How Does a Transfer Switch Work? - Nature's Generator

How Does a Transfer Switch Work?

A transfer switch is an important accessory for a generator for safety reasons and ease of use, but how does it work? We’ll answer that in this article.
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With power outages being so common in the U.S. over recent years, getting a generator for your whole house to serve as backup is a smart move. If you’re looking for a generator in the market and want to make sure you use it optimally, we recommend purchasing a transfer switch with it. 
A transfer switch is an important accessory for a generator for safety reasons and ease of use. It’s a device that allows you to seamlessly supply electricity to the circuits in your home during a power interruption.

So how does a transfer switch work? That is what we’ll cover in this article, plus some other important things you should know about it.

How does a transfer switch work?

Imagine this: It’s night time and it’s pitch black outside. There’s a storm battering your area and it’s bringing destructive winds and rains. Suddenly, the power went out – good thing you have a generator! Unfortunately, you don’t have a transfer switch so you’ll have to connect your generator to the equipment you want to power using extension cords, which is inefficient and risky. 
If you don’t want to get caught in the same situation, you want to make sure that you have a transfer switch installed for your generator.  
To simply describe it, a transfer switch is a device that safely transfers (thus the name) the electric load between power sources, like the local grid and a generator. It ensures that different sources of electricity don’t overlap when one isn’t in use. 
In an event of a power interruption, the transfer switch enables you to switch from the power grid to the power created by your generator so you can supply electricity to essential devices and appliances. You can even power hardwired appliances that are connected to your circuit breaker during a blackout. 
What are the types of transfer switches? 

There are two types of transfer switches – manual and automatic transfer switches. 

  • Manual transfer switch - This type of transfer switch is usually permanently installed near the circuit breaker. In case of a power interruption, you would need to set up your generator by connecting it through a power cord to the transfer switch. When your generator is up and running, you’ll have to manually flip the switches on the transfer switch from the utility (power grid) to the generator. When the electricity from the grid is restored, all you need to do is to flip back the switches and reverse the process. 
  • Automatic transfer switch - When an automatic transfer switch detects power loss, it will direct the generator to start. Once the generator is stabilized, it automatically switches the load from the power grid to the emergency power from the generator. When the utility power is restored, this transfer switch will automatically reconnect the load back to the grid and shut down the generator.    

What are the pros and cons of automatic and manual transfer switches?       
Depending on the configuration and generator used, an automatic transfer switch can transfer the electrical load in a matter of seconds. This means it’s ideal for facilities or businesses that could not afford a few minutes of power interruption (e.g. hospitals, factories, etc.). 
Naturally, since this type of transfer switch is more “intelligent”, it significantly costs more than its manual counterpart.
On the other hand, a manual transfer switch will take a few minutes before you can supply emergency power to your circuit. Its major advantage, however, is that it is more cost-effective, is smaller in size, and is easier to install, which is perfect for homes, and small businesses. A manual transfer switch also requires less maintenance because its components are less complex than the automatic ones. 
Should you choose an automatic or a manual transfer switch? We’ll have a more in-depth discussion about this in our coming articles, so stay tuned! 
Do you need a transfer switch?

Our quick answer to this question is – absolutely! 
Yes, you can connect your generator to your house without a transfer switch; in fact, there are several ways to do this. However, this is dangerous and will limit the devices you could power through your generator. 
In addition, most states might require you to use a transfer switch when you’re planning to use power-hungry appliances, such as a refrigerator or an HVAC. Portable generators do not strictly need a transfer switch, but it’s still wise to do so for your safety and convenience. 
Other reasons why a transfer switch is important:

  • It prevents the power coming from the grid to come in contact with the generator. If this happens, the current from the generator can short circuit, which could cause the generator to explode or burn;
  • Also, when the electrical current from the generator short circuits, it can cause the electrical system to catch fire.
  • A transfer switch allows you to supply backup power to appliances and light fixtures that are hardwired to your breaker panel.
  • If you don’t have a transfer switch installed during a power outage, you’ll need to connect your generator to your devices using multiple extension cords. You’ll have to make sure that you’re going to use outdoor-rated cords that could carry the load of the electronics and appliances that you’re planning to use.  

How much does a transfer switch cost?

Automatic transfer switches for residential use run from $200 to even $1000+
Here at Nature’s Generator, we have three types of manual transfer switches: Power Transfer Switch Kit at $239.99, Power Transfer Switch Elite Kit at $339.99, and Power Transfer Switch Powerhouse Kit at $399.99.
These Power Transfer Kits are well designed and keep the generator power and utility power absolutely isolated from each other at all times. You can continue to provide power to your devices and appliances in case of power loss as our transfer switches connect Nature’s Generator to the existing power lines in your breaker panel.   
You can also use our Power Transfer Kits not only during outages but also for off-grid living when you use them with  Nature's Generator Gold System or Nature's Generator Platinum System.
Is a transfer switch worth it?

Given the advantages of using a transfer switch, you can’t simply think of it as an unnecessary add-on to your generator. 
If you’re on the search for a generator to use as backup power for your home or as a reliable power source for your off-grid cabin, make sure that you have a transfer switch installed with it. For your safety and convenience, your investment is definitely worth it. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
  1. Can a transfer switch be used with renewable energy sources?
    Yes, a transfer switch can be used with renewable energy sources such as solar power systems. Nature’s Generator transfer switch is versatile and can integrate with different types of power sources, providing a reliable backup power solution for homes utilizing renewable energy.

  2. Can I install a transfer switch myself?
    While some homeowners may feel comfortable with DIY electrical projects, it is generally recommended to hire a professional electrician to install a transfer switch. Proper installation is crucial for safety and compliance with local codes.

  3. How do I choose the right transfer switch?
    When choosing a transfer switch, consider the power requirements of your home and the capacity of your generator. Nature’s Generator transfer switch is compatible with a wide range of generators and can handle different load requirements, making it a versatile choice.

  4. What appliances can I run with a transfer switch?
    With a transfer switch, you can run essential appliances and systems such as refrigerators, medical devices, heating systems, and lights. The specific appliances that can be powered will depend on the capacity of your generator and the circuits connected to the transfer switch.

  5. How does an automatic transfer switch (ATS) differ from a manual transfer switch?
    An automatic transfer switch (ATS) senses a power outage and automatically switches to the backup generator without any user intervention. A manual transfer switch requires someone to manually switch the load to the generator. ATS offers greater convenience but is typically more expensive than a manual switch.

  6. Is Nature’s Generator transfer switch compatible with all generators?Nature’s Generator offers a variety of transfer switches designed to be compatible with a wide range of generators. This compatibility ensures that it can be used with different generator models to meet various power needs.

Do you have questions about our Power Transfer Kits? Please reach out to our representatives at Nature’s Generator and we’ll be happy to attend to you.  

 * We want to give credit where credit is due. Professional writer, Ishna Sablaya, contributed research and content to this blog titled: How Does a Transfer Switch Work? Thank you, Ishna, for your contributions!