Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Installing a Generator Transfer Switch, Part 3: Wiring in the main

Almost there...

In order for this panel to act as a sub-panel, it has to get power from the main panel.  Because I ordered the TRC0603C, where the 06 means it has a 60amp breaker coming in from the main, I also had to install a 60 amp breaker in my main panel.  This also means I had to adequately size the wire from the main breaker to the sub-panel...

The feed wire...

According to the National Electric Code (NEC from here on out) 2008 Handbook, 6 ga wire should be large enough to handle the 30amps of current.  I went to Lowes and looked at their wire current and pricing page, which said it was only good for 55amps... after speaking with the sales associate there, they referred to a page copied from the NEC and agreed that I was safe.  My electrician here at work agreed with me, especially since I'm only going 6ft.  These guys also agree with my decision... hmm, they have a good bit of good articles!  I suggest you check it out.

The end of the wire...

Wiring it up...

With my wire ready to go, I first had to pick the cable clamp size I thought would work best for the wire I was working with.  I didn't find any great guides for choosing a size, but I decided to go with 3/4" clamps.  Next I had to remove the knock out in the sub-panel and the main panel.   

I highly recommend you turn off the main breaker before you remove the cover or  do any work in your main panel!  This will ensure you ALMOST can't electrocute yourself.  (Same thing applies once the sub-panel is hooked up).  Always check to make sure the wires or equipment you are working with are not energized! 

The main panel with the cover removed.  Seriously, don't touch the stuff circled in red, it can still shock you!

NOTE: If you want to wire in the sub-panel first, you can work with the main panel still energized... that way you can still turn on the lights to see what you are doing.  But remember, this is assuming you are not in the main panel, your generator is not feeding the sub-panel and the feed wire has not been hooked up to the main panel yet!

NOTE: Always kill the breaker feeding your feed wire to the sub-panel and unplug your generator before thinking about working on the sub-panel!

With the knock-out's removed and the cable clamps installed, I next had to feed the wire into the panel to get an estimate on how much I'll need to strip back the insulation.  Hint: Leave yourself a few extra inches!  Stripping the insulation works the same as it did when I wrote Installing a Generator Transfer Switch, Part 2: The Generator Feed Wire.  I like to use a Sharpie marker to mark the location on the insulation to strip it back to.

The TRC0603C Sub-panel.  EDIT: Those are POWER meters, not current.
REVIEW: Red and Black wires go to the breaker.  White goes to Neutral and the bare copper wire goes to ground.

With the main insulation stripped back, I put the wire back through the cable clamp and tightened it down.  From there, I routed the wire through the sub-panel to get an idea of how long each wire needed to be.  Trim all the wires to whatever length you desire and then trim the insulation back about an inch.  Give the bare wires a nice coating of the ox-guard (corrosion inhibitor) and clamp them down.

NOTE: In this instance, I clamped the Neutral (White) wire down using the main lug.  In the picture above, on the left hand neutral bar at the bottom is a hex nut.  I backed this out, put the wire in, and torqued the nut down.

The line-power feeding into the breaker, coming in from the bottom

You can see above that the red and black lines go to the breaker while the bare copper wire goes to the ground.  I already mentioned white going to neutral.  Also shown is the first circuit being run.  This one is going up to a terminal box where I'm splicing in a wire that isn't quite long enough to make the switch from the main panel to the new sub-panel.

But you can also see for this new circuit that black goes to the breaker, the white goes to the neutral bar and the bare copper wire goes to ground, just like in the main panel.  This is repeated for each circuit being wired.

Making progress...

One thing that I did, that I thought was a good idea, is use some wire labels I pulled out of the trash while working at a previous employer.  They would print labels and if the printer screwed up, they'd trash the whole batch.  Some of them never got printed... so I'm using a permanent marker to label my circuits and heat shrink the labels onto the wires.  This way if I ever need to go back and figure things out, it should be easier to do!

