How to Set Up a Generator for your Home?
If you live in an area that is prone to power outages, you know the importance of having a backup portable generator. A handy thing, it lets you power your home, and even your RV when on the road. Moreover, a portable power generator can be hooked to your home to provide emergency power and save the day. No more relying on flashlights and candles to light the nights.
Moreover, a portable generator can help you in the case of massive blackouts, such as the one in Texas a few winters back. A simple device, connecting the generator to your house will provide power when there is none and allow you to keep at least a single room hot enough to avoid any less-than-ideal situations. Downed electrical lines, ice and wind storms, and accidents can all cause power outages and cause discomfort. A portable generator is there to save the day.
What is a Generator?
A generator or a power generator is any type of machine that can convert mechanical energy (the energy of movement) into electricity. It does so by using mechanical energy to turn the magnets placed inside a coil. This movement causes the coil to experience differences in the polarity and magnetic force, making the electrons move. This is an electrical current. The more forceful the motion of the magnets, the more current is generated.
A home generator uses this simple principle to power your appliances or even your home. A home power generator typically uses fuel, such as petroleum or diesel, to spin the shaft of the engine. Once the engine starts spinning, a magnet connected to it spins as well and the power generation can commence. A generator connected to any device will power it for as long as there is fuel, and for as long as the device is not too big for the generator to supply power.
There are different types of generators, but they mostly work on the same principles. This is true even for large generators, capable of supplying power to entire factories, large facilities, and even the grid. If you would like to connect a power generator to your home, you should know how to do it properly and how to choose the right size of the generator for your home. To do this, let’s read on and see what else there is to know before you send power to your home during an outage.
Types of Generators
There are several kinds of power generators for your home. With each type come some pros and cons, but our favorite is an inverter generator with a muffler or a closed-box system. They are quiet and reliable, and can often make less noise than a washer on a spin cycle. Let’s consider each kind and see how to recognize what you may need:
- Open-type generator,
- Closed-type, or baffle-box generator,
- Traditional power generator, always operating at 100% of power,
- Inverter generator,
- Fixed generators, and
- Portable generators.
An open-type or open-box generator has all the internal parts exposed. They are usually very loud, and robust, but are easy to keep cool. This, however, poses a different set of issues, such as burn hazards. For this reason, they are very outdated, but can still be found. They usually provide more power than more compact, baffle-box generators.
Closed-box and baffle-box generators are excellent choices if you’re looking for a quiet option. These generators function similarly to open-box generators, but with some key differences. All the parts are more neatly stacked in a closed box, which helps to reduce noise escape. They’re also better protected from water and air humidity. If you need to generate power in excess of 5-7 kW, these generators are a great choice.
Traditional Generator (No Inverter)
When choosing a generator as a home backup power source, always opt for a four-stroke engine. This traditional setup is important to consider because the power delivery is much smoother, less fuel is used and they produce less noise. Engines of this type are typically smaller than those found in automobiles, but they are very quiet. In general, four-stroke engines will produce less smoke and operate more efficiently than two-stroke engines, providing more power for each gallon of fuel consumed.
For noise comparison, a grass trimmer has a two-stroke engine, which produces significantly more noise and consumes more fuel. In addition to being among the quietest RV generators, four-stroke engines also emit less carbon monoxide (CO) and fewer PM particles, making them less polluting and less of a burden on your health. Diesel engines can also be included here, as they will help save more on fuel, as diesel is very energy-dense.
Inverter generators are a type of generator that uses inverter technology. They’re known for being some of the quietest generators on the market due to features like mufflers and sound-damping technology. Inverter generators usually have performance monitoring, and eco-mode functionality and are ideal for camping. Thanks to their design, they operate at noise levels of 45-60 dB, making them much quieter than other types of generators.
They also provide ‘clean energy’ and are safe to use for even the most sensitive devices you may have, such as your smartphone. In addition to this, an inverter generator will operate at varying speeds, delivering only as much power as you need. This can save a lot of money, especially during the night, if the outage lasts that long.
Fixed generators do not have to be fixed at all, but the absence of wheels and heavy weight makes them less portable. We suggest against this type of generator, as you may need to move your generator from time to time. After all, it is advised that you keep your generator in an enclosed space, and move it outside for each use.
