Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Generator Transfer Switch (Part 1)

If you like electricity, this is worth reading

How many times have you been at home and all the sudden the lights turn off?  It might be snow, ice, a car wreck down the road... Or you could be like my parents; when a hurricane hit Louisiana (the year after Katrina) and all the power line workers went south to help and nobody counted on 60mph winds rolling through the Ohio valley later that week.  This event left my parents out of power for nearly two weeks as there weren't any workers around to fix the lines.  It might be worth noting that all the food in their freezer went bad, including all the recently harvested produce from the garden!

If this (power outage) hasn't happened to you, it likely will a some point in the future.  This and the following posts will hopefully explain to you the course I believe is the best recourse for this emergency event.  

All of this has been done with the following priorities in mind:

Legal- I don't want anybody going to jail.  It is expensive, time consuming and it would make me sad to be apart from my wife or family.

Safety- This is important because dealing with electricity like this can kill myself or somebody else.  (If it meet's code, it should be safe and legal.)

Simple- I am an engineer.  There will be times when I have to go away from home for a business trip.  I want to ensure that my wife, or children (when the day comes they are responsible enough) are capable of doing this while I am away, without any doubt it is done safely and in a legal manner.


What is it?

A generator transfer switch is a device that ensures the power from your generator does not leave the house through the power lines coming into your house (through the meter) and kill, for example, the lineman two miles away trying to repair the down wires that caused your power to go out.  It is effectively a two way switch, where only one option can be turned on at a time.  It allows you to simply chose if you want power from the outside power lines or from your generator.  Naturally, if the power is out... you want power from your generator!


Other options:

Extension cords: You can run extension cords to all of your (110 to 120 volt) appliances while the generator is running.  This is a very economical option, still legal, and relatively safe.  I won't look down on anybody who chooses to go this method.  (Unfortunately, I don't believe this is a good option when I am required to power things like my 240 volt well pump.)

Back-feed a breaker: THIS IS ILLEGAL, THIS IS NOT SAFE.  I won't even speak of it.  If you want more information on this, check out Steven Harris's page here.

You can read more about Generator Transfer Switches on Wikipedia here.

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