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Where do I plug my generator into?

Dec. 06, 2023

How to Hook Up a Generator

How to Connect a Portable Generator to a Home

By Alberto C.

Portable Generator Expert

Buying an emergency generator is a great first step in protecting your family from power failure. But, even the most diehard prepper cannot predict the next power outage. 

There 2 ways to connect a portable gas generator to a home: plugging in each appliance with individual cords or powering a circuit panel using a transfer switch

Cords vs Power Transfer Systems

During storm season the biggest question we get is: "What's the difference between extension cords, generator cords, and using a switch?"

The answer is quite simple. It all comes down to convenience and safety. Let's break down both types and how they're used.


Connecting a Portable Generator To a House

No matter what type of generator you have, always consult the owner's manual for detailed instructions and safety guidelines prior to operation. Under no circumstances should you plug a generator into a wall socket, known as backfeeding. If you go the transfer switch route, get a professional installation.

Extension and Gen-Cords

  1. Follow the generator pre-start checklist.
  2. Move the generator outside (min. 10ft away from openings). 
  3. Connect generator to indoor appliances by one of the following ways:
    1. Run one gen cord from the generator and connect multiple appliances.
    2. Run several extension cords from outside to connect to appliances. 
  4. Start the generator. 

Transfer Switches

  1. Connect the generator to the transfer switch using a gen cord. 
  2. Start the generator outside. 
  3. Flip the main breakers in the transfer switch from "Line" to "Generator" power.
  4. One at a time, turn on the circuits you want to power. 

How Should I Connect My Generator?


Extension Cords

Obviously, the cheapest way to connect your generator is by using extension cords. Except they don't allow you to use the full power of a large generator. It's like paying for something, but only being able to use half of it. 

What isn't so obvious is that extension cords are time-consuming and potentially hazardous to use, especially during a blackout in a heavy storm. In fact, using the wrong gauge, length, or a worn out wire can be outright deadly, posing shock and fire hazards. 

If you're using an inverter, and you only need to power a couple appliances like a refrigerator and some lights, a proper extension cord will do the job. 

Generator Cords

If you're using a mid-sized generator and comfortable plugging in appliances during a storm but still want to use cords, your best bet is to invest in a Gen-Cord.

You simply plug the gen cord into the 20- or 30-amp outlet on your generator. The opposite end splits into several household outlets, where you can start connecting additional extension cords safely indoors.


Power Transfer Systems

The best option in terms of power, safety, and convenience, when connecting a large portable generator, are power transfer systems. They contain everything you need to hook up your generator to your house.


More importantly, power transfer systems energize entire circuits instead of appliances. They can power hard-wired appliances - like air conditioners, furnaces, security systems, and lights.  


By Alberto C.

Portable Generator Expert

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A generator is a core component to many people's emergency preparedness plans. (Maybe you have a cool charcoal powered or a multi-fuel generator.) However many fail to think through how exactly they will power the items they want to run when the grid is down.

In June of 2012 my family experienced a 10 day power outage. It was eye opening. It was 100 degrees during the day with periods of heavy rain. I had to run a sump pump to keep my basement dry, a refrigerator, freezer for food preservation, a portable AC unit in the living room to protect my infant, we charged phones, and ran the wifi router. I had power cords everywhere. It was a pain. I decided then and there I would find a better way.

A generator transfer switch is the legal and proper way to power your home with an emergency generator. There are three main types: automatic, manual transfer sub panel and a breaker interlock. Each has varying degrees of complexity, benefits and expense.

Automatic transfer switches will sense a power loss, start your standby generator and automatically move your load to the generator. These are awesome - but very expensive and require a full time dedicated standby generator.

Manual transfer sub panel switches are good option. They are less expensive than the automatic transfer switches (Starting around $300) and can be used with a portable generator. They typically only cover a few breakers which was problematic for me.

Breaker Interlock is the option I chose. It is National Electric Code compliant and is in my opinion the least expensive and most flexible option. My setup cost was just under $150. In this setup you use a breaker to energize your existing breaker box. Switching it on is easy and safe. My wife did an unassisted dry run in under 5 min - which included getting the generator out of the building.

The breaker interlock system has come in very handy for us. We can turn on overhead lights, wash clothes and keep our food cold, charge our phones, run the internet and much more....all while keeping our doors and windows closed and no tripping on extension cords!

I am not an electrician. After much consulting and over sight from a licensed 25 year Master Electrician I believe these instructions to be correct and accurate for my jurisdiction. Electrical codes vary from place to place. In my place of residence home owners are allowed to do their own electrical work if it is up to code. You are responsible for any code violations, permits or awesome good stuff that comes from doing a project like this.

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