When considering a generator for your home, please keep in mind its portability. Even a quiet, small generator can weigh over 260 lbs, making it difficult to move around. If you have a small home with only a few appliances, you may not need a powerful generator at all. Luckily, most quiet generator models have wheels or handles that make them easier to transport. However, we still suggest you go for a smaller, lighter, and more portable model or a power station. This way, you can carry it by yourself if needed. Another option is to go for a power station, but beware that the energy they can store is very limited.
How to Use a Generator in Your House?
There are several ways you can use a standard or a portable generator in your home. Firstly, generators are used in on-grid homes when there is a power outage. Most models can generate power that can provide enough electricity for your common appliances, including a washer and a dryer. If you have an electric water heater, you may not be able to heat water while at the same time using an electric stove, but this depends on the model and the output power. If you have an electric tankless water heater, you may not be able to use it at all, as they draw too much power, and you can forget all about your hot tub unless you have a super-heavy-duty portable generator.
Besides this, a lot of generators are used in off-grid homes. To do so, simply connect the generator to the main power supply and turn it on. If you are wise with how you use power and can disperse energy use throughout the day, you may have enough power for all your needs. However, running the AC, washer, and water heater all at once will still be a pain. For this reason, many homeowners decide to pair their generators with other sources of energy or heat, such as solar panels, solar collectors, wood stoves, and propane fridges.
In general, there are two ways for the generator to supply power to your home:
- Connecting appliances directly to the generator – in this case, all the outlets in your home will have no power,
- You can connect a generator to the house’s electrical grid, over the service box or house mains.
Connecting Appliances Directly to the Generator
Connecting a generator safely means following all the safety tips there are. In general, they relate to the fuel used, the extension cords (their materials, length, and diameter), and where the generator is placed. When connecting appliances over cords, it is important to note there are two ways to do this:
- Extension cords,
- Generator cords.
If you decide to use extension cords, you should always use an appropriate extension cord. In general, any heavy-duty extension cord will work, but make sure to purchase a cord that is certified for your energy needs: simply add the wattage of all the devices and appliances that will be connected over the same cord, and purchase a cord that an experienced electrician recommends.
You can also use multiple cords, but make sure they do not connect to each other, but rather to different power outlets. You should be able to connect at least two extension cords, but make sure not to overload the generator. Regardless of how many appliances and devices you connect to it, the generator will supply power, but too much power demand, especially over a single plug can damage both your appliances and the wire work inside the generator itself.
Using generator cords is the next best deal there is. These cords have been designed to stand instead of a regular electric installation and you can hook up more devices and appliances to them than you could to a regular extension cord. In reality, this is not the cheapest option, but it makes sense, especially in areas prone to power outages or off-grid applications. Your RV is another example where generator cords may come in handy.
You should always pay attention that connecting the generator in any other way except through transfer switches in the breaker box will only supply power to the devices connected to the extension cords. This way, a generator will not supply any power to the wall outlets or hard-wired appliances, such as air conditioners or even water heaters. Your heat pump may also not work unless it is connected to the household grid via a plug. If you would like to overcome this issue, you can always connect the generator to the house mains. Let’s see how.
Connecting the Generator to the House’s Electrical Grid
Connecting the generator to the house’s electrical grid can be extremely dangerous. Although most generators come with instructions on how to do it, it is still recommended to call a certified electrician to do this for you. This way, you have someone professional to install a permanent solution, and you don’t have to worry about a forgotten wire, a missed connection to the ground wire, or any other type of problem. Furthermore, having a professional install the system for you let you avoid backfeeding, which is a very dangerous and common issue.
Power Transfer Systems
Considering that to connect a generator, you may consider an extension or generator cords and that the generator directly supplies power to specific appliances, you may want to consider a different solution. Namely, using a power transfer system, you can hook up a generator to the entire home and power all your appliances and lights, including your wall outlets, and even hard-wired major appliances, such as air conditioners, furnaces, and even water heaters. The most important part of any configuration of a power transfer system is the transfer switch.
The transfer switch is an electronic device. It can be installed alongside your circuit breaker box (on the main panel). The transfer switch allows you to control where your home draws power from the grid or the generator. The emphasis here is on “OR”, as you cannot draw power from both sources. This is not safe and you may even injure yourself or someone else when the two sources of power are joined.
