October 19, 2023

Understanding Generator Transfer Switches

Technician Checking the Electric Panel in Blairstown, NJ

When it comes to ensuring reliable power for your home or business, nothing beats installing a standby generator. This backup power source hooks into your home’s wiring and delivers power when the grid goes down. The key to making this happen is a simple device called a transfer switch. Learn more about generator transfer switches, why they’re required, and the types available.

What Is a Generator Transfer Switch?

A generator transfer switch directs power between different sources and your home or business’s electrical panel. If you’ve invested in a standby generator to keep the lights on during a power outage, a transfer switch ensures that the generator and the main power supply never cross paths.

Why is this so important? It prevents electricity from flowing in the wrong direction, safeguarding utility workers from shocks and protecting your generator from burnout. For these reasons, most electrical codes require a transfer switch when connecting a residential or commercial generator to your building’s electrical system.

Skipping a transfer switch is not only risky but also against the law in many jurisdictions. A transfer switch provides a fool-proof way to connect your generator to the electrical grid, ensuring you’re not inadvertently endangering lives or breaking the law.

Types of Generator Transfer Switches

Transfer switches come in two types based on their triggering mechanism.

  • Manual transfer switches require human activation, typically by throwing a lever. Simplicity is their biggest benefit. Without complex electronic components, manual transfer switches are more affordable and less likely to fail. However, because they must be manually operated, they are unsuitable for applications requiring quick, automated action.
  • Automatic transfer switches are the higher-tech variety. An intelligent controller within the automatic transfer switch determines when to activate or deactivate it without human intervention. It can detect a power outage, start your generator, and transition to the backup power supply without you raising a finger. Then, when grid power is restored, it switches back and turns off the generator. This sophistication comes at a higher cost, but the increased convenience and safety often make it worth the investment.

“Smart” Transfer Switches

Advancements in smart technology have significantly impacted the functionality of automatic transfer switches. These switches can often be integrated into home automation systems, allowing you to monitor and control them via a smartphone app. This adds another layer of convenience, allowing you to manage your power sources even when you’re away from home.

Investing in a Transfer Switch for Your Generator

When it comes to cost, the type of transfer switch and the size of your generator are the main factors. Manual switches are generally less expensive than their automatic counterparts. If your generator is portable, you’ll likely need to buy the transfer switch separately. For permanently installed standby generators, the switch usually comes bundled with the unit, although you always have the option to upgrade.

Warranty and Maintenance Considerations

Another aspect to consider when investing in a transfer switch is the warranty and ongoing maintenance requirements. Some higher-end models come with extended warranties and self-testing features, which ease the burden of manual upkeep.

Ensuring Proper Installation

While the DIY route may be tempting, installing a transfer switch is best left to a professional. It involves connecting to your electrical panel box, which leaves no room for error, given the risks associated with power currents and electrical fires. Besides, most installations require pulling a permit, a process your electrician can handle for you.

Before proceeding with any installation, consider a professional consultation. An expert can evaluate your needs, recommend the best type of transfer switch for your setup, and provide a comprehensive installation plan that includes any permits you’ll need.

Trust Seidel Electric Inc., the Tri-State Area’s Generator Experts

If an expert opinion and professional installation are important to you, turn to Seidel Electric Inc. for all your generator needs. As an authorized reseller of Generac generators, we can provide your home or business with the very best backup electric power. Based in Blairstown, NJ, since 1944, our family-owned company is deeply rooted in the communities we serve. Call us at (908) 362-6191 today to request a home generator consultation in the Tri-State Area.