The lights go out suddenly! Your eyes adjust to the darkness while a quiet stillness surrounds you as the slight buzzing of appliances falls silent. There’s nothing like a power outage to enforce the realization of how heavily we rely on electricity.
Our modern day lives are filled with appliances and technological gadgets demanding consistent power. It is in the modification and maintenance of some of these where backfeeding comes into play.
We Live In An Electric World
Back up generators are a sensible investment for the home to keep your most necessary conveniences running in the event of a power loss. Portable generators gain even more practicality points when considering their array of non-emergency uses, such as camping and tailgating at sporting events.
However useful, there is a dangerous dark side to generators if not utilized and cared for properly. As long as certain precautions are taken to ensure safety to yourself and surroundings there is no need to fear your generator.
Generators posses several physical components that require attention to safety measures, such as the engine and battery. Along with consideration to these physical factors, proper use and care of the equipment is imperative to avoid hazards. The practice of backfeeding has great potential for dangerous results. Learn the backfeeding risk prevention efforts you must take to help avoid potential damage to the generator, yourself, your appliances, a fire or even lethal electrocution.
What is Backfeeding?
Generators supply us with electrical power by converting mechanical energy, like a portable small-scale utility power plant. Backfeeding is a technique of connecting your generator to run power backwards into the electric panel to distribute the power through your house.
Backfeeding can also occur when trying to plug the generator into a wall outlet which is also connected to the main circuit and will bypass any built-in circuit protection. Setting up your generator for the reversal of the electric energy flow in this way can be a very dangerous practice and is not recommended.
When setting up a generator to backfeed your house, power can be pushed out through the main breaker to the transformer and cause unexpected high voltage. Energizing wiring systems far from your setup like this can damage your equipment and the appliances being powered as well as potential for electrocution to technicians repairing power lines.
This risky setup requires a generator backfeed cord which is often referred to as the suicide cord since the dangers of backfeeding can be lethal. The associated dangers make backfeeding illegal in most jurisdictions and you could be held liable for any damages, injury, or even deaths that may be caused from the backfeeding process. There is also a fire risk when the power comes back on if the generator is still connected, as the strain of two power sources will be flowing through your home circuit at the same time.
Do’s and Dont’s When Operating Your Generator
Things To Do Before Backfeeding
- Only use your generator in open space where it is well ventilated and dry – ideally outdoors
- Be equipped with a carbon monoxide detector and fire extinguisher
- Make sure properly grounded
- Always shut off the power before refueling
- Keep children away
- Use the equipment only as directed by the manufacturer manual
- Only use manufacturer supplied cords or proper extension cords
Things To Avoid When Backfeeding
- Don’t use your generator indoors – choose somewhere that will not enclose exhaust fumes
- Don’t connect directly to homes wiring
- Con’t overload – make sure the generator can supply sufficient power for what you’re trying to provide power to
- Don’t leave your generator unattended
Four Important Safety Precautions
Never connect a generator directly to the electrical system of your building.
Use proper extension cords with proper length and electricity-holding capacity as an undersized cord can overheat, possibly melt the cord and plugs, be a shock hazard, and even cause a fire. Ensure proper grounding or use a 3-prong plug to provide a safe path for electricity.
Attempting to plug your generator into a wall outlet using male cords with both ends open is very dangerous, causing electrocution to anyone who may accidentally come in contact with an end of the cord while it is plugged into the generator.
Have a professional electrician install a transfer panel or a two position transfer switch.
This will prevent backfeed into the utility if your generator must be connected to a building’s wiring. This is typically done for larger generators, but powering multiple appliances in the home with a portable generator is an option that is gaining popularity. Although the generator may be small, the potential for harm due to backfeeding is just as great with portable generators.
Never overload your generator beyond its listed capacity.
A generator supplies 240 volts that are split between two lines. most or all essential circuits end up on the same line delivering only half the generators capacity, the unbalanced load will put a strain on the generator and the home will only be using half the available power. Load shedding is a way to avoid this.
Use generator in an appropriate location with proper conditions.
This means outside in a well ventilated area, not enclosed in a small space such as a garage or shed. Carbon monoxide is a deadly odorless gas that is released through the generator’s exhaust and can lead to toxic levels in the matter of minutes.
You will also want to protect the generator from elements like snow or rain. Exposing delicate electronic parts to moisture can cause permanent damage to your generator. Set the generator up in a spacious open-faced enclosure or even a generator-friendly tent.
Our Final Thoughts on Generator Backfeeding
A generator is a valuable piece of equipment to help maintain a sense of normalcy and convenience when there is no power. Along with power comes responsibility. Following the proper precautions is a responsibility that comes with owning a generator.
Having a professional install a transfer switch is the only legal and safe way to accomplish a balanced distribution of power to avoid such dangers. A manual or automatic transfer switch will isolate the main circuit from the generator and will prevent backfeeding and the associated threats.
Giving the required attention to safety measures to keep yourself, home and others away from potential dangers will allow you to relax and reap the many benefits your generator provides.