking whether you can run a conventional central air conditioning system on a generator, that’s another matter. Central air conditioners require a great deal more power to operate. In general, most residential air conditioning systems draw between 2,000 and 4,000 watts of electricity when they’re on. So, although they can run on a backup generator, you’d need a much more powerful one to accommodate it.

Lastly, there are heat pump systems. Depending on their size and configuration, they have different power needs. The average residential heat pump system can require anywhere between 800 and 5,100 watts to operate. In all cases, you’ll need to be very clear about your specific heating system’s power needs before attempting to operate it on a backup generator.

The Various Types of Home Backup Generators

Besides the power needs of your HVAC system, you’ll also need to consider the type of backup generator you’d be trying to use. For example, if you’re considering running your HVAC with a portable generator, you’ll need to be especially careful. Most portable generators lack the capacity to handle the power needs of HVAC systems. There are some portable units robust enough for the job, though.

The same thing goes for newer, inverter-style generators. They have similar limitations to conventional portable generators, so you’d need to choose one capable of your HVAC system’s power needs. The principal benefit of those, however, is that they throttle up and down to meet your electricity demand. That means you don’t have to waste fuel when your HVAC isn’t drawing any electricity.

Whole-home generators, by comparison, typically run on your home’s natural gas supply. They’re sized to accommodate larger electrical loads because they’re meant to power most or all of your home’s electrical devices. They switch on automatically when there’s an outage, and should be capable of running your HVAC system.

No matter which type of generator you’re thinking of using, there’s one more thing you’ll need to consider. It’s that central air conditioning systems and heat pumps draw up to five times more power at startup than they do once they’re running. Most generators offer surge capacity to handle appliances that need an extra boost at startup. However, you’ll need to know how much surge power your HVAC needs in advance. If you choose a generator that can’t handle your HVAC system’s startup needs, it won’t work even if the generator supplies plenty of running voltage to your unit.

What’s the Best Type of Generator for My HVAC?

In almost all cases, a whole-house generator makes the best choice for homeowners who wish to keep their HVAC running during a power outage. They’re ideal for a variety of reasons. First, they never need refueling, so you don’t have to worry about keeping them filled up in the event of an emergency. That also means you don’t have to purchase fuel in advance of an outage.

Another benefit of whole-home standby generators is that they rely on natural gas, which tends to be far cheaper than gasoline here in the Louisville area. The trouble is, your home must have a connection to a natural gas supplier to use one. If it doesn’t, you’d need to have one installed, which would increase the price of your generator system.

Speaking of price, it’s also worth noting that whole-home backup generators are an investment. Depending on the generator’s capacity, you could spend thousands of dollars on one. By comparison, comparably sized portable generators cost around a third of whole-house models. The trade-off is that they are usually not automated and have far higher operating costs.

All of this means that your choice of backup generator to power your HVAC system will boil down to a few factors. The first is whether you’re willing to foot the bill for a whole-house backup generator, which you may not use all that often. If your and your family’s comfort is your biggest priority, a whole-house generator is the best possible option.

If you’re looking to save some money but still want the option of running your HVAC during a power outage, a portable generator may be an option. In that case, there are a few things you’ll need to know. First, you’ll need a generator with sufficient capacity for your specific HVAC system.

Then, you’ll need an expert electrician like a member of the Absolute Services team to install what’s called a transfer switch into your HVAC’s power circuit. That’s a manual switch that allows you to disconnect your HVAC from the power grid and power it with your generator. You’ll also need to learn how to operate the system itself since you’ll have to do so manually in the event of a power outage.

Your Go-to HVAC Generator Solution Provider

While you definitely can run your home’s HVAC system on a generator, there are some things you’ll have to consider first, like how much power your HVAC system requires and what type of generator you’d like to use. As long as you select a capable generator and have it installed properly, you should be all set to handle a power outage whenever one comes.

To help you with that, there’s nobody better to call on in the Louisville area than Absolute Services. We offer comprehensive electrical services, including the sale and installation of backup generators. Plus, we’re experts in all things HVAC too. That means we’re uniquely qualified to help you select the right generator for your HVAC needs and install it for you. We can also help you with any of your other heating and cooling installation, repair, and maintenance needs and can even install and maintain your garage door for you.

If you’re considering a backup generator for your home and its HVAC system, don’t hesitate to contact Absolute Services today!