Generators: What Not To Do

We hope that you have made it through Hurricane Ian safely and that your home did, too. The presence of the first hurricane in the Charleston area for some time (the last time we remember evacuating for a storm was 2019) brought up the presence of an important topic: Generator backfeeding.

Many of you with portable generators have had an electrician install an inlet, which gives you the ability of powering your home during a power outage. Most likely you have some sort of panel or interlock kit that ensures you don't turn on your main breaker and your generator breaker at the same time. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case, opening the door to a very dangerous scenario.

What you must do when turning on a portable generator, no matter what, is make sure your main breaker is always off during the power outage. If you leave your main breaker on while powering your portable generator, you do something called "backfeeding" into the utility grid, which causes an extremally hazardous and fatal situation for linemen working on the power lines. The same transformers that step down power (stepping down power means changing high voltage from the power lines to the usable 120-220 V voltage in our homes) will do the exact opposite when backfed: Converting your home's 220 V into THOUSANDS of volts, sent back to the lineman.

When these linemen are working, they assume the power is shut off because they bet on the house's utility power being shut off, not realizing an alternate source (your portable generator) is being fed into the grid and creating power. When the lineman then interact with the power lines, this can cause fatal electrocution, arc blasts, and many other forms of danger.

To avoid the possibility of the above situation and to keep our utilitymen and women safe, the best thing to do is to have a transfer switch installed before you utilize a portable generator. Some situations may not allow for a transfer switch to be installed (like if your main panel does not have a main breaker), so at the very minimum, just be SURE to turn off your main breaker before turning on your portable generator, as the consequences if you do not can be deadly.

Andrew & the Gloudeman Electric Team

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