Can You Use A Permanent Backup Generator To Run Your Gas Or Oil Furnace?

Staying warm during a winter storm is difficult enough while the power is on. With even a short power outage, your home can become dangerously cold and hard to keep heated safely with non-electric space heaters alone. The small portable gas and diesel generators often marketed for emergency use aren't usually powerful enough to power a system like a central heating furnace, but the large permanently installed systems available to homeowners are a different story. Find out what your options are for keeping a gas or oil furnace running while the power is out.

Electric Systems

If your furnace relies primarily on a fuel like gas or oil to produce the heat you need for winter warmth, you may wonder why you would need any electricity to keep the furnace running. However, today's furnace models are full of parts that require electricity to run, from the sensors that control fuel spray to the blowers that move heat. Trying to force a furnace to run without electricity will damage your heating equipment and generate heat that is stuck in the furnace and unable to reach the rest of the house. In most cases, it's hard to run a fully electric furnace on a generator system unless you buy one of the largest units. Heat pumps are a different story since they're a relatively efficient way to heat a home with electricity.

Sizing the Load

Talk to your heating maintenance technician or the original installer of the furnace to find out how much electricity the system draws at its peak, which is usually while it's first starting up. Many gas and oil furnaces are easily powered by a 7 kW or greater backup generator system, which are relatively affordable and easily installed. If you have a fully electric heat pump and want to try and run it during a power outage, expect to need a much larger system of around 18 KW or more.

Heat Pumps

In very cold weather, heat pumps are not usually an efficient way to heat since they switch into an emergency heating mode when outdoor temperatures are 20 degrees F or below. Check and see if you have a backup oil or gas based furnace that switches on when the heat pump isn't an efficient choice. If you do, have it wired to the permanent generator rather than the heat pump. It will require less energy to run whether it's cold or just a little chilly, making it a better choice for a power outage emergency.

For more information on heating systems, contact your local HVAC contractors today!