buy-an-inverter

Your complete guide to choosing an inverter for home

Last Updated: January 18, 2024By

Say goodbye to loadshedding troubles with an inverter for home. Not sure what an inverter is? We’ve got you covered.

An inverter is an electronic device that converts DC power (Direct Current from a battery) into AC power (Alternating Current) that your household appliances can use. It offers immediate relief to power cuts! An inverter and battery system in your home brings you reliable electricity when you need it.

In this guide we’re going to help you choose the right inverter for your home. We’ll explore the different types of inverters, important things to consider when buying one and more useful advice to guide you.

Let’s begin!

Types of inverters for home use

Off-grid inverters

An off-grid inverter is not attached to the grid. This means the only source of power comes from solar panels, wind turbines or other energy sources. You will typically find off-grid inverter and battery systems in areas far away from the grid, such as farms and campsites.

Grid-tied inverters

Grid-tied inverters ARE connected to the grid and allows you to feed energy back into the grid (if your local municipality supports this) and get paid for the energy you feed in. This type of inverter is installed with a battery system which stores energy (from the grid or other sources). The inverter converts the DC power to AC power for your appliances.

Hybrid inverters

A hybrid inverter combines the features of 0ff-grid and grid-tied inverters. This system gives you the best of both worlds: you have the option to get electricity from the grid, feed back into the grid and also get power from renewable sources such as solar or wind.

This type of system gives you the most control and independence. Energy is stored in the battery system for when you need it at night when the sun isn’t shining, and for extended power cuts.

Important things to consider when you buy an inverter for home

Power rating

The power rating on your home inverter system tells you what the maximum amount of electrical power is that the inverter can supply (in Watts).

Realistically, the power an inverter can actually supply depends on how many and what type of appliances or devices are connected, and also the efficiency of the inverter itself. The inverter power output is also determined by the battery system or other power source that comes into the inverter.

It’s really important that you get the right inverter for your needs and that you understand the load you will put on your inverter. What appliances will you run at the same time? When will you use these appliances? For how long?

We recommend getting an inverter and battery system that has a slightly higher rating than the maximum you will need. This ensures the inverter can supply enough power for when you need it.

Output waveform

This gets a little technical but hang in there – it’s not so bad.

The inverter converts the DC power from the battery into AC power for your appliances. The waveform output of the inverter is the SHAPE of the AC voltage wave that the inverter produces.

There are different waveforms:

  1. Modified sine wave inverters: the cheaper option and one which produces a square wave shape similar to a sine wave (which is why it is called a modified sine wave). This is useful for a number of household appliances but not for the more sophisticated devices that are sensitive to power spikes or distortions (such as computers, audio equipment, modems etc)
  2. Pure sine wave inverters: the more expensive option but provides power in a shape that looks more like a true sine wave. This is suitable for all types of devices

Make sure you buy an inverter with a suitable waveform for the appliances and devices you will need powered.

Efficiency

The efficiency of your home inverter refers to how well it operates when converting DC power to AC power. The more efficient the inverter is, the more power will be transmitted to your appliances.

For example, an inverter with a 90% efficiency will lose 10% of the input power during the conversion process. Most of this energy is lost as heat.

Larger and more expensive inverters are usually more efficient, depending on the make and model.

Size and weight

Home inverters come in various sizes, shapes and weights. These are important factors for your specific situation.

Will you be able to move a large, heavy inverter around? Does it need to be on a trolley? Do you have space for a wall-mounted inverter?

Do you need to move the inverter from place to place or different rooms in the house?

Some inverters are designed to be portable and others for wall or floor mounting only. You should carefully review these characteristics before you decide on the inverter you want to buy.

Battery compatibility

Your battery and inverter need to be compatible with each other. This is not a problem when you buy combos or trolley inverter kits or loadshedding kits but if you buy the battery system and inverters separately you need to know if they will work well together.

Some of the things you need to be aware of:

  • Voltage: the battery voltage must be compatible with the inverter voltage. e.g. 12V, 24V or 48V
  • Capacity: is the battery capacity large enough to work with the inverter? Battery capacity is measured in amp-hours (Ah). Make sure your inverter is compatible with your battery capacity
  • Battery chemistry: there are several types of batteries including lead-acid, lithium-ion, nickel-cadmium and more. Make sure your inverter supports the type of battery you have
  • Charge and discharge rates: The charge rate is the rate at which the battery is charged (and vice versa for discharge rate). These factors must be compatible with your inverter

Make sure the battery and inverter combo you get makes sense and that they are designed to work well together. This will ensure your system is safe and efficient.

Monitoring and control

Your home inverter should give you the ability to monitor and control its functions. This means you need an inverter with a control panel display that shows important information such as the state of the inverter, the input and output voltages and any other important metrics that show performance.

This ensures you are in control and know when things are working properly and when they are not.

What are the benefits of using a home inverter?

Reliable power

Two words: load shedding. We are all struggling with unreliable power supply in South Africa. A good home inverter gives you the reliability to have power when you need it. Like how things used to be, remember?

This means you can watch that sports game, or have that Zoom meeting, or study for that test – because you have electricity.

Save money

A home inverter saves you money if it is paired with a renewable energy source such as solar panels. You will save money in other ways by having reliable power. No need to drive to a coffee shop to take an important meeting, or drive to a friend’s house to study because they have electricity.

Reliable energy makes life easier and more efficient.

Energy efficiency

How does a home inverter contribute to energy efficiency? Good inverters are designed to be as efficient as possible.

You will also find that you are more aware of how much energy you use and when you use it. This means turning off those lights when you don’t need them, for example.

Some smart inverters have features that improve energy efficiency so that you are equipped to use and store energy more efficiently.

Which inverter is best for home use?

The answer to this question is: it depends.

The factors to consider are:

  • Your exact power needs
  • Your budget
  • The type of system you want (off-grid, grid-tied, hybrid)
  • Convenience e.g. trolley system vs wall-mounted system
  • Battery compatibility
  • Appliance compatibility (and factors like wave form type)

Popular home inverter brands in South Africa include:

  • Victron
  • Fusion
  • Sunsynk
  • Mecer
  • Ellies
  • Microcare
  • Genteck
  • Mobivolt
  • And many more

Our advice is to do your research. Find out as much as you can and PLEASE rely on the advice of a qualified and certified electrician or solar installer.

Professional advice will save you money in the long run and will prevent problems with fire, insurance companies, warranties and broken electronic equipment.

Do it right the first time (but empower yourself with enough knowledge so you can ask the intelligent questions).

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About the Author: Tony Lopes

Tony is the founder and editor of CleanVolts.co.za. He has completed solar certifications and courses through Green Solar Academy. Tony's goal is to see solar panels on every roof-top in South Africa and the adoption of EVs and renewable technology across the African continent.

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