The way that it works is that you can turn the switch to the generator position whenever the power is off, or there is a power outage, for whatever reason. By simply turning the switch to the generator position, you connect the circuits in your home to the generator and disconnect the entire home electric network from the grid. This allows you to power all your appliances without any extension cords and can provide light even when there is no power. There are two kinds of transfer switches: the manual and the universal transfer switch.
Another added benefit of a transfer switch is that it acts as the main breaker and the circuit breakers at the same time. This way, you can decide which rooms and major appliances get the power when there is an outage. This results in you having greater control over your power supply and fuel usage.
Manual Transfer Switch
A manual transfer switch lets you switch between the power sources on your own. You simply turn the switch and start the generator. This brings power to your home, including every wall socket and hard-wired appliance, and even lights. They are relatively easy to install, but considering the danger of backfeeding, you should definitely let a professional do it.
Universal Transfer Switch
A universal transfer switch, on the other hand, can do this job for you. As soon as the power is gone, the switch will automatically move its position and allow the generator to take over the job. Some of these switches even have a battery installed, so that you will not lose power until you turn the generator on. This is a very convenient solution. Once the power is back on, the switch will disconnect the generator and will reconnect the grid.
Although the installation process is relatively simple, we always advise that any kind of work on the home mains and the main breaker be done by a professional, experienced electrician. This way, you are sure that everything is connected the right way. This does not mean that you will have nothing to do: you will need to determine which appliances will keep running even when the power is out and which priority they will be placed in. This way, your universal transfer switch can send generator power to the appliances you need the most, such as the furnace and the water pump.
An interlock kit allows you to connect your generator without automatic transfer switches. This is a safety measure that prevents the generator from powering your home without first turning off the main breaker. This way, the generator can never backfeed into your utility line. When choosing an interlock kit, be sure to get one that matches the model and size of your service box. It’s important to get an EXACT match.
The breaker box approach can remove the need for a transfer switch. To connect the generator to the breaker box, use a separate breaker with a wire. This will allow the main breaker to cut off the power supply to the generator when necessary.
Main Electrical Panel
If you’re using a generator, you can wire it to the main electric panel or use a subpanel. We recommend using a subpanel to avoid overloading the main panel. This way, the entire setup will also be easier to manage and fix.
Relay can provide automatic power interruption and protection for any appliance in your home in the event of a power surge or electrical issue. You can connect your generator to a relay. When you connect the relay to the generator, the device switch will turn on and off automatically.
A power inverter is the best way to connect to a generator. It converts the generator’s DC power into AC power, which can be used by your home appliances. This makes it easy to use a generator for all of your energy needs.
What is Generator Backfeeding?
Generator backfeeding can be extremely dangerous, even leading to death or injury, and is also often illegal. Backfeeding occurs when a portable generator is connected directly to a home’s electrical panel, instead of using a transfer switch. This should never be attempted, as it can have disastrous consequences. Unfortunately, many people still think it’s ok to do things like connecting a generator to their house through an outlet. We urge you to never attempt backfeeding and to spread the word to others about the dangers of this practice.
Can a Generator Damage a Refrigerator?
Your refrigerator can get damaged if the generator cannot provide enough wattage to it. For this reason, you should always choose a generator that can supply enough wattage to power your devices, plus a bit on top. You also need to count on the startup draw of power, which can be significantly higher than the regular wattage devices use once in motion.
What Size Generator will Run a House?
An average home can be powered by a generator that is between 5 and 7.5 kW. This means that it should have a wattage of between 5,000 and 7.500 Watts or a bit over the top of all the devices and appliances that you plan to use at the same time. Make sure to spread out the use, with major appliances running during the night, as you may save a lot on generator size and initial costs.
How much Does it Cost to Have a House Wired for a Generator?
Whenever you plan on changing the wiring in your home, you should let a professional do it. You should plan on spending a significant amount of money to do so, between $3,000 and $5,000 per home. In reality, this is an investment, especially for those planning to live off-grid.
What Happens if you Plug too Many Things into a Generator?
You should never plug too many devices into a generator all at once. The thing is that all devices have been designed to work with a stable power supply. An overloaded generator cannot provide this stable supply and may damage some or all appliances connected to it.
Hooking up your generator to the house’s electrical network is not difficult and there is more than one way to do it. This way, you will always have reliable access to electricity and will forget about unpleasant surprises. Although more generators will not be able to power an entire home, it is necessary to know that by being smart with which appliances you run and when you run them, even a small generator can do the trick.