Question: ‘My Electrician Said’

Utterpower's grid generator

Utterpower’s off grid generator, with interlocking Interties.


Here’s Kent’s question, and you already know I can’t comment without adding a rant. Please do add your comments:


I don’t have a main breaker, I have a lever in my meter box to disconnect from city power. A friend of mine who is an electrician said that you can install a 30 amp 240 volt double pole breaker in the sub panel to supply the circuits with gen power. Is this true?

George’s answer:

Kent, ‘I am the Student’ and I learn new things every day. One thing I’ve managed to learn is there are many ways to implement a method to transfer loads from your primary source to a back up generator, and some are far better than others.

We get into code, and some find out the hard way just what Insurance Companies are all about.  Your disconnect is a ‘legal’ disconnect. A breaker however is not a legal disconnect in many jurisdictions , you will need breakers that are rated to be used as both a breaker AND as a disconnect switch. If you were to feed your panel in the way your Electrician Friend describes, you want the ‘switch rated breaker’, they exist, and cost a few dollars more.

Next, you need look a little further into the codes of your city, county, state, in most jurisdictions, I think you will find that you need a mechanical interlock between your main disconnect, and your DP (breaker/switch) for the generator transfer, this can be created in a number of ways. I have seen ‘choke cables’ used to fabricate interlocks, this >could< work in your case if it’s impossible to close the gen breaker unless the disconnect is open, and of course, the gen breaker needs be open before you can again close the main disconnect.

Legal is very important, as you will likely never have the deep pockets the insurance company has, and any illegal wiring could create an unexpected liability for you.

Next is understanding the challenges of operating a small generator and typical house hold loads, this can be very different from house to house, and I find the ‘bulk’ transfer switches, (dumping all loads onto the generator with a single transfer switch causes the ‘AVERAGE’ home owner frustration and even appliance damage. IF you have a well pump, designing around that pump and meeting it’s requirements is often key.

Home owners can be in a hurry to get the lights back on, and this is the source of a lot of problems, all too many to mention here. In the method you describe, you’d need to operate the main disconnect and remember to open every breaker in the box, once the generator  is verified to be putting out proper voltage and frequency you would add load and watch (monitor) the amp meter(s), voltage and frequency to assure you don’t overload the generator.

The transfer switches I like best allow you to transfer individual circuits off main power and onto the generator, much harder to make a mistake, and much easier to use a smaller generator. People learn in a hurry that a so called whole house generator can leave you with no fuel long before the power comes back on, conservation can be a critical part of your backup plan. Having a step by step procedure for the generator transfer is KEY!

No matter how clear it is in your mind today, when the lights are out,  your wife can turn into an impatient nag, and if the kids are crying, and the dogs is barking, it’s not the best time to think, do think in advance and have a simple set of instructions to follow. It may not be you that will need operate the gen set.

Now.. there are Gang Greenies who see the whole world simple, no need to study or plan, you only need a hand full of fairy dust 🙂 Yes, Beth Bucknaked comes to mind.  But over my years of hands on study, I’ve run in to so many people (some with advanced degrees) they say “if I had to do it all over again, I’d do it different 🙂

Installing a generator transfer switch at Zach’s house. This article gives us some insight into how small a generator we might be able to use in a house with natural gas appliances, and how we might be best off wiring the generator for 120 VAC only and assuring the stator windings are evenly loaded.

“If I had it to do all over again.” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that.  And that previous article I wrote about Beth Bucknaked.  She is at the heart of Gang Green! There’s key phrases that set off the Alarm bells in my head when it comes to generators for home back-up. One phrase that screams ‘salesmen’ is whole house generator.’ According to search engine data, it is a term searched for often, but all too many of those people who use this term are likely to tell you… “If I had it to do all over again, I’d…………………….”

I’m the student, I have the questions, but you will always need the answers as to what is legal or not in your jurisdiction.  Hands on experience, and operating through long outages helps one develop the better plan. And do remember, a gasoline generator with a float bowl full of gasoline ethanol blend WILL cause you trouble regardless of what others might tell you. Stand by on gird sets are different, as much as you remind people they need exercise them, they won’t! Old fuel can be a big problem, gasoline is by far the worst, it’s a poor fuel, but a fuel full of energy by volume, and we have a lot of it.  And of course our Government has done their best to make gasoline fuel far more unstable, and far more difficult to store on site for any period of time.

Now, I’m sure you’ve read that there’s chemistry you can add to gasoline/ethanol blends that solve all the problems, and maybe a Chemist will come along and comment about how these wonder additives keep the ethanol from dropping out when moisture finds it’s way into a less than sealed tank, or how it keeps ethanol from attacking certain materials  over time,  Autos seldom set for years at a time, generators do all too often, and that too lean condition.. how many are set up to monitor exhaust gas temps? And when that main jet gets coated with crud, your engine runs lean, and exhaust valves and seats suffer, and then you discover that EPA compliant carb can’t be cleaned, or adjusted. Yes, the EPA will tell you, it’s best they keep ‘stupid’ in their ranks, as they think you are too stupid to clean the carb or make adjustments.

