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Do I need a Transfer Switch for My Portable Generator?

Portable generators are useful for countless applications. When it comes to powering a house, however, they present an often-unknown danger to ourselves, our homes, neighbors, and community. Fortunately, there’s a solution, and that’s to install a transfer switch.

What is a Transfer Switch?

Let’s take a common scenario: a large storm has knocked out the power, and you don’t want the food in your refrigerator to spoil. So you power up the portable generator and start looking for an extension cord. You decide you’d rather not run the extension cord all the way from outside (where the generator must be to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning), so you consider plugging it directly into an exterior outlet to send power throughout your house.

Stop what you’re doing.

Plugging a generator into a house on a grid is an example of backfeeding, and it’s extremely dangerous. You could sustain a fatal shock, and ​you could electrocute any utility personnel working to restore power to your neighborhood with the energized utility lines from your generator.

How Does a Transfer Switch Work?

A transfer switch allows you to connect a portable generator to your home, but does so safely. Essentially, the switch lets your house receive power from utility power or your portable generator – not both at the same time.

The professional installation of such a switch provides you with the convenience of using your portable generator to power multiple devices in your home (without hazardous, cumbersome extension cords everywhere), and doesn’t pose a risk to your neighbors, utility workers, or your home.

What is the Cost of Installing a Transfer Switch?

First, consider whether you need a transfer switch. If you have a standby generator, it already functions with its own automatic transfer switch. If you plan to only use a portable generator to power appliances not connected to a house on the grid (such as an outdoor music system or camping appliances), there’s no need for a transfer switch.

Only if you plan to power parts of your home with the generator do you need to install a transfer switch. It’s also more convenient than running a single, bulky extension cord through the front door to power only one single device or appliance at a time. Typically, a transfer switch will cost between $500 and $1,000 for the unit itself and installation.

Transfer switches are simple and life-saving: in the event of a power outage, they couldn’t be easier to operate. Simply plug in the generator, and flip the switch to portable power (most of the time, it will even be labeled “generator”). Backfeeding isn’t just dangerous; it’s illegal. Fortunately, a professional installation is relatively low cost and will protect you, your family, and those in your neighborhood.


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