Uncle Bobs Tips: Generator Guide

Generator Transfer Switch

To connect a standby generator to your electrical system, you need a separate device called a generator transfer switch.

Generator transfer switches are an integral part of the power generation process, allowing smooth and immediate transfer of electrical current between multiple sources and the load. Here is how generator transfer switches fit into the overall power picture:

There are two basic types of electric power generators: stand-by generators and prime power or portable generators. Stand-by sets are used as a backup to normal utility power, i.e. during an electric blackout. Hospitals, communications service installations, pumping stations and many other facilities are equipped with standby power generators. Stand-by generators are permanently hardwired into a building's electrical system and often get fuel from city gas or propane lines. Portable generators are used to provide power in places where there isn't any, such as construction sites or other remote locations. Many homeowners are investing in small output portable generators for recreational and other uses. Increasingly, portable generators are also being used to supply power to a home or business during a power outage, just like the larger standby generators.

To connect a standby generator to your electrical system, you need a separate device called a "generator transfer switch". A generator transfer switch monitors incoming utility voltage 24/7. The generator transfer switch senses when regular utility power is interrupted, and starts up the generator if the regular power remains absent. In about five to ten seconds, when the generator is producing full power, the generator transfer switch disconnects the electric load from the utility and connects it to the generator, restoring electricity to the load. The generator transfer switch continues to monitor utility power, and when it is restored, the generator transfer switch switches the load from the generator back to your normal setup. Once the generator is disconnected, the generator goes through a cool-down routine and is automatically shut down.

When a generator is operating, the generator transfer switch prevents dangerous electrical "back feed" that can injure utility workers repairing downed power lines. It also ensures that different power sources are fully synchronized before their power is combined or loads are transferred, which is imperative for safe operation.

Regarding portable generators, while the most economical way to supply power during a power outage is to use a portable of the appropriate wattage and run extension cords into the house to power chosen appliances, the safer system is to have an electrician install a generator transfer switch, connected to the house's main electrical panel. Just fire up the generator, run a single extension cord into the generator transfer switch and power the circuits you need through the main circuit breaker.

Since generator transfer switches are installed into a building's electric system, proper installation by a professional is critical. Shoddy installation work can cause the generator to fail, overheat, or damage existing wiring and equipment. Improper connection of a generator could also void your homeowner's insurance in case of accident or injury. In addition, generator installation requires a strict adherence to National Electrical Code regulations, local ordinances and your power supplier. As an extension of power service, the generator must provide the same type of electricity at the same voltage and frequency as supplied by the power lines.

Dealers usually come to evaluate your system's needs and depending on your location, may offer delivery, installation, and maintenance services directly. If they don't, they will put you in touch with qualified electricians and plumbers to help install your standby systems and generator transfer switches. Some dealers offer a package deal that is all-inclusive, while others charge separately for generator transfer switches and other accessories.

In summary, when connecting your generator, follow these guidelines: Place generator outside on level ground to operate. Never plug your generator directly into your house/business circuit. Rather, the use of a generator automatic transfer switch is required when generators are connected to home or building wiring. If using extension cords, be sure they are grounded, and are a sufficient wire gauge for the application (heavy duty outdoor rated cords will handle household appliance loads). When connecting a generator into your electrical system, have a qualified electrician install a generator transfer switch.

Here and there, we could all use a little more power...Power-up safely with a generator transfer switch!

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