And there you go, you knew I’d turn this into a rant 🙂 Too bad we have Beth Bucknaked types  running the EPA. But rest assured, now that Fat Lisa is gone, they’ll find another ‘activist’ to man the tiller of that ship on the rocks.






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3 Responses to Question: ‘My Electrician Said’

  1. Bill knighton says:

    LPG conversions are very worthwhile.
    Also the nearest tractor supply to me is refilling for $2/gallon. Plus my porch smells slightly like a forklift. Other than asphalt that’s one of natures best smells. Smells like progress.

  2. Quinnf says:

    The chemist (at least this one) is still nursing a detached and surgically repaired biceps tendon, when he suffered lifting a 6/1 flywheel improperly. So I’m catching up on reading here. Methanol is probably your best bet to dehydrate gas that has sat for too long. Any water that has been attracted from the atmosphere by modern pump gasoline’s 10% ethanol content may be lying in the bottom of your fuel tank. Dump in some methanol and slosh it around and it should absorb any free water. And as anyone who follows automobile racing knows, methanol burns just fine in a gasoline engine.

    However, your mileage may vary. The gas they pump in Washington State smells not at all like the stuff we burn in our cars in Kali-Fornia. And my truck gets about 2 MPG less down South than it does in God’s Country. Er, I mean, in the perpetually rainy, cold, damp and dreary Pacific Northwest that nobody in their right mind would ever want to move to, much less visit.

    Were it me, I’d also use Sta-bil, or one of the other fuel stabilizers at the recommended concentration every time I fill the tank, and plan on running the genny periodically, say an hour a month under a good load, in order to keep the carb jets clean and the spiders out of the windings. And maybe plan on rotating your genny gas in your lawnmower come Spring. I haven’t had any problem keeping gas over the winter, then burning it in the B&S engine in the Spring.

    • George B. says:


      So, you note that additives do not solve the ethanol drop out problems?
      As for gas mileage, interesting to hear you are getting better economy here, and our fuel smells different here.

      Those two miles per gallon, it would be interesting to force the ethanol to drop out in our fuel, and the fuel down south (where the good weather is) and note any differences in the volumes of both,

      A note, I meet people who have immediate problems with ethanol fuel, and others who have not seen problems yet.. I think the three main contributors are fuel system design (does it inhale and exhale?), Whether it’s in the Sun where the sun powers the condensate pump, and the vintage and type of the engine.

      Flatheads run hotter by design than OHV engines, all carb engines run hot when the main jet is coated, and most will think they’re OK, but in gas appliances, lawn mowers, etc, this extra heat can shorten your small engine’s life.

      If an owner had a no contact thermometer and measured the exhaust temp when new, and compared that reading to the running temp later, we might expect a difference. Ethanol blended fuels produce some interesting crude in float bowls, as I have mentioned before, the local small engine shop is frustrated with the pile of equipment that have carbs you can’t clean crude out of.

      Best you can do with small gas appliances is run it out of fuel.. make sure the bowl is drained.. the real best is to use the fuel that is not blended with ethanol.

      As for the gasoline outboard engines, these are mighty costly, one outboard engine shop says additives have addressed a lot of the problems. I’d like to see an independent and well run study, knock sensors, and the ability to change timing on the more advanced engines might mask some of the problems, taking care of the water as you mention leaves gasoline behind with a lower octane, as the ethanol blended in acted as an octane booster, so now you could have predet, and depending on load and other factors, this could take it’s toll over time.

      One of my small generators will no longer run unless partly choked, I suspect the main jet is coated with crude, mighty common, it’s not that there’s a piece of dirt in there, it’s more likely there’s a coating. My friend who has worked on small engines for 55 years finds he is forced to use a numbered drill to clean main jets, and what the drill removes is notable for sure. Of course this doesn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen with the non ethanol blended fuels.

      Gasoline is a lousy fuel, we just have a lot of it and it has a lot of BTUs. Adding ethanol to gasoline makes it even a less desirable fuel.

      I expect opinions to vary, I expect the small engine shops to have a different view of the ethanol problem, modern fuel systems in autos have evolved to deal with most of the problem.

      If we were smart consumers, we’d demand to pay less for a fuel that had less BTUs per volume. I see posts all the time about ethanol, and people posting they’d rather run the stuff. They seem to have no idea you need near twice as big of fuel tank to go the same distance as unmolested gasoline with enough octane to run the auto at it’s more efficient ignition timing. autos now days have computers and sensors, pour in some crap fuel, and the system might respond.. “oh gee wiz.. what is this stuff? let’s retard the timing, flow twice as much of this crude, and see how far we get..

      If the EPA gets it’s way, a lawn mower will cost $3000 soon, and it will have all the advances.

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