A generator is a core component for many people’s emergency preparedness plans. (Maybe you have a cool charcoal powered or a multi-fuel generator.) However many fail to think through how exactly they will power the items they want to run when the grid is down.
In June of 2012, my family experienced a 10-day power outage. It was eye-opening. It was 100 degrees during the day with periods of heavy rain. I had to run a sump pump to keep my basement dry, a refrigerator, freezer for food preservation, a portable AC unit in the living room to protect my infant, we charged phones, and ran the wifi router. I had power cords everywhere. It was a pain. I decided then and there I would find a better way.
A generator transfer switch is a legal and proper way to power your home with an emergency generator. There are three main types: automatic, manual transfer sub panel and a breaker interlock. Each has varying degrees of complexity, benefits, and expense.
Automatic transfer switches will sense a power loss, start your standby generator and automatically move your load to the generator. These are awesome – but very expensive and require a full time dedicated standby generator.
Manual transfer sub panel switches are a good option. They are less expensive than the automatic transfer switches (Starting around $300) and can be used with a portable generator. They typically only cover a few breakers which were problematic for me.
Breaker Interlock is the option I chose. It is National Electric Code compliant and is, in my opinion, the least expensive and most flexible option. My setup cost was just under $150. In this setup, you use a breaker to energize your existing breaker box. Switching it on is easy and safe. My wife did an unassisted dry run in under 5 min – which included getting the generator out of the building.
The breaker interlock system has come in very handy for us. We can turn on overhead lights, wash clothes and keep our food cold, charge our phones, run the internet and much more….all while keeping our doors and windows closed and no tripping on extension cords!
I am not an electrician. After much consulting and oversight from a licensed 25 year Master Electrician, I believe these instructions to be correct and accurate for my jurisdiction. Electrical codes vary from place to place. In my place of residence, homeowners are allowed to do their own electrical work if it is up to code. You are responsible for any code violations, permits or awesome good stuff that comes from doing a project like this.
I’ve listened to and have even seen people using a double male plug to energize their house during a power outage. This is dangerous.
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