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How to wire a house for a portable generator

Updated February 21, 2017

Gas backup generators can make power outages much easier to endure. There are a couple of ways to wire a portable generator into your home. If you live in an area with frequent power failures, you can install a transfer switch that will sense the failure and start your generator. However, if you live in an area without frequent power failures, you can manually connect your generator to your household electric circuits.

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  1. Remove any sod or grass over the installation location if the generator will not be installed on existing concrete. Compact and level the soil where you will install the generator. Generators can weigh a lot, and compacting the soil can help prevent the generator from settling into the ground.

  2. Move the generator into place. If your portable generator isn't in a protected area, consider using a cover to protect the generator from the elements when it isn't in use.

  3. Disconnect the house's main breaker. This will ensure that the mains are not live and thus are safe to work with.

  4. Test the mains with a continuity tester to ensure that the circuit is not live. Household mains wiring can be very dangerous.

  5. Disconnect the mains from your home's circuit breaker and connect it to a transfer switch. A transfer switch senses when power has been cut and sends a signal to start the generator. When the generator comes up to speed, it switches your home's electrical input from the mains to the generator.

  6. Connect the generator input on the transfer switch to the generator.

  7. Once all electrical connections are made, turn on the mains switch and set the generator and transfer switch as directed by the manufacturer. To test the transfer switch, turn off the mains power to your house to simulate a power outage. Your generator should start and the transfer switch should quickly switch over to backup power.

  8. Turn off the mains power to your house. It is very important that this be turned off because you will be feeding power into your home through an alternate route.

  9. Connect a properly rated extension cord from your gas generator to a 110-volt clothes drier plug. Driers draw a lot of power, and the circuits should be able to handle the power from the generator.

  10. Limit your power use to critical appliances like your refrigerator and a few lights to limit strain on the generator, extension cord and your household circuits.

  11. Warning

    Working with mains-level power in your home can be very dangerous. In many jurisdictions, you are required to hire a licensed electrician to install things like transfer switches.

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Things You'll Need

  • Generator
  • Electrical wiring
  • Transfer switch

About the Author

Although he grew up in Latin America, Mr. Ma is a writer based in Denver. He has been writing since 1987 and has written for NPR, AP, Boeing, Ford New Holland, Microsoft, RAHCO International, Umax Data Systems and other manufacturers in Taiwan. He studied creative writing at Mankato State University in Minnesota. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, English and reads Spanish.

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