Heat shrinking a wire label... it's hard to do AND take a picture!
Everything was going along just great until I ran into some wires coming down from upstairs... they wouldn't reach my new box.  So after two trips to the hardware store, I ended up installing two junction boxes to fit all of my wire junctions inside, seen below.

The first junction box

These boxes are necessary any time you need to splice two wires together.  In this case, the upstairs bathrooms and bedrooms wouldn't reach in addition to a few from the main level, so there were a few splices to make.

Be sure to use the correct size wire nuts!

I learned a few things about junctions after I finished this up.  You don't need wire nuts on the ground wires... just take all of the ground wires and leave about 5inches extra length and twist them all together.  That could possibly save some money.  I also learned you can put as many wire splices into a box as you can safely fit... so don't splice off too much shielding, you want them inside the wire nut so they don't short out to another wire when you pack them in there like sardines!  You can read my previously article on splicing wires here: How to strip/splice wire.

The final product


So there you have it, the inspector came last night.  I passed my inspection with flying colors!

The only issue was that I had previously made a knee-jerk decision to use different wiring after everything was up and running and when the electrician came, he helped me put it back to how it had been done previously.  Everything worked awesome and now we are ready for A storm.

Notice I did not say "THE STORM"!

I don't think "THE STORM" will ever come, but little by little, day after day, eventually there will be a storm.  Now I'm a little bit more prepared for when a storm hits. 

Can you "Sleep when the wind blows"? (That was the first place I fount it posted, cant remember where I first heard it.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

The electrician comes tonight!

Okay, tonight I will find out just how great or horrible I am at playing "electrician."  At a rate of $60/hr, I sure hope I am pretty good at it!  I'll post more on wiring it up after I get the go-ahead from the electrician...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Don't get your wires in a knot...

When I started in on my main circuit breaker panel, there were a lot of breakers with two wires coming off of them.  Probably not a big deal... but I either got lucky or God was watching out for me!  But let's back up for a second...

I started out this project flipping breakers and figuring out what it turned off in my house.  It all went fine till I flipped one and couldn't figure it out... actually, there might have been three of those.  No big deal, I'll figure it out later... right?  Well as I've been swapping wires over from one panel to the next, it opened up breakers in the main.  Then I'd take the doubled up wires and spread them out, so they no longer share a breaker.  During this time, I don't think I ever moved two special wires, but I did discover that when one wire was energized, the other one was too!  It got to one point where I had to flip BOTH breakers in order to turn off the lights in the basement... hmmm... why?

This weekend my neighbor came over to help me trouble shoot the wires... my wife caught me with the drywall saw about to attack the problem and told me to call the electrician.

What kind of self respecting man calls a professional before exhausting all other options?
That's an easy one...                             THIS ONE!

So my neighbor came over, talked me into putting down the drywall saw and started walking through the problem with me.  In the process, as I was about to pull the two wires off one breaker and put one on another, he suggested I stop... as in DON'T DO THAT!

As I pointed out before, when one wire is in a circuit turned on, the lights are on.  I should also mention that the other wire is hot at this point, indicating that the two wires are connected somehow.  I proved this with my volt-meter by testing for voltage from the wire to the ground terminal... yep, 125 volts!

Now the reason I shouldn't put that other wire into a second breaker is that I would then risk putting it into the other leg of the power coming into the house... this would create a 240volt circuit instead of 120volts... a very potentially dangerously risky thing to do in terms of burning down your house... those light's are not designed to take 240volts!

Well we eventually narrowed it down to some 3 way switches and a switch box with all of the black (hot or energized) wires tied in together in a single red wire nut... well there were two wires that shouldn't have been tied in together and when we pulled them apart, everything worked just as it should.

So now I can wire my living room into the sub-panel without any worries...

Why not just leave them on one breaker?

