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Why did my generator hookup get tagged as defective by the home inspector?
Thursday, October 18, 2018
There are several different ways to properly connect a generator to a house electrical panel for use during a power outage. All of them have one thing in common: they are configured in way that makes it impossible to have both the generator connection and the electric utility connection to the panel switched on at the same time.
We sometimes find a breaker in an electrical panel marked “generator” and connected to a nearby wall receptacle configured to accept a connection cord to a portable generator. An example is shown below. This is called “backfeeding” the panel. In a power outage, one of the breakers that would ordinarily be wired to feed electricity out to receptacles or appliances around the home is, instead, wired to backfeed electricity into the panel bus bars for distribution out through the other breakers out to the home.
While backfeeding a panel in itself is not unsafe, it becomes unsafe when there is no foolproof safety device to lock-out the electric utility service when the panel is being backfed by a generator. Sometimes we see printed instructions posted on the panel to first turn off the main breaker before turning on the generator breaker.
But printed directions are not sufficient. Connecting a generator directly to the electrical system of a building in this manner has the potential to feed through the building’s electrical system to the outside utility service lines, and can kill or injure a person repairing service lines if the instructions are overlooked--which is easy to do in the clamor and confusion after a major storm event.
Also, if your electric utility’s line crew restores electrical service while the generator is connected to the incoming utility service, you could start a fire or seriously damage the building. Manufacturers of the generator plugs even mark them with a warning sticker like the one below.
One safe solution to this problem is shown in the photo at the top of the page. The metal plate slides up-and-down between the lower breaker (main electric service breaker) and the upper breaker (backfed generator breaker) in a way that makes it mechanically impossible to have both breakers in the “ON” position at the same time.
Another solution is a separate subpanel that feeds only selected circuits in the home, with a double-pole double-throw transfer switch to connect the generator panel to the building’s electrical system. Connections must also meet the local ordinances and building codes. A minimum of #10 AWG wire is typically required. An example of one is shown below.
And a third solution is an automatic transfer switch, like the one shown below, that are installed with larger, permanently-mounted generators providing 12,000 watts or more of power.
The most important thing is to have a qualified, licensed electrician do your generator connection system installation. They will know the right way to do it to keep you and your family safe in the aftermath of a storm or other power outage event.
Also, see our blog post What is the best emergency back-up generator for the power outage after a storm?
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Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about ELECTRIC PANELS:
• What causes copper wires to turn green or black in an electric panel?
• What is the maximum number of circuit breakers allowed in an electric panel?
• When should a corroded or damaged electric panel cabinet or disconnect box be replaced?
• What is a tandem circuit breaker?
• When did arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) breakers first become required?
• Can an electric panel be located in a closet?
• Can an electric panel be located in a bathroom?
• Can you add circuit breakers by different manufacturers to an electric panel if they fit?
• My circuit breaker won't reset. What's wrong?
• What is a split bus electric panel?
• How do I identify a combination AFCI (CAFCI) circuit breaker?
• What does a circuit breaker with a yellow or white test button indicate?
• What is the maximum gap allowed between the front of a recessed electric panel box and the wall surface surrounding it?
• What are the requirements for NM-cables entering an electric panel box?
• Why is a fuse box/panel an insurance problem for homebuyers?
• Why is bundled wiring in an electric panel a defect?
• What is the difference between GFCI and AFCI circuit breakers?
• Why are old electrical components not always "grandfathered" as acceptable by home inspectors?
• What happens when you press the "TEST" button on a circuit breaker in an electric panel?
• What is a Dual Function Circuit Interrupter (DFCI)?
• What is the difference between a Combination Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (CAFCI) and an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) circuit breaker?
• What is the difference between "grounded" and "grounding" electrical conductors?
• What does it mean when a wire is "overstripped" at a circuit breaker?
• Why is an old fuse panel dangerous?
• Who is the manufacturer of those "bad" electric panels?
• Why is the circuit breaker stuck in the middle?
• What is a double tap at a circuit breaker?
• What is the right electric wire size for a circuit breaker in an electric panel?
• What is the life expectancy of a circuit breaker?
• My circuit breaker won't reset. What's wrong?
• Why do some breakers in my electric panel have a "TEST" button on them?
• What is the right size electric panel for a house?
• What do I need to know about buying a whole house surge protector?
• What is the maximum allowed height of a circuit breaker (OCPD) above the floor?
• What is the maximum height you can mount an electric panel above the floor?
• What is the code required clearance in front of an electric panel?
• What is the main bonding jumper and where do it find it in an electric panel?
Visit our ELECTRIC PANELS and GENERATORS pages for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.
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