A portable generator provides electricity during a power outage by running a gas-powered engine. Whereas standby generators are usually permanent structures and turn on automatically when the power goes out, a portable generator is, as the name suggests, portable, meaning you can move it around. This can make it very convenient if you need power backup during a trip or tailgate. However, for safety reasons, you should never run a portable generator inside your home. A portable generator must always be run outside. The question then remains: if you can’t run the generator inside, how do you hook it up, so it powers appliances inside your home?
You can connect a portable generator to your home in two ways. First, you can plug in each appliance using individual extension cords. Second, you can power a circuit panel using a transfer switch. It is extremely important that you never plug a portable generator into a wall socket. This is called back-feeding and is not only dangerous but also illegal in many places. You can alter the voltage in your home or neighborhood’s power lines and cause fatal accidents.
It is also important to read your manufacturer’s instruction manual and safety guidelines before you attempt to run your generator or hook it up to your home. Now, let’s explore the two ways you can hook up a portable generator to your home.
Hooking Up a Portable Generator to Your Home Using Extension Cords
The first step is to make sure you have read the guidelines and checked off the pre-start checklist in the manual. Your portable generator should be outside your home and at least ten feet away from any openings. Next, you can connect the generator to the indoor appliances by either using multiple extension cords form outside and connecting them to indoor appliances, or by using one generator (or gen) cord and connecting it to multiple appliances inside. Once you have run the gen cord or extension cords, you can start the generator.
Hooking Up a Portable Generator to Your Home Using a Transfer Switch
First, follow the initial safety precautions described above (e.g., read the instructions manual, check off all items in the initial pre-start checklist). Make sure your generator is outside and at least ten feet away from any openings. Once you have taken these initial steps, use a gen cord to connect the portable generator to the transfer switch. Start the generator. Now flip the main breakers in the transfer switch; they should go from “line” to “generator” power. Next, turn on the circuits you wish to power, one at a time.
Pros and Cons of Using Individual Extension Cords vs. a Transfer Switch
Individual extension cords are cheaper than purchasing a transfer switch. However, they have some drawbacks. First of all, they do not allow you to use your generator’s power to its fullest potential. Second, and perhaps most importantly, they pose safety hazards. Make sure the cords you use are in good condition and appropriate for the particular appliances you are powering. If you use an old cord, or if the gauge or length of the wire is wrong, you will create a shock or power hazard. The risks are lower if you are only using your portable generator to power a few appliances rather than many (e.g., a few lights). You should also use an inverter, which is a device that changes direct current to an alternating current.
If your generator is mid-sized and you are comfortable connecting several appliances to it using cords, you should make sure to use a generator or gen cord. A gen cord is a single cord that you hook up to the 20- or 30-amp outlet on your portable generator. The other end of the cord splits into several household outlets, to which you can connect additional extension cords inside your home.
If you have a large portable generator and wish to power hard-powered devices such as air conditioners, you should definitely use a power transfer system, which can provide power to an entire circuit rather than just individual appliances. Power transfer kits are available at hardware stores or wherever you can buy generators. As with any electrical device, make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines before use.