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How to Use a Generator

Having a power generating set and knowing how to use a generator can mean you’ll always have access to an electric power supply. Due to the fact that power failures can be inevitable and electrical systems are fallible, a generator can help supply a continuous amount of electricity. This article will take you through how to use a generator.

What is a generator?

A generator is a mechanical device with the ability to generate energy. It is a machine that can convert any type of energy (for instance, mechanical energy, chemical energy, etc.) into electrical energy.

Energy is a pivotal resource and these days, we are totally dependent on it to be able to fulfill even the commonest tasks in our daily life; getting to work, keeping machines and equipment running, etc. Because electricity supply from service providers cannot be entirely reliable, it is important to always have a generator as a backup power supply.

This is why you’ll mostly find them in places like hospitals, large industries and companies, hotels, events, and even homes.

How a generator works

Basically, a direct current generator works depending on its electromagnetic induction. Thus, its operation relies on its ability to transform or convert to electrical energy. One of the most popular type is the dynamo.

Dynamo converts the existing mechanical energy into the shaft’s rotation. Consequently, this triggers the magnetic field strength, allowing it to oscillate thereby leading to voltage induction at its terminals. As a result of this, when the terminals are subjected to loads, energy circulation commences.

There are different types of power generators with several models and varying levels of power. There are the large, industrial generators that are used to power hospitals, hotels, factories, mega-corporations, etc. Then there are the smaller, portable ones that are ideal for homes and apartments.

With a portable generator, you can conveniently generate your own power supply when the grid is down as a result of man-made or other natural causes. If you already own a generating set and are experienced with using it or you’re planning on getting one, there are a couple of things you should know when it comes to operating it safely.

The first thing you should do before buying a generating set is to plan how to use a generator. Make a detailed note of what you aim to power find a generator capable of powering those loads.

How to use a generator

Electrical Safety

1. The generator’s size

The size of the generator you want must match the electrical loads it is to cater for. In fact, it should still have some in-built excess capacity. If you get an undersized generator, you will end up with insufficient voltage. The implication of this is that you can potentially damage some of your appliances and machines.

2. A transfer switch is a necessity

In case you’re still wondering how to use a generator safely, using a transfer switch is the safest way to run a portable generator at home. The transfer switch is a robust piece of electrical gear. The generator is connected to the transfer switch using a thick, heavy-duty cable referred to as a Genset cord.

The cord is plugged into an outlet receptacle (called a power inlet box) which is installed outside the house. Also, a cable inside the house connects from the outlet to the transfer switch. The electricity supplied by the generator runs through the Genset cord all the way to the receptacle, through the interior switch, and finally to the transfer switch and its relative circuit breakers down to the other circuits needing power supply.

The transfer switch serves three major purposes:

Firstly, it isolates the circuits in the house that need power. This leaves all the circuits cut off from power to help prevent overloading.

Secondly, the transfer switch also electrically bars the generator and the house from the grid. This is important as it stops generated power from back-feeding electricity onto the grid thereby causing a fire from sparks or injuring utility personnel who may be present to do some repairs and restore power.

Thirdly, the transfer switch helps stop utility-supplied power from powering the house at the same time the generator is running. Thus, the possibility of starting an electrical fire (that might even set the generator on fire) is averted.

3. A GFCI transfer switch must be used on a GFCI generator

The National Electrical Code (NEC) needs Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GCFI) outlets on generators of the dual-voltage variety. These are generators that produce between 120 and 240 volts. Generators that come with GFCI outlet receptacles need a transfer switch specifically designed for them.

This switch is sometimes referred to as a three-pole switch or a GFCI-compatible switch. In addition, it is required by the NEC. By throwing this switch, you’ll not only be isolating the generator-supplied circuits from the 120-volt circuits provided by the utility, but you’ll also be disconnecting a third leg of the utility-supplied circuit usually referred to as the neutral.

If you make use of a standard 2-pole transfer switch on a generator that is GFCI-equipped (that’s a generator that doesn’t disconnect the neutral), the GFCI outlets will trip off. Using this switch would be an electrical code violation and by undermining the GFCI receptacles, you’ll underutilize the generator’s capability.

This may seem ironic since you’ve already paid some extra money to get that GFCI protection. However, you can use a 2-pole switch or 3-pole transfer switch on every other type of non-GFCI generator.

4. Make use of heavy-duty cords correctly

Let’s assume you do not have enough money to get a transfer switch installed. You will still be able to safely operate appliances plugged directly into a running generator. Your power tools, computers, refrigerators, etc, can all be powered by running lengthy extension cords to the generator.

It is very important to ensure that these cords are of the heavy-duty duty variety. The wires should be thick and strong enough to handle the current flowing through them. As a matter of fact, the cord’s packaging should contain information on what electrical load it is rated to supply.

The cords need to be rated for exterior use only. In addition, you should try to run the cords in a way that they won’t get damaged, coiled up, or kinked – especially when you’re powering a high-wattage device such as a heater.

When extension cords get coiled up, they can become very hot and even melt in the process. Knowing how to use a generator begins by following the right sequence to power a load via an extension cord. Firstly, start the generator and plug the cords into it.

Next, go inside the house and plug the loads into the extension cord. When it’s time to turn off the generator, first start by unplugging the loads from the generator. Then go outside to unplug the cords before turning off the power generator.

5. Know when and how to utilize a ground rod

When you plug loads directly into the generator using extension cords, do not connect the generator set to a ground rod. If you plug a heavy-duty extension cord into your power generator and subsequently connect that to an appliance, device, or power tool, then skip the ground rod.