The problem is that I wanted to only wire up the living room to the sub-panel.  If I had done this without correcting this problem, when operating on generator power, I would have ended up with one wire coming out of my sub-panel that fed power back into my main panel and hence, back out to the power lines the line-men are trying to repair... defeating the whole point!  It was a stupid mistake by whomever wired up the house, but I'm glad we got it fixed...

Besides, if I had called the electrician, I'd be out money, pride and the knowledge I gained from this experience... and knowledge is one thing that can't be taken away from you.

With that, have a good one!


Friday, March 14, 2014


Soon these beautiful creatures will be gracing my backyard... and eventually my dinning room table!

 Well it's official... we're getting chickens!  I just put in my order for 60 Rainbow Rangers from Meyer Hatchery.  Now I need to put together a brooder and a chicken tractor...

...anybody know where I can get organic Chicken feed in North West Ohio?

"We'll get an adventure out of this yet, Barnaby!"

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Installing a Generator Transfer Switch, Part 2: The Generator Feed Wire

The sub-panel

The TRC0603C

As you can see above, I've labeled all of the main components of the panel.  This unit comes (assuming you do not buy the pre-wired version) with only two breakers installed, that happen to have some hardware attached that prevents them both from being turned on at the same time; hence the transfer switch.  The line power breaker will be hooked up to the line power side and the generator power breaker will be, of course, hooked up to the generator.  Only one of these can be turned on at once, preventing you from back feeding the lines outside your house. 


Getting started...

Everything up to this point has been the same as if I were installing an every-day sup panel.  This is the part that makes it a Generator Transfer Switch!  The first thing that I have already established in part two of my Generator Transfer Switch series is that my generator can provide 30amps at 240volts AC (alternating current).  I also covered there that this much current requires a 10ga, 3 strand wire with a ground wire.  I’ve also mentioned that the previous owners of my house had a hot tub in the room furthest from the main breaker.  Luckily, it was a 10ga 3 strand wire... Woohoo!

This is the bundle of 10-3 wire previous owners left behind and ready for me to use!

After I pulled the wire out and bundled it up for storage, I got to reverse this as it came time to hook it up to the sub-panel.  After coming up with a plan as to how I was going to route the generator feed cable from the sub-panel to the power inlet box, I spent a lot of time with the hole-saw putting holes in my joists so I could avoid using the staple nails... hopefully that will pay off if I ever decide to finish off the basement ceiling.  

Here’s the wire clamp I used.  I believe it is a 1” clamp (my understanding is that dimension indicated the size of the hole in the sub-panel).

Installing a cable clamp required me to first remove the knock-out on the top of the box.  Make sure the clamp you have ready matches the size of the knockout you select!  To remove the knock-out I took a flat head screw driver, placed it over the knock-out (see image below), right next to the edge, and smacked the top of your screw driver with a hammer.  Then I used a pliers to bend it back and forth till it snapped off.  There might be a better way, but that worked for me just fine.

Once the knock-out was removed, shown in the next picture, I installed the cable clamp.  One installed, I fed the cable through the top of the framing (I’m sure there’s a technical term for this, feel free to comment) and fed it through the cable clamp after cutting back the outer Nomex (or whatever the outermost plastic wire insulation is called) to the point where the insulation just comes through the clamp, protecting the inner wire insulation from getting cut or nicked.

The generator feed wire insulation stripped back and ready to thread in through the clamp.

With the insulation stripped back and the wire clamped in place, I was then able to wire the feed cable into the sub-panel and start wiring it in.  Reliance did provide some guidance on how to install the sub-panel (here) and the power inlet box (here) that helped me to understand everything I was doing... of course Lance, the electrician at work gave me a lot of good advice too, like using the oxidation blocker.  When I got into it, I didn’t know that white was always neutral, but figured it out after reading through the instructions for the power inlet box.

While goes to neutral, red and black are hot, and the ground goes to the grounding terminal block.

