WHAT IS A GENERATOR TRANSFER SWITCH?
(also referred to as a transfer switch, manual transfer switch, and power transfer switch)
Most commonly, portable generators power lights and TVs, microwaves and other plug-in appliances - appliances that can be connected to them with an extension(often referred to as a generator) cord. Unfortunately, some critical appliances you may need in an emergency can't be plugged in. There is no plug coming from a furnace for instance. To operate items like a well pump, furnace, or central air conditioner, which are wired directly into your home's electricity, you will need a generator transfer switch(figure on a cost of $500 - $600 after installation by a licensed electrician). A generator transfer switch (also referred to as manual transfer switch, and power transfer switch)[SEE GRAPHIC] eliminates the need to run multiple extension cords for many appliances, and allows your generator to safely power entire rooms or circuits in a building or home.
GENERATOR TRANSFER SWITCHES KEEP UTILITY WORKERS SAFE
Manual transfer switches make controlling your generator load particularly simple(see information below). They perform another important function. Transfer switches prevent the potentially-lethal condition known as back feed. Back feed occurs when the electricity produced by a portable or home generator enters outside lines, putting unsuspecting utility-company workers at risk for electrocution as they attempt to resurrect power. To avert this danger, a portable or home generator must never be plugged directly into a home's wall outlet. It is worth noting that, because utility workers doing their jobs are left so vulnerable(to the threat of back feed), many jurisdictions have criminalized the reckless or improper use of a portable generator. Steep fines and even incarceration can result with a conviction.
HOW TRANSFER SWITCHES WORK
A generator transfer switch (also referred to as, transfer switch, manual transfer switch, power transfer switch) is installed beside your fuse box, and then hardwired to the circuits you'll wish to run in an emergency.
Most manual transfer switches can run from 4 to 6 circuits. How many of these circuits can be run simultaneously will depend on the wattage of your generator. There are large manual transfer switches that can channel power to an entire building or house. As a rule, these models will have a 10 or 12-circuit capacity. They will also require a portable or home generator of over 10,000 watts to operate them effectively.
To get a feel for the circuits that can be hooked to a manual transfer switch, examine your fuse box[SEE GRAPHIC]. Any of the circuits you see, which can be turned on and off by the switches in your fuse box, can also be run with a portable generator. Your kitchen will probably have its own circuit. Probably so will your livingroom, and each bathroom in the house. Many homeowners choose to power a utility or laundry room, frequently the location of a water heater or furnace. After you have chosen the circuits you want hardwired, it's a quick and simple procedure for a licensed electrician to connect these to the circuits of the transfer switch[SEE GRAPHIC]. You can put away the multiple generator cords, so tedious and easy to tangle, that once hooked appliances into your generator's outlet panel. Now you'll need one power cord to plug the generator into the manual transfer switch[for information on selecting the right power cord to accompany your generator and transfer switch, see section: Power Transfer With Power Cords].
GENERATOR TRANSFER SWITCHES MAKE CONTROLLING LOADS EASY
Most portable or home generators aren't large enough to power all circuits hardwired to the transfer switch simultaneously. By employing flip-up switches on the face of the manual transfer switch, you can choose to run one circuit at a time - or two or more circuits together, depending on your needs, and generator capacity. With the activation of one circuit for instance, power can be directed to your kitchen, where it runs a refrigerator and microwave - and then, by turning off that switch and activating another, redirected to the laundry to operate a water heater, furnace, or perhaps a central air conditioner. Activating a third circuit can send generator electricity to lights and a TV in the livingroom, or to a space heater and electric blanket inside a bedroom.
T-REX recommends that you always solicit a qualified licensed electrician to install a manual transfer switch. A licensed electrician will be familiar with building codes in your area. Some municipalities require that a permit be obtained before transfer equipment is installed. An electrician will know when a permit is needed, and how to go about acquiring one. Remember that transfer equipment improperly installed can void a homeowner's insurance policy in the event of property damage or serious injury. Given the possible downside, the extra expense of a qualified electrician is money well spent.