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Old 12-17-2006, 08:49 PM   #1
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Proper Use of Back-up Generator...


Up here in the Pacific Northwest we had a nasty little storm that still has folks without power...including my brother-in-law.

I have a 5500kw back-up generator that I run outside using a heavy 220 cord (supplied with the generator) that ends with four 110 plugs...from these I run my extension cords to the fridge, freezer and the other two for lights and television. Regarding this part of my question is I would like to sometime have a proper transfer switch to eliminate all the cords...any suggestions?

The second part is a bit of a rant I have my brother-in-law. He thinks it is okay to trip the main breaker then connects his generator to the house through the outdoor outlet with an extension cord with two male ends...one to the generator and the other to the house outside outlet. I believe this is wrong and would like some information to back up my argument.

Thanks for any thoughts on this...Casey

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Old 12-18-2006, 03:35 AM   #2
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I am NOT a pro electrician, but I've lived in coastal NC for over 30 years with frequent power outages, particularly during hurricane seasons. I have a portable 5500w generator, too. The longest that I've ever had to use it was for 10 days.
You are right, and your brother-in-law is wrong.
Homeowners are required to have a transfer switch to isolate a power generator if they're connected in any way to the electrical service. Just turning the main breaker off will NOT prevent a possible backfeed into the power lines being worked on. Check the instructions that come with the generator.
During the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel in 2003 two out-of-state linemen here helping restore power were killed by a hot-plugged portable generator with no transfer switch (and the main breaker was off). All that they could do to that homeowner was fine him a max of $10,000 each for the two deaths, which didn't help the linemen's families, I'm sure.
Check with your power company regarding a transfer switch. A local electrician quoted me $1200 to install one, and the power company had a contractor install one for me for $950. The one that I got was installed at the meter (feeds the whole panel) and can either be operated manually or it can be set to switch automatically with power loss, depending upon the type of generator that you have (up to 12kw).
This transfer switch works automatically when I plug in the generator to it and turn the generator on (main breaker ON with all 220v off), and when power is restored, it automatically "disconnects" the generator feed and turns on the electric company power.
I operate my 5500w generator with all of the 110v circuits on, all 220v off (no HVAC, hot water or oven). When I need a tank of hot water for bathing, etc., I turn off all 110v, and just turn on the water heater breaker for about a half-hour or so. Works for me.
Mike


Last edited by Mike Swearingen; 12-18-2006 at 03:43 AM.
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Old 12-18-2006, 09:51 AM   #3
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Proper Use of Back-up Generator...


caseywa,

Be safe!

Running the generator outdoors is not safe enough - make sure that it is no where near an open window or door.

Carbon Monoxide Poisons 100 in Northwest:
http://apnews.myway.com/article/20061218/D8M2VE200.html

...Christopher
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Old 12-18-2006, 12:26 PM   #4
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Proper Use of Back-up Generator...


Thanks Mike and Christopher...I agree with you both! Even though I completed all the wiring of our house nearly 20 years ago when we built it I don't believe that a transfer switch is a DIY project. We also live the north Seattle area and have been reading daily of people suffering from CO poisoning from a variety of sources and about the improper use of generators. I hope this post will inform folks and keep them safe too.

If I do go the transfer switch route it will be installed by a professional. Until then, I will continue with running the extension cords to each individual appliance. I also believe it is important to make sure proper extension cords are used from the generator to the end use. The supplied 25-foot cord from the generator is a 220 10/4 factory reduced to four 110 12/3 pigtails, the next four cords used are 12/3 into the house where one goes to the freezer, one to the fridge and the other two are used to power small table lamps, coffee pot, television/dvd player with 16/3 extension cords. We keep the demand low on each cord circuit to be safe. If the women in the house want to use the hair curler thang then something else gets unplugged. The hot water is gas so we have hot water without power. There are two fireplaces in the house that knock off the chilly area and we hole up in the den where blankets and body heat tend to keep this room comfortable. We do not use electrical space heats...just never felt comfortable with them.