One item I should point out a this point is the oxidation blocker.  Have you ever had corrosion on the battery terminals of your car?  That's the same thing that can happen to your wires at each connection.  Your batteries suffer from this more as a result of diss-similar metals in contact with each other resulting in Galvanic Corrosion, but the same basic concept can happen when you make connections in your home wiring.  I used a product I picked up at the local hardware store...

This little tube of slick black goop should keep my connections clean and free!

Applying the oxidation blocker to a neutral wire.

To open this tube of wonder, you have to cut off a portion of the end of the tip.  I cut it as close to the end to make the hole at the end very small... and later trimmed off a bit more.  To coat the end of the wire, I stick it inside the tube and squeeze the tube as I pull the wire out, leaving a thick (but not too thick) coating of goop (most likely called grease).

The other end of the wire...

What you’ve seen so far was definitely the easy part.  The next decision that needed to be made was where I was going to put the power inlet box.  I was thinking I'd put it just below the siding, attaching to the cinder blocks so the wire would come in through the back... before it snowed.  You might not be able to tell, but that snow in the corner is about 30inhes deep.

Once I saw the prospective location in the snow, I had to change the inlet box location.

After looking at the above picture, I don’t want the inlet box to be under 2ft of snow on a regular basis.  I know the inlet box is supposed to shed water from the elements, but somehow it didn’t seem like a good plan.  Therefore my father suggested I cut a hole in the vinyl siding, mount the power inlet box in the hole, and then trim it out.  This seemed like a good idea so I pulled out my new extra long masonry drill bit and away I went! A couple notes on this... I wanted to make sure I drilled through one of the hollow sections of the cinder block, hence the hole is located about 25% of the distance from one end.  The extra long bit allowed me to make a guide hole on both the inside and outside, as my 5/8in bit (just large enough for the wire) was not long enough to go through the entire block from outside.  Ready, Set, GO!

The extra long bit was to allow me to drill all the way through, providing a guide on the back side for the larger, shorter bit.

Ready... set... Stop.  So dead batteries have a way of changing your plans.  Thankfully, my father brought his hammer drill.  My drill has a hand chuck, so I don't have any chuck keys.  Dad's drill didn’t and he didn't bring one.  Needless to say, it required a little ingenuity to get the drill bit tight... without the chuck key.

When working with pipe wrenches, it’s always nice to have two of them!  (I can’t think of a time when one would be good enough).

With everything in place I drilled larger 5/8in holes on the inside and outside of the cinder block and threaded the wire through.

Inside my crawl space I had to work around some piping...
This is another time you should consider measuring twice and cutting, or in this case drilling, once.  Inside the crawl space I had a wonderfully installed Radon Mitigation System... my hole was just barely high enough that I was able to work around it.  It sure could have gone worse! 

Now that I have a bare wire sticking out a hole in my foundation and going 3ft up to a power inlet box for my generator, I have a problem... what if some little boy with a weed eater one day wonders what will happen if he attacks that wire with it?  What if some little boys want to try out their pocket knife on it?  What if blah blah blah...  The answer is Conduit.  It is designed to protect electric wires from little boys, weed eaters, pocket knives and more.  In a following post I'll talk to you more about how I assembled all of my conduit.

The power inlet box, trimmed out and everything!  The trim is only held in by friction and the cover/plug is not shown.

Wiring up the box isn't too bad.  I've heard rumors that wiring it up for a 50 amp circuit can be a little challenging as there is not enough room in the box to connect the wiring and then put the cover on.  But for my application, I didn't have any real problems.  Once I pulled the wire through the conduit I stripped the primary insulation back about 5 inches, just long enough that it was still stickup up through the collar on the conduit.  Then I stripped back about a half inch of insulation around the individual wires, or conductors, and inserted them into the back of the cover/plug.  The red and black wires went into the holes labeled X and Y receptively, while the white went into the neutral hole labeled W, and the bare ground wire was attached to the greenish-blue screw in the top right of the box in the picture above.  The back of the plug has another wire that attaches to this screw, so make sure those are both connected!  Again, for each of these connections I applied the oxidation goop.  In this instance, I think it to be even more important than indoors, as in an outdoor environment, there is likely to be more moisture condensing out of the air and settling on the bare wires... causing more corrosion.  I could be wrong, but why take the chance?  The Ox-guard wasn't too much more than $5.

