If you’re sick of plugging and unplugging appliances into your generator and power cords, it might be time to consider if you can just connect a generator to your house permanently.
Living in Sydney, where over 90% of the electricity network is run through overhead wires, there is every chance during a storm or high-winds that your house can lose power when a tree comes down on the power lines or service lines. The easiest and cheapest way to get back-up power to keep your fridge running and a few lights on, is to get a generator. Many people who lose power twice or more a year prefer to get their generator wired to their house permanently.
A small portable generator is an easy way to safely power your home temporarily when the power grid is down – whether it’s due to a natural cause or a man-made issue. Whether it’s the first time you’ve used a generator or you’re an old hand, there are a couple of important things to know so you can operate it in a safe manner.
How to connect a generator to your home
Connecting your generator without a Transfer Switch.
When using a portable generator for outdoor purposes, it is very basic and easy to operate, but changing it over to a house backup generator is a different thing altogether. Many people operate their generator by the use of extension cords plugged into their generator instead of using a transfer switch. This is often a recipe for disaster, as it doesn’t take into account many safety measures that are important. For example when you’re using a generator without a transfer switch during a blackout, the generator can still be working when the power comes back on.
This means it would become independent off the power grid, and can cause a back feed. This is where the circuit becomes overloaded and the generator can also become overloaded – both can become damaged and also there is the risk of electrocution and fires and also damage to your home appliances. This is because the power from the generator would go back down the line. Connecting your generator directly to your home without a transfer switch can have disasterous consequences and even be fatal.
What is a generator transfer switch?
A generator transfer switch is used to isolate the generator and the house from the power grid. It is used to prevent the generator power from backfeeding electricity onto the grid. This will reduce the risk for sparking a fire, or even injuring the electricity network workers who may come to do repair work for restoring the power. The transfer switch stops electricity network power from being supplied to the house while the generator is running. This is important to stop the potential of an electrical fire or even the generator catching on fire.
A generator transfer switch is the only way you can safely run major appliances connected to your fuse box or circuit breaker panel. As many major appliances are wired in directly to your board, or can be a pain to pull out and try and plug them into your generator extension cord. So installing a generator transfer switch will alleviate all of these problems.
Who can install a generator transfer switch?
The installation of a generator transfer switch will require the services of a professional and experienced level 2 electrician. They are the only professionals qualified to work with live power in your switchboard and install the main transfer switch that will connect the backup generator to your home. There is a couple of different options that they will discuss in regards to what type of switch you want installed.
There are two types of generator switches that your level 2 electrician can install – an automatic generator transfer switch, and a manual transfer switch.
Automatic Transfer Switch.
This generator transfer switch will automatically reconnects your homse back to the electricity network and disconnects it from the generator. It can also be connected to a battery backup or UPS – Uninterruptable Power Source i.e. a battery backup. Automatic transfer switches have different capabilities – they can be programmed for power management. These automatic transfer switches can be quite expensive though.
Manual Transfer Switch.
Manual transfer switches for your generator connection are pretty simple. You manually turn the switch to connect up to the generator power. You will need to manually go through and work out which areas of your home you want energised and slowly turn them on whilst checking the load on your generator. These are the most popular types of switches to install as they don’t cost very much to have installed when compared to how much it costs for an automatic switch.
Top 6 tips for using a generator at home
1. Size is important.
You need to size the generator correctly so that it is able to meet the load of electricity that you intend to use – with a little excess allowed for. If you use a generator that is too small or undersized, you can essentially have a brown out condition because of the insufficient voltage. If this occurs you can actually damage your appliances e.g. computer or fridge.
If you need to workout what size generator will suit your needs, it is best to speak with an electrical professional before purchasing a generator. That way you can avoid issues down the track.
2. Where to position your generator.
The best spot for your generator is for it to be outdoors in an area that has plenty of ventilation. You should not run your generator inside your home or garage area. Make sure all external doors and windows are shut. Generators give off deadly carbon monoxide so you need to ensure you and your family are safe from any poisonous fumes.
3. Fueling your generator.
Check the fuel levels of your generator before you even think about starting it. You can’t refuel your generator while it is hot, so many people choose to switch them off when everyone goes to bed, then refuel in the morning when it is cool. Make sure the fuel is fresh and hasn’t been sitting around in the can for years. Old fuel can damage your generator as it has deteriorated and can leave a residue inside the generator. Be sure your generator is cool before refueling it.
4. Always turn on your generator before connecting it to your home.
This may sound simple but it is very important that you gradually increase the load to your generator. It is not good for your generator to go from 0-100% capacity. It is best to gradually turn on appliances and lights one at a time so you don’t overload the generator. You only need to plug in what is a priority to run your home for example your fridge or freezer, some essential lights and maybe your hot water unit if it is electric.
5. Don’t use your generator when it’s wet.
As silly as it may sound, there is a serious risk using your generator in wet conditions. You should really only use your generator when necessary if the conditions are wet or moist outside. Everyone knows that it’s not safe using electricity near water – and this rings true for using generators. Try to property your generator by operating it on a dry surface, where puddles can’t form or drain underneath the surface. It’s best if you can have it located under an open canopy structure such as a carport with good ventilation. Makes sure your hand are always dry before touching or operating the generator.
6. Keep children and pets away.
It’s a bit of a no-brainer – keep children and pets away from your generator, whether it is currently operating or not. Many components on the generator can be hot even long after you’ve switched it off, so keep your loved ones away from it for their safety.