The reason I thought about the transfer switch would be to provide electricity to the gas furnace that runs off 110.

Additionally, we also ground the generator to the grounding rod for the electrical service outside.

When we built the house I installed a 400 amp system with two 200 amp panels...this allowed all the circuits in the house to carry a light load or be dedicated to specific uses. The system was further lightened when we converted from electrical hot water, heat and cooking over to gas many years ago.

We do keep the generator away from doors and windows at the far side of the house on the other side of the garage. I keep the generator away from being too close to the side of the house due to the overhead eaves...not wanting to have CO find its way into the attic spaces.

Keep posting on what I might be doing right or wrong so that I and others can learn something...

Thanks, Casey
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Old 12-18-2006, 01:02 PM   #5
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Proper Use of Back-up Generator...


caseywa,

Clearly, a major reason for having the generator is to provide heating. I would consider the following solution for your gas furnace. Rewire the furnace power connection comparable to other major appliances. With the furnace circuit breaker off, disconnect the power cable from the furnace and install a permanent dedicated receptacle at the end of the cable. Purchase a 15A cordset (extension cord with socket cut off) and connect to furnace. Plug furnace into new receptacle for normal use. For generator use, unplug the furnace and connect to generator with 15A extension cord. Budget 1000W of generator power for the gas furnace.

Consider sharing the warmth with your neighbors. Also consider shutting the generator off at 11pm for the peace & quiet of the neighborhood.

...Christopher
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Old 12-18-2006, 01:27 PM   #6
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Yeah, I had thought about that too but was not sure....thanks.

Casey
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Old 12-18-2006, 06:00 PM   #7
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Proper Use of Back-up Generator...


Quote:"If I do go the transfer switch route it will be installed by a professional. Until then, I will continue with running the extension cords to each individual appliance. I also believe it is important to make sure proper extension cords are used from the generator to the end use. The supplied 25-foot cord from the generator is a 220 10/4 factory reduced to four 110 12/3 pigtails, the next four cords used are 12/3 into the house where one goes to the freezer, one to the fridge and the other two are used to power small table lamps, coffee pot, television/dvd player with 16/3 extension cords. We keep the demand low on each cord circuit to be safe."

Casey,
Sounds like you are taking all the precautions. Nice going. I can speak from experience. Here in New Orleans, we used a 5,000 watt generator for the 34 days we were without power. I did exactly as you did. Our only advantage is that here heat is our problem. It was 95 degrees every day during that time. I ran the generator for about 16 out of 24 hours. Mostly for the fridge. Every week we did an oil change. Even with our situation, we did not spring for a full house backup system. Just to costly for this long term outage that has happened once in my life (so far) Lots of people panicked and spent $10,000 plus for the next big one. Have you been able to find gas readily available during this time?
Good luck.
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Old 12-18-2006, 08:16 PM   #8
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Appreciate the compliment HarryHarley. Around here the problem with heat is the lack of it when we have a problem. We have outages about once or twice a year for a 1 to 3 days in length but potential for longer. Since we have a gas furnace that is 110 for the blower I am exploring the idea of what Christopher suggested in having the furnace plug into a dedicated outlet then when the power goes out then run an extension cord of suitable size to the furnace. The furnace is already on a dedicated circuit with a switch to cut the power to the furnace whenever it is being worked on. There is also an single outlet on this circuit to be used for a light while working on the furnace.

The furnace is under the house that has a five-foot crawl space so there is plenty of room to move around. Also installed under the house in this area is a dedicated circuit for lighting (outdoor jelly jar lights) that light up the area well for working.

The idea of having the furnace plug in to the dedicated outlet would also enable anyone working on the furnace to unplug it. I just want to make sure there are no code issues that would prevent the furnace being equipped with the plug. I would think that there should also be a securing device of sorts that would prevent the plug from somehow falling out.

