Generators 101: Tips from an Electrician





This is a guest post by Jeff Lakatos, of Hartland Electric LLC, a Michigan Electrician
(810) 632-2004

Spring is fast approaching, and spring in Michigan usually comes with severe weather and occasional power outages. Here at Hartland Electric, we frequently get questions about generators during the stormy months of the year, so we’ve come up with a Generator 101 for our newsletter readers.



There are two general types of generators. One is made specifically to be a permanent fixture at your home – a whole-house, automatically activated, standby generator. The other type is a portable generator, which is cheaper to buy, but requires the owner to do much more to make it work.


Portable Generators

These generators are small, cheap, and available at nearly any home supply or big box store. They can be connected to a home through a manual transfer switch (more on this later) and provide a limited amount of power to provide electricity during a power outage. Portable generators are generally powered by gasoline or diesel fuel. Portable generators require a great deal of owner intervention to keep them functional. Fuel must be kept on hand, maintenance must be performed, and in the event of an outage, a person must be at home to start the generator and switch the power over from utility to generator.


Standby Generators

This type of generator has many benefits over a portable generator. It is stationary, permanently connected the home and is fed from the home’s propane or natural gas supply. Standby generators have built-in diagnostics and perform weekly self-tests to ensure functionality. If a problem arises, a warning light will come on, telling the homeowner that professional maintenance is needed. If the power goes out and the generator is attached to an automatic transfer switch (more on this later), it will automatically detect the loss of power and turn itself on to keep the electricity flowing to important appliances. When the power comes back on, the generator will automatically turn off. Standby generators cost more than portable generators, but the benefits are significant.


Transfer Switches

There are two types of transfer switches available for use with generators, the automatic transfer switch and the manual transfer switch.</ <h4>Automatic Transfer Switch

The automatic transfer switch is most often used with a standby generator to automatically detect the loss or resumption of utility-provided power. When utility power is lost, it switches to generator power and when the utility power resumes, it switches back. There is little or no owner intervention necessary and the system functions whether or not the homeowner is present.