I'll try to remember to take a picture the next time I get the cover off, but you may have to wait till the weather warms up a bit!

Till next time, Enjoy!

Note to self... hurry up with it, you have garden seeds to get started!

Installing a Generator Transfer Switch, Part 1


Mounting the panel was the easy part... about 45 minutes?

So I woke up one Saturday morning with nothing on my list of activities my wife wanted me to work on for the day.  She wanted to sleep in, so I quietly got out of bed, put on my thermal underwear and worn out Carhart jeans and probably 4 layers of shirts.

It's February and in Northwest Ohio the price of propane is around $4/gallon.  Interpretation, our house is kinda cold right now!

I skipped breakfast and quickly gathered up everything I thought I would need and got started.


As you can see in the pictures (below), there are a few tools I needed to finish this job.  Your needs may vary depending on your circumstances.  Listed in the order I used them:
1) Drywall saw - used to cut the drywall.
2) Carpenters right angle - used to measure and lay things out.  Measure twice, cut once!  It's always nice to have straight cuts as well.
3) Bubble Level - used with the carpenters right angle to make sure the top of  my sub-panel was installed at the same height as the main panel.
4) Pen and pencil - mostly a carpenters pencil

5) Electric drill - not shown.  A hammer drill showed up for later parts of this project, compliments my father.
6) Masonry drill bits - you'll need to make sure you don't use normal drill bits.  They don't do well when drilling into your masonry foundation!
7) Masonry Screws - used to attach (mount) the sub-panel to the foundation.

I took this picture thinking I was ready to complete this job... obviously I forgot a few tools.
A few more of the tools I used.  This spare purple dresser in the basement made a nice place to put my tools while working!


The first thing you are going to have to determine is where you want it to go.  I had a few things factoring into my decision.
1) On one side of my main panel is a corner - I didn't want my sub panel in the corner.
2) I wanted my panel at eye level - I can't put it above or below my main panel (code?)
3) I wanted my panel close to the main panel - I didn't want to run the more expensive 6ga wire very far.
4) There are studs behind the drywall in my basement.  I didn't want it too close to my main panel and I think code might have had a problem with that too!

My basement corner, a fresh palette for installing a sub-panel

What that left me with was the area to the right of my main panel with one empty stud spacing between the panels.  Of course, I had to rip off a lot of drywall to figure all of this out!  

So I got started with the drywall saw.  At first this is more like a nail that has to be pounded into the drywall, but once started it acts like any saw.  Just make sure you are careful, if you cut into a hot wire behind the drywall with that saw, you can get zapped!  It would be prudent to turn off the main breaker to your house (just in case) before you start cutting away!  I took my chances and tried to keep the saw very shallow. 

Cutting a test hole.  This helped me figure out what was in my wall... a plastic vapor barrier and insulation!

I measured the sub-panel and cut away the drywall just past the studs.  I should have cut half way over the stud so I could screw them down - Learn from my mistake! (It will make putting drywall back up easier.)  But whaever the case, the panel fit in the hole I cut in my drywall... I'll call that a superb success and a great way to start of this project!  (If only the rest had gone so smoothly)

Alright, it fits!
So that wasn't too bad... yet.  Next  I'm going to have to consider how to run a wire from the main to the sub-panel... the solution there is to cut out more of the drywall!  But before I do, let's attach the panel to the foundation.

Here's my blank slate hole in the drywall with a poured concrete foundation behind it.

