Properly Tying Your Generator Into Your Home's Electrical Systems

While their actual use might be blessedly rare, in many parts of the country owning a generator is an essential part of life. Whether you're new to homeownership or just new to the region, there are important things you need to know about safely using a generator to power your home during an outage. While larger standby generators require far more work to get up and running, smaller portable generators have greater risks of misuse, so it's important to know how to properly use both.

Portable Power

For homeowners on stable power grids, or who only occasionally need a backup power source, portable generators are convenient and easy to use, right off the shelf. Unfortunately they're also easier to misuse simply due to a lack of experience or forethought. The greatest risk takes place when homeowners attempt to use back-fed adapters to power their entire home, instead of using extension cords for each appliance or lamp. This attempt is dangerous for several reasons, the least of which is the increased workload your generator will have to deal with.

Back-fed adapters allow the power produced by a generator to energize your home's entire electrical system by simply plugging into an outlet. Doing so also allows surplus power from the generator to feed out into the surrounding power-grid, energizing nearby lines, even if the electric company had cut power to those lines for repairs. Energized lines present a huge risk for utility workers attempting to get your power grid back up and running, putting them in danger of electrocution.

Stand-By to Stand-By

To effectively utilize a standby generator, it will need to be permanently wired into your home. Doing so will require a licensed electrician to run a secondary power circuit, complete with a backup breaker box, to each of the outlets or appliances you intend on using during an outage. The actual electrical load you plan on connecting to your new generator should determine its size and power production capacity. Overloading it can cause it to burn out or otherwise fail due to the added strain.

Choose critical systems, such as your refrigerator and essential outlets. Most homeowners don't need a large generator unless your home is also providing hospice care to a family member. If that is the case, you can also look into an automatic bypass switch, which will turn on your generator and transfer to your secondary circuit as soon as an outage is detected. This will give you the closest thing possible to uninterrupted power, short of building your own hydroelectric plant.

Generators can be used to serve an essential role for many homeowners, but improper use can turn them from a boon to a threat. Educate yourself about use and maintenance, and work with a generator specialist to choose the right size for your home's needs.