Best automatic & manual generator power transfer switches

Ever wondered how important facilities like a school, factory, or hospital ensure their power is running day and night? An outage of even a few minutes can cost precious time, money, and sometimes even life. These products take on the Herculean task of redirecting the connected load circuits to the primary or secondary power source so that you never face an outage. This means all important electrical equipment, including lights, machines, computers, etc. will have a constant power backup source as long as they are connected to the circuit. A generator is also sometimes used to power RV’s since it’s more convenient to charge from an outside source like a generator.
But there is more to them than just providing uninterrupted electricity to your home. If you choose to forego transfer switches and manually connect all your electrical devices directly to the outdoor generator through extension cords, you may be putting your home or workplace at risk. Why is that?

Firstly, because you will need to keep certain doors and windows open to allow the extension cords to pass. Even though the windows might be the frosted type that ensure privacy, they’re probably not going to keep the burglars out. Secondly, contrary to popular belief, once the outage is over, the generator does not automatically stop its supply to the devices. Instead, the power rushes back down to the generator itself. This could mean damaging your generator, or worse, causing electrocution or fires. They provide a smooth transition that not only keeps you sleeping soundly but also safely at night. Even if you’ve got a gun safe handy for security purposes, it’s probably best to invest in one to keep the doors locked too.

But it can be tricky to choose the right switch when there are so many options available. Let’s read on about the types of switches and how to choose the best one.

What to look for?

  • Automatic or Manual?

One of the first things to look for is the mode. Manual transfer switches (MTS) involves a lever or handle that needs to be turned so the power source can be switched from the utility or main power to the secondary source (usually a generator).

That means one person will be given the simple but very important task of sitting next to the MTS panel to turn this handle when the power goes out. While this may sound a tad inconvenient to some, a manual switch does have its advantages.

For someone on a budget, a manual switch can be the cheaper choice. Additionally, the very purpose of them is to avoid those pesky cables running from your appliances to the backup generator outside. So your home or workplace looks neat and uncluttered at all times! But if you’re looking for gauge wires and extension cords and want to choose the correct size for optimum safety, check out our resources on amp wire sizes and cords.

Additionally, the MTS also comes with cons that can’t be ignored. The lever will need to be turned manually at all times which means someone will need to be around for the power to be restored in the facility. This can be a bummer if you’re looking for an automated power backup. But don’t worry we’ve got you covered.

The ATS monitors the frequency and voltage at all times with its intelligent microprocessor and automatically switches from the main power to the generator when it senses the fluctuation. This means no manpower allocation at the location of the switch and utilization of time and human effort on more important things.

The intelligent machine that the ATS is, will only switch and connect to the backup sources when the primary source failure is detected. This is an important feature that ensures the main and secondary power sources are kept separate for the safety of workers, families, or other personnel. So the extra cost is completely worth it!

If it’s money you’re worried about, get a glimpse of this resource we have on oil rig workers’ salaries.

  • The Transition – Open or closed?

When you are choosing one, it’s important to learn how the transition from the utility to generator backup will take place, and which option is best for you. Each transition has its implications of the time it will take to switch to the backup electric source. Here’s a list of your available options:

Open transition

This type means the connection to the backup power source will first be opened and then power will be activated to the connected devices. This usually means a delay of a couple of seconds while the transition takes place. But if you can live with that, this automated power switch might save you a couple of bucks.

Fast closed transition

A closed connection means there is always continuous power in the facility. This is a time-saving deal because the connection doesn’t need to be opened to the backup source. Both sources run parallel to each other and the connection to the generator is activated when the utility power is disrupted. Consequently, when both the sources are sensed to be available, the backup generator source switches the main automatically.

The transition is so smooth that no interruption is sensed in the electricity at all!

Sub-cycle transfer

If you’re a nineties kid, you might have seen this one with computers back in the day, connected through a UPS device. Since the switch consumes a quarter of the power cycle, it causes a slight interruption that is noticeable. However, the backup is quickly activated and runs smoothly thereafter.

Soft- closed transition

Similar to the fast-closed transition, there is no delay in the switch with soft-closed transitions. However, here the mechanics are slightly different. A ramp load impulse is used to synchronize all the sources. From this, the devices are connected and made sure to be running at all times.

  • Continuous Current Rating

Let’s get dirty with all the complex details now! The switch you select should be able to carry the maximum current load for at least three hours. The common current ratings are typically between 30 amp – 400 amp; the most common being 30, 40, 70, 80, 100, 200 amps, and so on. The current rating is dependent upon your main circuit breaker. If the main circuit breaker carries 100 amps, your switch should also carry 100 amps; 50 amps for breaker translates to 50 amps in the switch and so on.

If you’re looking to gauge wires to connect to the breaker, you can easily check out the correct wire and cord size to match your breaker capacity here. If you’re confused about the units and want to look at a reliable conversion chart, we’ve got you covered right here!

  • Voltage

This is an important feature to look out for since switches are delicately rare devices that deal with not one, but two sources at once. Adequate insulation is necessary to deal with the sudden increase and decrease in voltage.

The voltage ratings for an ATS can range anywhere from 120, 208, 480, 600 volts. The usual frequencies are 50 or 60 Hertz.

Other voltage and frequencies can also be used but it’s best to see what fits your requirements and then take your pick.

How to install it?

