Portable generators are an excellent backup option. But, if you’ve just bought a new model in case of an emergency or power outage, are you good to plug it right in and start running it at a moment’s notice? Unfortunately, it’s not so simple (and you definitely shouldn’t plug a generator into an outlet!) When you connect a generator to your house, it can be a very involved process, and it’s important to do it right! Most people opt to hire a contractor or professional to undergo this process for them, but you can do it yourself at home.
Connecting a generator to your house isn’t too time-consuming. It just requires the right tools, foresight, and precautions. When done incorrectly, it can pose a major threat to the safety of yourself, your family, and others— not to mention power issues. You might have to flip multiple breakers or circuits in your home (which you really don’t want when you need the backup in an emergency).
If you’re only just starting to think about using a generator as a house backup, keep reading. We’ll show you how to connect a generator to your house in the safest and most effective way possible—especially for running multiple corded appliances in a pinch.
Step 1: Should I Use an Extension cord or a Generator Cord?
You’ll first need to determine whether you’ll be running an extension cord, multiple extension cords, or a generator cord (a.k.a. a gen-cord) from your generator to power your house’s appliances.
Extension cords are cheaper, but they won’t offer you full power (voltage and amperage) or the capabilities found in your generator. They can power basic appliances but cannot support ones that are hard-wired into your home’s breaker, such as central air, a furnace, or a water heater— all of which might be nice to have when the power is out.
Not to mention, not all plug types can run on extension cords. The more extension cords you use and connect to your generator (and depending on how much voltage they provide), running your home appliances on a generator using multiple extension cords can be potentially dangerous, too.
On the other hand, a generator or gen-cord— while more expensive— grants you the most juice possible out of your generator. You connect it right to the generator and bring the other end into your home. It has a single set of outlets to connect into an array of appliances straight away, and it caters to multiple different plug types.
If there are high-demand appliances in your home, you will especially want to use a gen-cord. This will allow you to run these safely, at optimum power levels, and without other electrical concerns.
Regardless of which cord you choose, you’ll also want to install a transfer switch for safety (especially for hardwired appliances), which we will get into later.
Step 2: What is your Generator Amperage and Plug Type?
If you’re unsure on these details, refer to your home or portable generator’s owner manual for the best information. Here, you’ll get instructions and specifications on how to hook up a generator to your house properly.
With information about your generator’s amperage in hand, you can determine how many volts you have and how many appliances you’ll ultimately be able to run. Amperage ratings usually come in 20 amp, 30 amp, or 50 amp ratings, depending on the generator. You can find this in either your owner’s manual or sometimes engraved right next to the plug on the generator.
As for the plug type, not all generators will have the right plug type to power all your appliances (though a generator cord or gen-cord can help). A quick glance can tell you. If it’s a large, round plug, chances are it will have higher power needs (at least 220 volts) to give all your desired appliances and power cords enough juice, and you’ll need higher amperage and voltage plugs in your generator, too.
On the other hand, if it’s a smaller and more standard-looking plug, chances are your generator will be able to give it sufficient power.
Can you Plug a Generator into a Wall Socket?
No! Never plug a generator directly into an outlet in your home without a transfer switch. This can cause a fire in your home or even “back feed” electricity into the grid, which can electrocute and kill anyone working on powerlines. We’ll get into how to install a transfer switch shortly.
Step 3: Get the Right Supplies for Transfer Switch Wiring
These next steps are about installing a transfer switch so you can properly (and safely) connect a generator to your house and power any appliance, including hardwired appliances, in a pinch. If you’re not well-versed in electrical work and have questions about supplies, ask for support from a professional.
You’ll need to purchase a double breaker, an inlet box, and a generator extension lead, each rated to supply the same amount of amperage as your generator (e.g., if you have a 50 amp generator, get a 50 amp breaker). Also, purchase three 10-gauge electrical wires that are each 10 feet in length. You’ll also need an electrical conduit, fitting, and waterproof glue.
Step 4: Wire Up the Generator Inlet Plug
This next step is the most complicated but the most worth your while— and not as complicated as it may seem once you start to dig in. If you’re new or uncertain about dealing with electricity and wires in your home, be sure to contact someone you know who is more familiar with electricity or hire an electrician directly. For someone familiar with electronics, this will be easy and simple but seem intimidating to others.
First: Shut off the Main Power Breaker Before you do any Work or Wiring!
Drill a hole through the wall near and as close as is comfortable to your breaker box through which your generator will be able to run wires into (we recommend using a hammer drill for this).
Then attach the conduit very tightly to run from the generator inlet box to the breaker, ensuring the conduit is the same length as the wire you’ll need. Next, glue the conduit to the wall with heavy-duty waterproof construction glue. Make sure it’s fit securely and tightly to the breaker box.
Next, pull the wires through the conduit between the transfer switch and your breaker box. Make sure the generator is set up three feet away from your home and the access hole. Once again, ensure your breaker is shut off before you do any wiring!
Attach the wires from the breaker to the transfer box through the conduit. You’ll need to attach conduit adapters and seal up any gaps with a sealant or foam once this is all complete. This is especially important on the outside of the house to protect wiring from the elements.
Finally, take the transfer switch (breaker, inlet, etc.) and install it onto the wall. Make room without interfering with other wiring or electrical components. Make sure to keep it about 18 inches away from the main breaker system.
Once you’re sure your transfer switch is hooked up and wired securely into the breaker system, give it a test!
Step 5: Run your Generator and Enjoy
It’s time to saddle up your generator and see what it does now everything’s hooked up. If you wired up your transfer switch correctly, you should be able to run all hardwired appliances, and you can connect any other appliances directly into the extension or gen-cord running from the generator!
A portable generator makes life a lot simpler during power outages. However, it’s not always easy to install them for emergencies. But with the right basic knowledge and some advice or help from an expert, you’ll be set for anything that the weather will throw your way!