As far as gas is concerned I have always kept two five-gallon containers full (10 gals) rotating them out once per month into the two cars to keep the gas fresh (I am thinking of adding two more five-gallon containers). I also see to it that the vehicles do not go below a half tank...that paid off well just the other day when no gas was available due to the power being out and we were able to drive 110 miles over the mountains filling the gas tank on the way to pickup our daughter. Interesting enought that was the nearest truck stop to get gas...

We also keep plenty of food that will not spoil on hand thus we can be pretty comfortable for a long time.

Casey
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Old 12-18-2006, 08:45 PM   #9
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Proper Use of Back-up Generator...


I believe putting the furnace on a cord is against the NEC code. I suggested that once and was scolded for not being code. I can't site an actual code.
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Old 12-18-2006, 11:04 PM   #10
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I was wondering about that and since it is difficult for a homeowner to find a copy of the NEC code it is tough to look up. I think I will submit this question to the HVAC folks and see what they have to say...
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Old 12-19-2006, 11:36 AM   #11
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Proper Use of Back-up Generator...


Just thinking out-loud here, but...

If the furnace can't be served by a (properly sized/rated) extension cord, would it be OK to feed the REC. with an extension cord. A minor difference, but a difference none-the-less.

Sparkys help me out here, isn't a temporary service under different rules than permanent service anyway, so is this even an issue.

And since I'm thinking out-loud, if I get cold enough I'm not really going to care what the NEC says about it. It's temporary and it's not likely (not any more likely than electricity in general) to hurt anything or cause fire/injury/etc. so I would do what I had to do TEMPORARILY to stay warm.
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Old 12-19-2006, 06:10 PM   #12
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Proper Use of Back-up Generator...


It's not that you can't feed the furness with an extention cord it is that I believe the furness must be hard wired and cord connected.
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Old 12-19-2006, 07:08 PM   #13
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Joed....trying to follow you on this, what do you mean by "hard wired and cord connected"? I am confused with the furnace being hard wired but yet having a cord...

Thanks, Casey
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Old 12-19-2006, 09:03 PM   #14
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Proper Use of Back-up Generator...


My solution to no-gasoline-when-the-power is out is simple...fuel stablizer...which keeps stored gas good for up to two years +.
I keep the generator tank full (5 gal +/- which will run it for 8 hours) PLUS 20 gals on hand in 5-gal cans, PLUS I have two pickups that I fill up every time they get down to a half-tank, PLUS I have a pontoon boat with a 24-gallon tank (4-stroke engine, no mixed fuel) that I keep filled the same as the trucks.
ALL stored gasoline, including in the generator and boat, is mixed with fuel stablizer. I usually use the fuel up within the 2-year time frame anyway, or I make sure that I do in the trucks and boat.
Why the overkill? My wife is on a 110v oxygen machine 24/7. We have portable oxygen tanks, too, to carry over, but I have to rely on the machine most of the time.
Our power usually goes out in hot weather, so like N.O., heating never has been a problem here. (I have a 110v blower-grate woodburning fireplace and lots of firewood if that ever happened.)
If we ever go through another 10-day outage, however, I think that I WILL put in an automatic propane gas-powered generator large enough to run the HVAC, too.
And the carbon monoxide is a real issue. I set my generator up on a covered side porch with no open windows or door near it on that entire side of the house. No problem.
It's all just like anything else, use caution and common sense and you will do O.K. Generators can electrocute you, burn your house down, or kill you with carbon monoxide, etc. if not used properly. FOLLOW THE SAFETY DIRECTIONS.
Mike

Last edited by Mike Swearingen; 12-19-2006 at 09:10 PM.
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Old 12-20-2006, 11:16 AM   #15
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Proper Use of Back-up Generator...


Cord connected means the furness has a cord and plugs into a receptacle.
Hard wired means it is direct connected into a junction box. You can not unplug it.
I have been told a furness is required to be hardwired. Maybe that is a regional code.

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