Now mounting the panel to the foundation is going to require some special hardware.  As I mentioned above, you cannot use normal drill bits to drill a hole into your cement (or block) foundation.  Nor can you go out and buy normal screws that will self-tap your foundation (to my knowledge).  Therefore you need to go out and buy a bonefide masonry drill bit and anchoring hardware.  I chose to go with a special screw that will thread into the foundation, shown below.

This is the masonry drill bit and screws I used to mount the panel.

This is my masonry drill bit and masonry screws. 

First things first, like with tapping a hole in metal, you first must drill a pilot hole.  Again, my battery powered drill did the job, but a hammer drill would have been nice.  *A special note on drills and bits - some masonry drill bits were not made to be used with hammer drills.  Don't overlook this when buying a bit.  You could get yourself hurt if you use a hammer drill with a bit that wasn't made to take the pounding, literally. 

I went through at least one battery getting all my holes drilled.
So I don't really have any good pictures of the panel installed worth looking at... forgive me.  But after I got done mounting it, I realized wires had to come in from the top, like the main panel, and I also needed a feed cable from the main panel coming in through the bottom of my sub-panel.  Here's what it looked like after I had cut the rest of the drywall away and wired in my 6/3 (3 wires of 6ga thickness with a ground wire) feed wire into my sub panel. 

Sub-panel mounted with the feed wire already installed.
So up next I'll start talking about wiring this thing up.  Until then, I have some oil to change and a generator sub-panel installation to wrap up!

Have a great weekend!  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Reusable Canning Lids

I don't know about you guys, but I enjoy growing food AND finding new ways to store it.  I have a freezer and a refrigerator, just like the next guy... and I'm setting up my house to run off a generator when the power goes out... but I only have so much gasoline, somebody can steal my generator, or it could just plain break!

Now if I am going to spend all the $ and time on a garden and going hunting, I want a backup backup plan!  Right now, as I see it, I have two options when all else fails...

1) I can put things on the dehydrator.
2) I can water bath can or pressure can my food in Mason jars... just like my grandparents would have done!

I'll talk about the dehydrator more in the future I'm sure...

For now it's canning!

Canning... putting  your food in jars and heating them up to the point of killing anything bad inside.  High acid foods like apples or tomato's can be done in a water bath caner and all else goes into a pressure caner... after you put them into the Mason jars of course!

(There's more to it than that... these are not instructions on how to can!)

But in our world today or use it once and throw it away, the same has applied to canning as well.  More specifically, the lids.  The metal lids have a thin amount of material that is not so reliable the second time around for sealing up your lids... defeating the whole point of canning!  Well I just wanted to introduce any of you who might not know about it to a product by a company called Tattler (http://www.reusablecanninglids.com).

While they may cost more than your metal, one time use, canning lids... they are good to go till you screw them up!  (The rubber seals, I've heard, eventually wear out).  I've used them so far to can Turkey, Turkey broth, Applesauce and Cincinnati style chili.  (That's right, when the power goes out, I can now snack on my home made Cincinnati Chili with Venison burger!)  

I should note one popular restaurant chain of this food type is not concealed carry friendly. Therefore I do not do business with them anymore and will not mention their name.

But I was just in the neighborhood of one of my favorite places to shop and thought I'd check out prices... no specials.  But next time I'm looking to purchase more lids, here's my selection.

I'll also throw in a good reference I got from my Grandma in-law... its a book called Preserving the Harvest, and I highly recommend it to anybody who is getting started or is looking for something different!
Thanks Grandma!

I'm working on my posts for Installing a Generator Transfer Switch, but this is all for now.  Enjoy!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Generator Transfer Switch, Part 3 (Equipment Options)

First things first:


I am simply providing information here.  Do your research and don't kill yourself and don't burn your house down.  I am not liable for your mistakes... and yes, I make mistakes too!  I don't want you to do something stupid because of something you thought I said.  

On this project I am in constant communication with and getting all my work inspected by a licensed electrician BEFORE I CONNECT POWER TO IT!  I recommend you do to!