Now that you have made your choice of switch, you can get started with the actual installation that will allow your home or facility to become powered 24×7. Before we begin, here’s what you are going to need:

  • A generator – this will be your main backup source, usually kept in the backyard or garage.
  • Power transfer switch(Automatic or manual) – this will work the magic of switching to generator power when the main power is out.
  • An inlet box – This box is mounted on the outside of your house. This is where your generator cord is plugged in to connect to the indoor transfer switch which is on the other side of the wall.
  • Generator extension cord – You are going to need a sturdy and adequately lengthy cord to connect from the generator to the transfer switch.
  • A drilling machine
  • A good shower to step into after you’re done, especially if it’s a hot day.

When you’ve gathered all the above, it’s time to get dirty!

We recommend this job for those who have at least basic familiarity with electric work. You can also seek professional help and get this job done in a couple of hours.

Let’s get started!

  1. Decide where you want your switch to be located.

This is important. You might have selected the most premium model, but it’s no use if it’s inconveniently located in a corner away from your panel box. Choose a place that is tucked away from human touch and also close to the main panel box.

  1. Assign labels and numbers to ease the process

Assign each appliance and connected device a certain number that matches its circuit and label this next to the circuit breaker in the main panel. Doing this will make it easier to connect the right cables.

  1. Mount your switch

Once your spot is selected, start mounting your switch to the wall. You can do this easily by labeling the placement of the mounting screws first. Remember, the switch should be mounted around 1.5ft away from the center of the main circuit breaker. Use screws to attach the screw to the wall.

  1. Switch off the main power to your house.

Make sure the power is off by turning your appliances on and off. Spend plenty of time on this step because it could prove dangerous to do electric work while power is left on accidentally.

  1. Connect wires from the switch to the breakers

Step 2 would have made it easier for you to keep track of the devices and their respective breakers. Now, join the wires coming from the power transfer switch to the main circuit breakers.

  1. Get drilling!

You’re going to need a drilling machine for this step. Drill a hole of 1.5 inches through the wall from the outside of your home, close to the switch. This hole is going to fulfill the job of snaking wires from the switch to the electrical receptacle.

  1. Mount your electrical outdoor box above the hole

This box may have along when you made the purchase, or you can easily purchase one from your nearby hardware store.

  1. Snake the wires from the hole to the box to the transfer switch

You can also do the opposite and run the cable from the switch to the box and then through the hole. Whatever works for you!

  1. Connect the electrical cable to the electrical receptacle

In the outdoor electrical box, take the cable and connect it to the receptacle. You can go ahead and screw it to the box now to assure sturdiness.

  1. Test your work

Keep the power off and using the generator cord, connect the outdoor receptacle to the generator. Turn on your generator and turn the turn switch lever. All your connected devices and appliances should be working.

  1. Cover the main circuit breaker

As part of wrapping up, take the cover and put it back on the main circuit breaker to keep moisture and pesky rodents and bugs out.

  1. Turn main power back on

Once the testing is done, you flip the transfer switch again to return to the utility power mode (the primary source of power). Now it is safe to turn your main power back on. Of course, all this would be automatically done in the case of the ATM.

  1. Cover the drilled hole

You can permanently seal the hole for wires to prevent unwanted bugs, moisture, and other obstructions. Similarly, you might want to cover the whole generator and transfer switch area with metal sheets to ensure safety and protection from rain and crawling toddlers and pets.

Other things to keep in mind

  • Always check the laws and codes:

It is advised to always check the building codes and housing and electrical laws in the state you are, before beginning the installation.

  • Confirm the wires used:

Each switch model will differ in its types of wires and cords and thus might not match the ones mentioned in our installation process. Refer to a specialist in case of confusion.

  • Follow the book!

It is a good idea to follow the manufacturer’s instruction manual while installing.

  • Seek help!

It may be better to hire a professional for the work if you have very little experience with electrical wiring.

  • Find the correct location for the generator:

For the safety of your family, the generator should be at least 20ft away from the house. The carbon monoxide rising from the generator can prove poisonous for your family, workers, or pets.

  • Cover and clean!

To ensure the long life of your generator, it is should be kept covered when not in use. The generator should also be regularly cleaned to avoid any debris obstructing the smooth functioning of the generator. If you choose to buy a cover for the generator, remember to remove it while the generator is on so that it doesn’t act as insulation and cause the generator to overheat.

  • Empty the fuel tank:

Did you know leftover fuel in the gas tank of the generator can turn into gum deposits? These deposits will stick to the inside of the tank and cause your generator to function at lower than best capacity. That’s why it is best to empty the fuel into a gas container when the generator is not in use.

  • Always keep reinforcements!

Keep a full container of backup fuel in case of long outages that can last for days at end. It’s also best to keep backup oil and oil filters in case new ones are needed during the outage.

  • Remember, it’s important to note the wattage of your generator before you bring in the big guns. A 500-watt generator might be sufficient to keep home electronics and small tools functioning. But plugging in a lawn tractor might cause it to shut down and leave that pretty garden waiting for a trim. You’re going to need a 2000-3000 watt generator to keep the front yard looking pretty. And of course, some gardening tips about tomatoes and cucumbers will also help.

They are nifty little things that keep your home safe and powered at all times so your normal life isn’t disrupted. Making the right choice of switch and correct installation can make all the difference in an organized and well-functioning household or workplace.

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