On a side note, you can use a ground rod when powering circuits through a transfer switch. Connect from the generator’s grounding lug to the ground rod using a piece of copper wire of the same gauge as the heaviest wire within the circuit you aim to power.

For instance, if you plan on using the generator to power something as large as a 240-volt air conditioner or an electric range, you may likely need a 6 or 8-gauge ground wire.

CO Safety

Virtually all power generators produce large amounts of unsafe carbon monoxide. One thing you should know about how to use a generator is to never under any circumstances operate one in a utility building, a garage, a shed (even with the door wide open), in the basement, or in any other manner via which carbon monoxide can accumulate to the extent where it becomes deadly. 

In addition, the generator’s exhaust must be pointed away from the house. If possible, turn the generator in such a way that it’s oriented relatively to a prevailing wind. This way, its fumes will be down-wind of the house. Also, keep the generator secure using a high-strength chain and padlock.

Lastly, lots of new generators now come fitted with CO detectors that instantly shuts the machine down to prevent CO from building up to the point where it becomes fatal. Unfortunately, these generating sets do not come cheap, however, they’re still the best for safety purposes.

1. Fuel quality and safety

One of the things you shouldn’t do if you’re learning how to use a generator is to not refuel a hot generator. In fact, do not refuel a power generator while a heater or any other hot object (like a barbecue grill that’s running nearby).

Also, do not store fuel containers anywhere near the generator. In addition, you have to be particularly mindful that a generator’s muffler can be hot enough to melt plastic. Just imagine this scenario: After shutting down the power generator, you place the gas can near it as you wait for the generator set to cool down.

Meanwhile, you forget that the muffler is still red hot and thus, it melts a hole, through the side of a carelessly positioned gas can.

Try to maintain your fuel supply. If you plan on buying fuel in bulk to keep for several days or more, use a fuel stabilizer to limit the fuel’s chemical degradation. After the period of the emergency has passed, gently remove the fuel from the generator.

Next, run the machine dry to let gas drain out via the carburetor and fuel lines. Chemically deteriorated fuel can leave particles and residue that’ll make the generator difficult to restart later.

2. Weather Safety

Impressively, many people have become quite creative at building different cobbled-together shelters meant to protect their generator from rain, wind, and snow. That’s quite alright as far as they don’t get blown down or collapse.

However, keep a 5-foot air space between the generator and relative surrounding surfaces. This is important if you want to avoid overheating the generator and potentially risking a fire outbreak. You can also opt for a turnkey solution by purchasing a manufactured cover such as Gen Tent. This can let you run your power generator even in inclement weather.

Operational Safety: Make a Test Run

In order to ensure that your generating set functions well, you’ll have to thoroughly do a test run to guarantee it is properly set up. You shouldn’t wait until there’s an emergency before doing a full test run.

Do so while everything is calm and normal and you may learn several things. Things might operate on generated power just as easily as they do when using utility power. And then, they may not. Whenever the test run shows a problem, there are a few things you can check.

1. The tripping GFCI outlets

This shows that there could be a ground fault in the circuit the generator is supplying or perhaps an incompatible 2-pole transfer switch was utilized. Thus, the issue can be resolved by installing a 3-pole transfer switch. If this doesn’t work, then you may have to check the ground fault present within the electrical system.

2. Overloading and trip breakers

You can try to manage power better. For instance, you might have calculated the power draw of your well pump. However, it can turn out that the pump motor requires more power than you initially thought.

You should stage your power consumption such that no other appliance is drawing power and let the well pump gain total access to the generator’s full output while charging the well tank. You won’t want big loads like your well pump to receive less voltage as it can damage it. Electric motors usually surge by up to three times their rated current at the first few seconds of startup.

3. Devices that won’t run or function poorly on generator power

Many things can cause this and it can be particularly daunting if you’re just learning how to use a generator. The problem can emanate from sloppily installing the transfer switch or it could even be a deficiency within the generator itself. Cheap generators purchased from unpopular brands can be lacking quality in their electrical output.

For instance, such generators may produce 120 volts, albeit, inconsistently. It is even bad if the generator is undersized. And could get worse if the low power output quality under normal operating conditions gets an increasing demand for power.

Top Royal Generators

Getting a top-quality generator set can be hard as there are several brands out there. Here’s a collection of excellent generators you can buy. They are manufactured by Royal Electronics, a household name when it comes to good quality appliances and electronics.

Royal 2.2 KVA Generator (GR3000C)

With 2.2KVA, this durable generator can get your appliances up and running in no time. The generator has a powerful OHV 4-stroke gasoline engine and features low vibration with minimal emission.

Royal 3.0 KVA Generator with Electric Start (GR3500CE)

Power all your household appliances using Royal 3.0 KVA generator. This power generator is quieter than most other models. It is also equally powerful and can run on gasoline for long hours with its bigger fuel tank.

Royal 5.5 KVA Generator (GR8000CE)

Royal 5.5 KVA generator features an overload circuit breaker that helps protect the unit and connected appliances. The generator features an automatic low oil shutdown system that also helps protect the engine and elongates its operational performance.

Conclusion

The reality is that most cheap consumer electronics and major appliances have poor power-filtering capability within their DC circuitry. Thus, they can display some vulnerability to the poor power quality being delivered by shoddily manufactured generators. The effect can be damaging to your electronics and or appliances. We advise you to stick to well-known generator brands like Royal Electronics. They will certainly improve the odds against power-quality problems.

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