So just like Small's in the movie THE SANDLOT, remember this- "Don't be a doofus!  Don't be a doofus!"

It may not be the same scene, but I couldn't help myself!

Required Equipment

When you narrow it down, you'll need these four basic pieces in order to make your installation a success:

1) Transfer Switch
2) Power Inlet Box
3) Power Cable (generator to power inlet)
4) Power Cable* (power inlet box to transfer switch)

*A blessing

God dropped a little surprise in my lap with this one.  The first owner of our home had installed a hot tub in one of the back rooms and removed it when they sold the house.  But instead of taking the wire with them, they cut it back in the panel and at the tub.  If discovered this jewel crawling around in the crawl space after some freezing pipe problems.  It turned out to be a 10ga 3 (10-3) strand wire with a ground, about 50ft long... this stuff runs for nearly $2/ft at the hardware store.  Approximate value: $80.  It runs right where I want it to go with some extra left over.  Oh yea, 10ga wire is the perfect size for 30 amps of current... just what I need.  Pretty cool!

So again, keep in mind that I am providing up to 30A (amps) at 240volts AC from my generator.

Picking out a Transfer Switch 

It started out at Menards, looking at their Generac whole house generators and transfer switches.  All they sold were Generac whole house units... and they were expensive.  (Note: I tried to go back to where I was, but I didn't work... here's their website though.)  Besides, I learned from Steven Harris that I can only store so much fuel and I want it to hurt a little bit while I am out of power.
*Propane is an option... but the recent propane shortages have make me think twice about that option!

For $370 I liked the idea because I could power two 240volt circuits with it, but then it would only leave me 6 other circuits.  After multiple conversations with Reliance, I was a little worried about the push-button circuit breakers (Reliance proprietary = you have to order replacements from reliance).  However, it came with everything I needed, short a cable to go from the power inlet box to the transfer switch.  You can read more about how to install one of these here (also referenced below).

The next place I landed was the "Reliance Controls Q310A 10-Ciruit TransferSwitch, 125/250-Volt" system for $377.29.  Total cost is difference is $7.29 + wire, cable, inlet box, etc- approximately $100-150 more.

I liked this option more because it used real circuit breakers I can buy from the local hardware store.  However, it still limited me to a total of ten (10) circuits, leaving only 6 if I power two (2) 240 volt circuits.  What it really worth the extra ~$125?  I wasn't convinced.

The benefit of both of these systems is that they are consumer friendly for installation.  I spoke with an electrician who wanted to install a whole house transfer switch at my meter (outside) for nearly $1000, and I could install two of these for less than that... it had me thinking.

Where I landed

After a few more hours cruising the Reliance web site, and another phone call to those guys, it finally clicked.  My DIY spirit kicked in.  Meet the TRC0603C from Reliance.  

Note: It looks cheaper on Amazon than where I bought it.  

Maybe you can save some money at my expense.

TRC0603D - The D indicates a simple box with no meters or power inlet plug

The TRC0603C is a full blown electrical sub-panel.  If you check out the Reliance product information, they are very explicit about the fact that "This product is not meant to be installed by your average do-it-yourself type person."  That said, I am going to do it myself and have it inspected by a certified electrician before I give it any juice.  I feel like this is an acceptable compromise.  

The first thing you might consider when looking at this product is the product Model Number, so I'll break that down for you first.

The product model code: 

06 - It has a 60 amp breaker coming in from the main supplied power.  
        The allowable range for this 30A, 60A and 100A (03, 06 and 10)
03 - It has a 30 amp breaker coming in from the generator.  
        Same as above: the allowable range for this 30A, 60A and 100A (03, 06 and 10)
C - This unit has current meters measuring the two legs of the power coming into the panel from the generator.  
        Other options are 
A- Power meters* and power inlet plug**
B- Power inlet plug**, no power meters
C- Power meters*, no power inlet plug**
D- No meter, no power inlet plug** (the cheapest option)

*A power meter allows you to balance the legs of your generator.  I recommend reading up on the topic if you are confused.  I even did the work for you, click here.

