According to Hoch, you never should back feed the electricity into the house. If done incorrectly, you can electrocute utility workers repairing downed power lines.
He recommends two safe ways to get the electricity from the generator into the home:
1. Extension Cords
Hoch says extension cords are fine for small generators because you can only plug in one or two appliances.
The most common way to use a portable electric generator is to place it outdoors, then run extension cords through an open window or door to the chosen appliances.
Extension cords have several drawbacks. First, most extension cords can't be plugged into a furnace, well pump, or ceiling-light fixture. If the cords are too long, the resulting power drop may damage the generator and appliances. And, if they are placed under rugs or carpets, heat can build up and spark a fire.
If you want to use extension cords, consider getting a Gen-Cord. You simply plug the all-weather cord into your 20- or 30-amp generator outlet, then run it inside. The plug on the inside splits into four 120-volt outlets, where you can plug in several household appliances or additional extension cords.
2. Power Transfer Systems
For safety's sake, Hoch recommends hiring a licensed electrician to install a power transfer system that redistributes power from the generator to the circuit panel.
The power transfer system (starting around $250) reduces the need for multiple extension cords running from the generator to an individual appliance.
It is installed beside the main electrical panel, and then it's connected to the circuits the homeowner will want running during a blackout. When the power goes out, you simply crank up the generator and run a single power cord from it to a transfer switch.
"Once the generator is running, you can choose which appliances and circuits you want to use by simply flipping the switches," said Hoch.
Most manual transfer switches also include built-in wattage meters, which keep track of what's being powered. Without them, you can overload the system, damaging your generator and appliances.
"A typical power transfer system installation will take about 3-4 hours and cost around $200-$300," said Hoch. "But it's an investment that will be fully appreciated the next time the power goes out."
Picking the Right Size
For those new to portable generators, the electrical equations may look as foreign as high school algebra.
Don't worry. You can put the math books and calculators away. According to Hoch, the concept is extremely simple.
"Portable generators are measured by watts. Power transfer systems are measured in amps," he said.
Basically, the larger the amps, the more electricity the power transfer system can handle. For example, a 50-amp power cord is a lot thicker than a 20-amp power cord, allowing it to handle larger wattages.
According to Hoch, all you need to worry about is your generator. Everything else is irrelevant.
"Take a look at the most powerful outlet on your generator. If you have a 50-amp outlet, you'll need a 50-amp power transfer system. If you have a 20-amp outlet, you'll need a 20-amp power transfer system," said Hoch.
Picking the Right Shape
Once you've selected the right size, you just need to pick the right shape.
The plugs and connectors are purposely designed in different shapes, helping to prevent an electrical overload.
ElectricGeneratorsDirect.com publishes the outlet configurations on all of its generators. Simply match the shape of the plug to the shape of the generator outlet.
For example, if you have a three-prong outlet on your generator, use a three-prong plug. If it's a four-prong outlet, use a four-prong plug.
ElectricGeneratorsDirect.com is an online generator store owned and operated by Power Equipment Direct Inc. For more information, visit www.powerequipmentdirect.com.
Publication date: 05/22/2006