If you live in an area where power outages are common, then you know the frustration of being suddenly plunged into darkness. And loss of lighting isn’t the only inconvenience. Going without electricity for just a few hours can cause fresh foods to spoil and frozen foods to thaw. Unless you have a gas range or barbecue grill, forget about cooking meals. And if your home has an electric well pump, you won’t have any water for drinking, washing, bathing, or flushing the toilets.
We can all agree that power outages stink, but there’s no reason to sit in the dark and feel helpless. You can run your home’s most critical electrical circuits with the aid of a portable generator and an electrical device called a transfer switch. A transfer switch is a good alternative to a standby generator, one that will allow you to power up only the most important items.
A transfer switch is a compact breaker box that is installed inside the home, right beside the main electrical panel. The switch is wired into the main panel and connected to the most critical circuits, such as the furnace, water heater, refrigerator, range, well pump, and interior lights. A power inlet box, which is essentially an electrical outlet, is mounted to the exterior of the house. An electrical cable runs from the inlet box directly into the transfer switch. Sometimes the cable runs to a junction box installed near the transfer switch and then a power cord with a plug is wired into the box.
Once the transfer switch is installed, the system works like this:
When the electricity goes out, you set up a portable generator outside and plug it into the power inlet box. If the inlet-box cable runs to a junction box with power cord, plug the power cord into the transfer switch. Be sure all the toggle switches on the transfer switch are in the off position. Then go outside and start the generator.
Now that the generator is running, you can pick and choose which appliances and electrical circuits to electrify by simply flipping up the switches on the transfer switch. Note that in most cases, the transfer switch will be connected to more circuits than the generator can accommodate all at once, so keep track of which circuits are on and be careful not to overload the system. We’ll advise you on the most efficient use of your generator and transfer switch and we highly recommend that you read the owner’s manual that comes with the transfer switch.
Transfer switches come in various sizes to match common-size generators. The two most popular residential transfer switches are the six-circuit switch which is designed for use with a 5000-watt generator, and the 10-circuit switch, which can accommodate a 7500-watt generator. You’ll need an experienced, licensed electrician such as Barney’s Electric to install the transfer switch.
The total cost of installing a transfer switch can seem significant, but it’ll be well worth the investment the next time the power goes out and you’re not left sitting in the dark.