The Wrong Way to Connect a Portable Generator to Your Home

It’s easy to take the convenience of electricity for granted; but when we’re unable to use our systems and devices, we’re quickly reminded how much we rely on it. Power outages can offer one such reminder. After days, or even hours, the lack of power can drive us crazy. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that so many households have portable generators.

But as many have discovered, a portable generator alone isn’t enough to provide the convenience of utility power. Running extension cords throughout the home isn’t convenient; neither is having constantly having to plug and unplug devices into cords in order to use them. Which leads some to wonder: Can I power my home by plugging my generator into an electrical outlet?

The answer is, unequivocally, no.

Household electrical systems are intended to receive power from utilities; power moves in one direction – into the home. Plugging a generator into a home’s electrical system, reverses the direction that power is supposed to flow. Power can travel through the home’s system, through the electrical panel, and out into utility lines. This dangerous circumstance is called backfeed.

Backfeed power can continue to travel until it reaches a transformer – so called because it transforms high voltage into lower voltages used by household. As power is traveling in reverse, transformers act in reverse as well; low household voltages are converted into high voltage.

Backfeed is dangerous because it is unexpected. If a generator is being used because power is out, utility workers will almost certainly to attempting to correct the issue. Lines that should be voltage-free and safe to handle can be made to carry thousands of volts – putting any utility worker at severe risk of electrocution.

Feeding power to a household system requires either a breaker interlock, such as the ones from Generator Interlock Kit, or a transfer switch. These devices are designed to prevent backfeed, and to keep generator power contained within the household system; they do so by switching the electrical panel’s connection from power line to generator, or vice-versa. Switches prevent the panel from connecting to both sources at once.

There’s only one way to handle electricity, and that’s safely according to code. If you want to connect a portable generator to your home’s electrical system, ask your local electrician to install an interlock kit or a transfer switch.

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