A generator is considered by many homeowners to be an indispensable tool for preparing for the worst. Even in countries like the US, large cities are prone to experiencing blackouts at least once a year.
One of the best types of generators is a portable generator. You can take it with you on camping trips in the wild and tailgates. They also work well at supplying power to your home, provided that you have the right wattage capacity.
Using a portable generator out in the wild is pretty straightforward; plug in your appliances directly into the onboard outlets or use an extension cord to supply power from a distance. However, when it comes to connecting your portable generator, or any other generator for that matter, to your home’s electrical panel (transfer switch), things can get a little confusing.
In this article, we’ll show you how you can supply power to your home with a portable generator. All you need are your portable generator, a power cord with the right capacities (length, wire gauge, amps, and prongs), and a transfer switch.
What’s a transfer switch?
A transfer switch allows a portable generator to supply power to your home. It’s a device that’s installed next to or near the electrical panel. It is connected to whatever circuits you wish to supply power to in the panel whenever it blacks out. If you want your generator to supply power to, say, your refrigerator, AC, and WIFI router, make sure that the transfer switch is connected directly to the appropriate circuits.
A generator supplies power to the transfer switch which, in turn, redirects power to several circuits. With a transfer switch, you won’t need to mess around with long extension cords to supply power directly to your appliances.
Do I need a transfer switch?
Depending on where you live, a transfer switch may not be mandatory. However, some places like the US require homeowners to have a transfer switch installed if they wish to supply power to their homes using a generator.
There are also several other benefits you can get from getting a transfer switch installed in your home. The first of and most important of which is safety. A transfer switch prevents the selected circuits from your electrical panel from power lines, effectively eliminating the risk of back-feed – when power redirects to the utility power lines, potentially causing a fire, shocking utility workers repairing power lines, or irreparable damage to your generator.
Another advantage of installing a transfer switch is that it is, by far, the easiest, most worry-free way of bringing power to your home during blackouts. You can run outdoor-safe extension cords from your generator into your home to directly supply power to certain appliances. However, this means all of your vital appliances need to be in one area of your home. You may need to adjust their positions in order to get their power cords plugged into the extension cord. Also, several wires running through your home could potentially become a tripping hazard or fire hazard.
Finally, a transfer switch helps you get the most out of your generator. Managing how much power is supplied from your generator is infinitely easier with the help of a transfer switch. You just need to flip the switch on your electrical panel if you want to cut the supply of power from your generator to certain circuits.
Types of transfer switches
There are two types of transfer switches that you can get: manual and automatic transfer switches.
Manual transfer switch
This is the simpler form of a transfer switch which requires you to head on down to the electrical panel of your home and manually turn any circuits on or off that you want to be powered by your generator. These are the less expensive type of transfer switches and don’t require spending a ton of money on hiring professional help to install.
Automatic/Universal transfer switch
An automatic/universal transfer switch is hardwired directly to certain circuits to help your portable generator supply electricity during power outages. As the utility lines fail to deliver power, an automatic/universal transfer switch will begin transferring power from your portable generator directly to the right circuits.
Automatic/universal transfer switches are highly programmable and can divert power from certain circuits in order to surge other circuits if needed. This can also be installed alongside an Uninterruptable Power Source which works somewhat like a backup battery. During a blackout, the power source will have a limited amount of electricity that can power certain circuits through the automatic/universal transfer switch. This limited power will give you enough time to plug your portable generator into an inlet box so you won’t have to do it in the dark.
How do I use a transfer switch?
Hooking up a portable generator to your home is rather easy. The method of getting your generator to supply power to different circuits depends on which type of transfer switch you have. Assuming your generator is plugged into an inlet box, you need to do the following based on which transfer switch you have.
Manual transfer switch
Using a manual transfer switch is easy as long as you know the proper steps.
1. Go to your home’s electrical panel and flip all the circuits to the OFF position.
2. Start up your portable generator and give it time to warm up.
3. Go to the transfer switch and flip the main breakers to the GENERATOR position.
4. Look at your electrical panel and flip the switches of any circuits you want to be powered to the ON position. Be sure to do this one circuit at a time to prevent a sudden overloading of your generator.
5. When utility power is restored, go to the transfer switch and flip the main breakers back to the UTILITY position.
6. Flip any circuits that were previously on the OFF position to the ON position.
7. Shut off your generator and give the engine time to reach a full stop.
8. Disconnect the power cord connecting the generator to the inlet box.
Automatic transfer switch
Having an automatic transfer switch is super-convenient since everything is basically done for you. You just need to plug in your portable generator to your home’s inlet box. The transfer switch will automatically detect a potential source of power and switch from UTILITY mode to GENERATOR mode. When power is restored, disconnect your generator from the inlet box and turn it off. The transfer switch will automatically switch back from GENERATOR mode to UTILITY mode.
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