A transfer switch is a crucial aspect of running a home generator safely (and, in many cases, legally). The transfer switch isolates the electrical load, allowing your home to run off of municipal power or generator power, without mixing the two.
This prevents electricity from your generator from flowing outward onto city power lines, and endangering people who may be working on those utilities during a power outage. A professionally installed transfer switch is the best and safest way to use a generator to power your house.
However, generators with built-in transfer switches can be more expensive, and, in an emergency, there may not be time for an electrician to install one.
So here are instructions on how to hook up a generator to your house with or without a transfer switch.
How to Hook Up a Generator to Your House
First, you'll need a transfer switch and cables. A transfer switch is a device that attaches to the generator and allows you to connect it to your house.
You can rent or buy one; hooking up a generator without the proper equipment could cause serious damage.
This is a question many homeowners have, as more people are purchasing generators to be prepared for power outages. After all, the main function of a generator is to provide electricity after a natural disaster or other emergencies.
Now that you've got your transfer switch, you can wire everything together which we'll go into further detial later. The generator should be plugged into the transfer switch outlet and then the cables attached to the house outlets.
The final step is connecting your appliances to the cables. You'll need one cord for each appliance, so this might get inconvenient if you have a lot of electrical devices.
The good news is that if you keep your generator out of close quarters, it shouldn't cause a fire hazard or interfere with the power. Also make sure it operates outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
How Do I Install a Generator Transfer Switch?
If you're handy you can install the switch yourself. But do not attempt this without a clear vision of your purpose and the right equipment. It's not about fainting heart! It is advisable to have a licensed electrician install the switch.
But if you're hellbent on doing it yourself, let's start with the basics.
Be prepared before you pick up the tools and load up the truck. You'll need a dedicated circuit breaker or fuse box for your generator, which will allow it operate independently. The largest generator in your area should be connected to the main breaker while the other generators should be connected to a separate breaker or fuses.
Try to run heavy cables from load center to generator and make sure they are long enough to stretch comfortably between two points. Be sure that all connections are made properly; there is no room for error.
Be sure you have enough room for the generator to start up properly. There should be a minimum of 2 feet on all sides of the generator and 10 feet from other sources of heat such as a water heater, furnace or fireplaces. This is especially important if you plan on going camping with it one day!
Fisher-Price does not have a corner on the market when it comes to wiring. If you're not familiar with electrical wiring, do yourself a favor and hire a licensed electrician. It's not worth risking life and limb.
Manual or Universal Transfer Switches?
Manual switch transfers work like traditional breaker boxes. A universal switch automates this process within milliseconds. The transfer switch will automatically turn the breaks up and out so that the overall power draw is above the maximum rated load of your power system.
Universal switches are also beneficial as they will automatically detect the utility grid's power failure and switch back to the generator.
Some switches also contain a battery backup which might keep appliances running until power is turned off when the generator goes off. Universal switches will also automatically switch your home back to the electric grid when the power goes back on. A switch is important because.
If you can't find a transfer switch at the store, you might be tempted to install a manual switch.
The main thing is that it's really important that each cord is plugged into the right spot and that everything is attached properly before turning on your generator.
A universal transfer switch requires more set up and work than a manual transfer switch. Universal transfer switches can be purchased at most hardware stores, but manual transfer switches are sometimes only available through rental companies.
To Hook a Generator Up to Your House Without a Transfer Switch
Remember that this task can be dangerous for people who are not trained electricians, and is illegal in many areas.
It should not be done by an amateur, except in case of emergency. With that said, if you think this is out of your depth, you could always consider hiring a qualified electrician to install a transfer switch to your generator.
So, with the safety precautions out of the way, let's get to it and break down how to hook up your generator.
What You Will Need
An electrical tool kit. You will need tools like a drill, wrench, pliers, electrical tape, screwdrivers, and similar items. You may also need chisels, glue, and other common household tools.
You will need work steel capped work boots that ground your body, protective eyewear, a voltage stick, and some sturdy work gloves.
In most cases, you will need at least three sets of wires - at least 10 feet of 10 gauge wires. For beginners, it is best to get three different colors of wires, to prevent confusion
An Interlock Kit
If your existing breaker box has several empty spaces, you may not need a new breaker, but most installations will.
Choose a breaker that matches the output of your generator and the demands of your home. For most homes, a 30 double amp breaker with two poles is sufficient, but make sure it’s compatible with your generator as well
An Inlet Plug
Depending on the size of your generator it will need to have a large round plug in order to be connected in this way. The generator should indicate the amperage it is rated for, and make sure that your plug is compatible with your generator
To Connect the Generator Power Outage - Follow These Steps
- Locate the access point and drill a hole in the wall of your house. This hole should be as far away from the generator as possible, and large enough to accommodate your incoming wires.
- Mount the power inlet to the exterior of your house. Locate it several feet away from the access hole you have drilled.
- Turn off your main power. It is extremely important to turn off the power at the main switch before proceeding.
- Assemble the conduit at the power inlet. Pass the wires one by one, and ensure that all connections are tight and secure.
- Install the breaker retainer in the breaker box, or install the new breaker.
- Connect the inlet wires to the breaker retainer or to the new breaker.
- Cover the breaker box.
During your next power outage, simply use a cable to connect your generator to your new inlet plug, which will in turn connect to the breaker box.
While this option is more affordable than a transfer box, it can be extremely hazardous, and may be illegal. If you plan on using an interlock kit instead of a transfer box permanently, you should still have it installed by a professional electrician.
If you are confident in your skills, you may complete the installation of the interlock kit, but then have your work inspected by a professional electrician. This may allow you to save some money while still ensuring that you are using your generator safely and legally.
Today, many of the best, most reliable home generators come with transfer switches, and they are decreasing in cost all the time.
In an emergency, instead of installing your generator to your whole house, it is easier, safer, and more affordable to simply run high quality extension cords from the generator to your necessary equipment.
That saves you from potentially illegal and risky installations. Hooking a generator up to your house, with or without a transfer switch, should always be done by a professional.