Do I Need A Transfer Switch For My Generator?

Portable generators can be a lifesaver especially for those times when you suffer power loss during extreme weather. It could be a sweltering summer day in Kansas where the temperatures are over one-hundred degrees or it could be bone-chilling cold and snowy in northern Michigan. Whatever the reason for your power going out having a portable generator will allow you to get your lights and appliances back on.

The question though is a manual transfer switch necessary for your portable generator, or can you get your lights back on without worrying about it? Well folks, before I can answer that question there are some factors that we have to consider first.

Manual Transfer Switches

What will you be using your generator for in the event of a power loss? Now that may seem like a stupid question. Obviously, you are going to be using it to get your power back on, but the real heart of this question is what exactly do you want turned back on in your home? In our introduction we gave an example of a hot summer or a cold winter’s day. In both of these instances you want your air conditioner or furnace back up and running.

This is where things can get tricky. Let’s pretend that when your power goes out all you want back on is your refrigerator, a few lights, and maybe your television. In this case you do not need a manual transfer switch as all you have to do is route an extension cord from your generator over to the appliances. This is pretty straight forward. Where it gets tricky is when dealing with appliances that don’t directly plug into an outlet like your furnace or air conditioner. Instead, these are routed directly to your power panel.

Here is where your manual transfer switch will come into play. A transfer switch connects directly to your circuit box, or power panel, and will feed the electricity generated from your generator directly into your home. It is then up to you to determine which circuits you want to turn on and which you want to keep off. (This can be very important as you don’t want to add too much load to your generator and exceed the rated wattage.)

I won’t lie to you, transfer switches are expensive. Sometimes they are just as expensive as the generator itself. On top of that you have to pay for a professional installation from a trained electrician. Trust me, you don’t want to guess your way through this. It’s best to leave it to the professionals. That being said, keep in mind that you’ll have to pay for the switch and the install to get things working correctly.

In order to get around this extra cost some people take it upon themselves to backfeed their generator into their home. Backfeeding a generator is hooking the generator directly into an outlet of your home with a two male sided extension cord. I won’t get into all of the details on what happens when backfeeding, but if you want to learn more you can click here. What I will say is that backfeeding can be extremely dangerous for you, your neighbors, and electrical workers. The most common problem found with backfeeding your system is when the power from the grid comes back on. You now have two power sources running through your home with no circuit breaker to regulate. Eventually you will a get current overload which could lead to a fire.

A transfer switch actively prevents these problems by stopping power from the outside grid from getting into your home. This prevents the current overflow and also prevents a possible fire. It is the safest way to alternatively power your home.

Along with the safety bonus transfer switches also can make things much easier during a power loss event. Even if you do not plan to power on your furnace or air conditioner a transfer switch can still be quite useful by making things easy. If you wish to give power to your living room and living room only all you have to do is setup the generator, turn off all circuits on your power panel except the living room, and then transfer the power over to the generator. Now compare that to having to route wires and cords back and forth for each and everything you want turned back on.


Alright folks so now, hopefully, you have an idea if you need a transfer switch or not for your home. It basically boils down to if you want to power on larger appliances like furnaces or air conditioners, or if you want things to be easier to get back and running during a power loss. Will you pay the extra expense, or will you stick with a standard generator?

If you are not sure what size of generator you should purchase then I highly recommend taking a look at our sizing guide. This will walk you through on how to determine exactly what wattage that you need. Also, before setting up and running your generator it is best to consult our Generator Safety Guide by clicking here. This takes you through the Do’s and Dont’s of generator usage.

Lastly, is our disclaimer. I want to be clear that this article is meant for advice and for informational purposes only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any financial loss, property damage, or injuries that can occur when working with and using generators.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson


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