Providing Power to my House With a Portable Generator
A portable generator is a great way to power your home when the main power grid goes down due to various reasons. It provides convenient power for essential needs such as lighting, fridge, and other home appliances that do not use too much power. During a recent ice storm we were able to access critical power when we needed it the most. A portable generator can truly be a life safer when utilized properly.
Unlike a standby generator that requires extensive installation, a portable generator is significantly easier to set up. Additionally, you can take it with you during a camping trip or a tailgate party, so it is not just for powering your house. However, they are not ideal for powering big appliances because of their small and compact nature, but using power management can help you get the most out of your small generator.
When choosing a portable generator for your house, you’ll want to consider your power loads and determine how to connect it safely. Read on to learn how to power your home with a portable generator.
1. Determine your electrical load
Ideally, the first thing you’ll want to do is to list the electrical appliances that you can’t do without and their power requirements. For example, a typical LED circuit consumes up to 150 watts, while TVs use up to 1000 watts depending on the type and size, and the list goes on.
For appliances like refrigerators and freezers, you’ll need to factor in the surge wattage or the power required to restart the motor. Once you have a rough estimate of your power needs, you’ll now in a better position to determine the amount of wattage your portable generator needs to supply and get a generator that adequately meets your needs.
The rated power is usually indicated on the body of the generator to ensure that you don’t overload the generator. Overloading your generator is dangerous, and it might damage the generator or appliances permanently.
2. Wiring the generator
First off, the generator needs to be placed outdoors, preferably in a shed, to protect it from harsh weather conditions and extend its life. Additionally, generators emit dangerous gases, so avoid setting up your generator indoors or in enclosed spaces.
When it comes to wiring the system, there are several ways you can hook a portable generator to your house. They include:
- Extension cord
Using extension cords is the simplest and easiest way you can use to install your generator. This method requires you to run the cables from the generator to the appliances you need to power. The extension cords need to be rated for generator use and thick enough to handle the electrical load flowing through them.
The main advantage of using an extension cord that it does not need installation and it is by far the cheapest option. However, this method is best suited for occasional use, and you’re limited on what you can power.
Using extension cords is also not ideal for hardwired appliances such as ceiling air conditioners, but it is best for running basic devices such as lights or charging phones.
- Transfer switch
Using a transfer switch is a more advanced method, and you might require the help of a professional to install the generator. However, it is more convenient than using an extension cord, plus you can use it to power appliances wired into your house. It is also safer since it is done by a professional, and you don’t have to deal with multiple extension cords.
3. Installing the inlet box/transfer switch
The transfer switch installation is done by a professional, and it is typically installed near the main circuit panel. The primary purpose of the transfer switch is to allow you to connect to one power source at a time, i.e., you cannot run both the utility and the generator at the same time.
Additionally, the transfer switch helps prevent power from your portable generator from back-feeding down the utility lines, leading to accidents. Also, when the utility power is back, the transfer switch blocks it from powering the house while your generator is still operating. This helps minimize chances of electrical fires and prevent personal injury as well.
It also helps isolate some circuits, which helps prevent overloading the generator. What’s more, the transfer switch offers several circuits that you can assign different loads. For instance, you can use one circuit to light all rooms and a different one to power each appliance. This makes power management much easier while allowing you to accommodate different power needs.
4. Inspect the engine
Before plugging in your generator, check the engine and ensure that the gas tank is fuel. Determine if your generator runs on gasoline or propane or if it is a dual fuel generator (i.e., runs on both gasoline and propane). Ensure to have the correct fuel on standby, and make sure the engine has enough oil to ensure a smooth operation.
5. Plugging in the generator
Once you have the transfer switch in place, it is now time to plug in your generator. You’ll want to ensure that the prongs on the hook-up are compatible with the holes of the generator’s cable. At this point, you can plug in the generator and start the engine according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
6. Switch the power sources
You can now proceed and switch the systems to allow you to shift from the utility main to the generator main. Once you turn on the generator, you’ll then need to turn on different circuits one by one, depending on the number of loads you need to power. This will help avoid overloading the generator. At this point, you can start plugging in devices, starting with appliances that draw much power, such as refrigerators.
When the utility power is back, you’ll perform this procedure in reverse order to transfer the power source from the generator to the utility power. You may also want to switch on any circuits that you may have turned off and finally switch off the generator.
Using the generator safely
Always consult a specialist on the do’s and don’ts to avoid putting yourself and your family at risk. Other safety guidelines include:
As we mentioned earlier, never run a generator indoors to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning or your home catching fire should anything go wrong
- If you’re using extension cords, ensure they are designed for heavy-duty usage
- Never attempt to hook a generator directly to a wall outlet without a transfer switch. Using a
transfer switch is the only safe way to connect a generator to your home
- Always get your connection inspected by an electrician to ensure the wiring is not faulty
- Keep the generator in a dry place to avoid the risk of electrocution
- If you need to refuel the generator, turn off all appliances and allow the unit to cool down.
- Keep the area free from flammable materials, including the generator fuel, and always let your
engine cool down before storing the generator