Generators are good to have when the power goes out and can help with basic survival. It can mean the difference between all your perishables surviving an extended summer power outage or having heat in the dead of winter when outside temperatures are well below freezing. Knowing how to install a whole house portable generator can improve your quality of life considerably.
A whole house generator provides power through a switching system that enables you to run most of your lights and appliances (computers too) without extension cords. Except for not being able to use your stove, you may not even notice that the power company isn’t keeping your lights going. The only other reason you may realize you’re off the grid is that your neighbours are camped out in your house because theirs is dark.
I recently installed a whole house portable generator to provide power to my house in case of emergency. Why a portable generator instead of a fixed generator? Well, I already owned a portable high-wattage generator so I decided to use that, and it gives me the option of taking it with me if I sell the house. (My generator also has a battery-powered electric starter which not all gas generators have.)
The downside to running a gasoline engine-powered generator is that the gas can go bad even with additives. Because the power goes out fairly frequently here it’s more likely my generator will run through the gas before it can go bad.
Another reason why some opt for a permanent solution– they have propane/natural gas tanks/lines running to their house. I don’t have those.
So, the first choice you have to make is portable or permanent?
The details in installing a generator are very, very important. The last thing you want to do is electrocute yourself or your family so if in doubt, consult an expert. I did. I considered it an excellent investment– and my expert was happy to be paid in beer after the job was done.
One example of an important detail that shouldn’t be overlooked: make sure that when you bury the cable it’s at least six inches (6″) from metal flashing or any other metal. If the cable makes contact with the metal (even if the cable is encased in plastic pipe) there’s a possibility the outside of the house will become electrified. And yeah, that’s bad.
I was lucky in that the transfer switch and box were already installed on the outside of my house so it saved me a step. (Transfer switches enable you to simply move a lever to switch over from municipal power to your generator.) If you’re really, really lucky your house will already have a transfer switch installed on the inside of your house.
I’d pre-measured and purchased appropriate heavy gauge electrical cable (consult with your local DIY store for the right stuff) and encased it in plastic pipe designed for burying electrical cable. To prevent rust issues, I chose plastic over metal pipe. I also purchased two sets of three plastic brackets for mounting the pipe on the exterior wall for where the pipe rises to the switch and inlet boxes.
My expert connected the cable to the transfer switch for me. Transfer switches can have lots of bells and whistles and be pricey or they can be basic and, well, budgety if that’s a word. (It’s not; I checked.) Mine was the simple version and it works great.
The other end of the electrical cable I connected to the power inlet box I’d pre-mounted to the outside wall where I would plug in my generator. Again, check with the DIY folks for the proper inlet box.
You might be wondering where to put the generator. That’s a project in itself. I chose a location out of sight and protected as much as possible from snow sliding off the roof. I built a temporary shed for it until I can build a permanent, larger building in the spring. The main concerns are protection from the elements and airflow for the generator to exhaust fumes and not overheat. The window you see in the photo will never be open when the generator is running or else the fumes will enter the house.
One last thing to remember is the cord connecting the generator to the power inlet box. Not surprisingly, they’re heavy duty as well as more expensive than regular extension cords.
Now when the power goes out I’ve got a running toilet and running water, hot water at that, lights, computers/Internet, and my backup oil stove is ready for action if I fall behind in feeding the wood stove when the power goes out in the dead of winter. And it does, trust me. It does.
This portable generator model is very similar to the one I have: It’s a gas powered 7,000 watt generator with a Subaru engine and removable control panel so you can optionally mount it inside your house.