**A power inlet plug would come in handy if you installed your sub-panel in your garage, or a similar room, where you could have a power cord coming into the house from your generator.  This would make for a much easier installation.  This was not an option at my house, as my panel and sub-panel are going in the basement.

Why I went with this option:

1) Cost: The total cost of my purchase was somewhere around $320 for the panel, the inlet box and the generator cable.  The other options started out at $370 and went up from there.

2) Number of Circuits: This panel has room for 12 circuits using standard circuit breakers and up to 20 circuits using tandem breakers.  Obviously that is an improvement over the other options (10 circuits max).

The tandem circuit breaker I purchased at Menards, also available on Amazon here
3) Circuit Breakers: The cheapest option is to remove the breakers from your main panel and put them into the sub-panel.  It is also nice, in my opinion, to be able to go to the hardware store and buy replacements (similar to 2nd option above).   

Following up on this one, I learned that my original circuit breaker panel was a different style of panel (check out this page to see what mine looks like).  Apparently the old style breaker has "U-clips" and the new ones don't.  Regardless, I spent approximately $75 on new circuit breakers to go into my sub-panel... it all adds up!

4) That would be the easy way, but it wouldn't be the Cowboy Way!  

I grew up listening to the Ryders in the Sky radio show, which is where I heard that phrase... although some reports date it to Roy Rogers or earlier.  Basically, I wanted to do this right.  (Again, you could back-feed a breaker with a suicide cord, but that's dangerous and illegal!)  

I wanted to make sure my wife could do this safely, in the middle of the night, in case I am away on business.  I'll let you know how that goes if and when it ever comes.

Power Inlet Box:

Okay, so keeping in mind that we are running 30 amps of power at 240 volts, you don't have a lot of options.  Go over to the Reliance Controls website and you'll find a lot of options.  Basically, you can choose any inlet box with a model number ending in 30.  Example - PBN30, PR30, PB30.  What I didn't want was the PB31, however.  It is a 120 volt ONLY inlet box.  I believe I went with the PB30.

PB30 from Reliance Controls

One important note about whatever power inlet box you choose is to note the plug designation, or NEMA Configuration.  On this box, it is a L14-30.  IMPORTANT!  You also want to make sure the plug on your generator matches this!  

Power Cable:

This is the cable that goes between your generator and the power inlet box.  One important aspect about this cable is that it has a male adapter on the generator end and a female on the power inlet box end.  This prevents you from plugging it into your generator and touching hot prongs on the other end of the cable, which could kill you! (Hence the term suicide cable.  Steve talks about them here.)  This, pictured below, is the safe version of a suicide cable! 

Now, remember the NEMA Configuration from the power inlet box?  Yea, that comes in handy now.  You want to first make sure you are purchasing a cable that will be able to handle the current and voltage you need.  You also want to figure out how long you want it to be.  For my system I needed to carry 30 amps at 240 volts.  Unfortunately I ordered the wrong one (don't do that!).  So right now I'm waiting for my PC3020 to come in the mail.  You can note it has four prongs, just like the power inlet box.  (PC = Power Cable, 30 = current, 20 = length in feet)

Up next, installation!

References and other recommended reading:
Installing A Generator Transfer Switch at Zach’s House. 2/12/11: This is where I started my research, and I recommend you read it too!

Reliance Controls - Where I went to pick my equipment.

Dale Electric - Where I purchased my equipment.

Alt-Electric - Another option for purchasing Reliance equipment if you need one

Jack Spirko puts out The Survival Podcast.  I think this his shows are down to earth common sense stuff and a wealth of knowledge!  There are multiple shows where Jack invited Steven Harris to come on the air, and I'd say he did a great job covering generators and hooking them up to your house.  Of course, you can listen to all of Steven Harris's presentations on Jack's show here along with all the other information Steven has put together for the show.