As winter approaches many folks begin prepping their homes for the oncoming cold and snow. This could be cleaning the gutters, caulking any drafty areas, and making the home as efficient as possible. Another step in preparing for winter that a lot of folks don’t consider is having a generator on hand in the event of a power loss. Generators can be a lifesaver especially in those cold winter days when the power goes out and your furnace won’t start.
Generators can give you that much needed power, but they can also be dangerous if ran or setup incorrectly. In this article we’re going to cover what’s known as ‘Backfeeding,’ your generator.
What is BackFeeding?
Backfeeding is routing power from your running generator and plugging that power straight into an outlet of your home. This is done with a two male sided extension cord. (Why these cords exist, I do not know.) By doing this you are flowing power throughout your home in reverse. The power will move backwards from the outlet, to your electrical panel, and back throughout the rest of your home.
While this may seem like a very easy way to power your whole home I will warn you now that it is illegal and dangerous to you and others. Many people do this without realizing the risks.
The first is that by backfeeding the generator into your home you negate the circuit breaker/fuse in your power panel. For those of you that do not know, a circuit breaker is an automated electrical switch that protects a electric circuit from a short or excess current overload. When your circuit breaker trips it shuts off automatically normally to prevent damage and to prevent over heating. Without a circuit breaker, or by negating your circuit breaker by backfeeding, you risk your home and your generator catching fire.
A lot of times these fires begin when the homeowner’s normal power comes back on line. There are now two sources of power flowing back and forth between the panel and the generator. This causes the overload that we mentioned earlier and poses a large fire risk either at the panel or the generator itself. In one such incident a backfed generator caught on fire, the fuel tank exploded, and caught the user’s house on fire as well as a neighbor’s home. The story on this extreme example can be found by clicking here. The worst part about these fire accidents is that most of the time the homeowner doesn’t realize anything’s wrong until it is too late.
Along with the fire hazard you should also know that backfeeding your generator is against the law. No, that’s not the government being overreaching. There is a good reason for this. If you do backfeed your generator the electricity that you are generating through your generator can be routed back through your home and back through the electrical grid. That means if a power company employee is working on the lines he is at risk of being electrocuted. The lines they are working on are supposed to be dead/off but if a generator is backfed there is risk of electrify running through the lines during maintenance. Do you want to be responsible for that? I certainty don’t.
The Right Way
Ok, so we’ve gone through the wrong way to hook up your generator. Let’s look at the right way. Now when most people backfeed their generators they do it because they want power throughout their home. They don’t want to just power one or two things, they want the whole shebang.
This can be done, and done safely, using portable generators. The difference here is that instead of backfeeding your system you get what’s called a ‘manual transfer switch,’ installed on your power panel. A transfer switch will allow you to do just that. It allows you to transfer the power from your generator over to your home all the while blocking new power from the gird. This prevents your overload and prevents damage or overheating.
Installing a manual transfer switch can be rather tricky and complex. The best way to do this is to hire a trained electrician. This way you get the switch installed correctly and have nothing to worry about during your next power outage. Also, if you have a trained professional come to your home be sure to ask if he recommends a grounding rod for your generator. Most of the time you will need a grounding rod if you are going with a manual transfer switch.
Ok folks, we have now gone over the dangers of backfeeding. For more information on generator setup, install, and running safety please check out our Generator Safety Guide by clicking here.
Also, please note that this article is intended as advice and is for informational purposes only. We at ToughAssTools are not liable for any property damage or injuries that can occur when using generators.
Thanks for reading and stay safe,