When you live in a home where power outages are the norm, run a small business where sudden blackouts mean business loss, or you need backup power for one-off needs like camping, a portable generator is handy.
But do you know that a generator can be deadly when you use or install it incorrectly? From electrical shock to fires and explosions, there's much at risk from using a portable generator. Knowing how to ground a portable generator is one crucial yet overlooked safety measure.
What is Grounding? Basics of Electrical Grounding
Grounding is connecting your generator's neutral electric conductor terminals to the ground using a low-resistance metal wire. The copper grounding wire moves faulty electric energy away from your electrical system to the ground (which is partially a good conductor of electricity) keeping you and your devices safe.
Excess electricity flows through unwanted paths if it's not dumped properly, causing harm. Fault currents can come in the form of:
- Excess electricity flowing in your generator when its minimum output surpasses the load
- A problem in the normal electrical circuit which causes electricity to divert from its expected route
- Voltage spikes or certain power surges caused by internal voltage changes, lightning, static electricity, among other factors
Some of the grounding techniques available include:
- Lightning protection to shield devices from damage caused by lightning strikes
- System or neutral grounding which involves connecting equipment to the ground through the neutral part of the circuit
- Using ground rods to bring electrical charges to the ground
- Bonding to maintain electrical conductivity, reducing voltage and the risk of shocks
What Happens If You Don't Ground a Portable Generator?
Failure to ground a generator is hazardous and can lead to:
- Electrical overload on your generator which can damage the wiring or other sensitive parts of the electrical system, unless your generator has overload protection like all the generators at DuroMax
- Electrocution from touching ungrounded metal
- Overheating of devices, resulting in fires
- Explosion caused by stray or excess electricity that comes into contact with engine fuel or fuel tanks
How Do I Know If My Generator Needs to be Grounded?
According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines, all portable generators need to be grounded.
But that doesn't mean that you always need to manually ground your generator. Some generators will already be grounded or are safe to use depending on the type of generator you have and what you're using it for.
The easiest way to know if you need to ground your generator is to check in your owner's manual whether or not the manufacturer recommends it.
No worries if you don't have access to a manual. OSHA provides a checklist to help you identify when you should ground your generator and when it's not necessary as follows:
When you don't need to ground your generator:
- The metallic parts of your generator which don't carry current like the fuel tank and internal combustion engine are bonded to the generator frame. The metallic frame acts as the least path of resistance, providing grounding
When to ground your generator:
- Your generator is directly plugged into your building or home circuit (even if you've met all the above conditions for not grounding your generator check with a certified electrician if this is needed)
- The transfer switch of your generator has the option to transfer power to a neutral conductor. If it does, you'll need to connect your device to a separate ground rod
How to Ground a Portable Generator Safely
Grounding takes time, effort, and, of course, the right tools. For starters, here's the list of tools you need to ground a generator safely and effectively.
- A grounding rod which can vary depending on your local electrical codes. We’d recommend speaking with a certified electrician for grounding rod requirements in your area.
- At least 4 feet of copper wire for grounding (Gauge and length requirements may vary depending on local electrical codes).
- Wire stripper to remove copper wire insulation
- A hammer to knock the grounding rod into the ground
- Pliers to wind copper wire around the grounding rod
- A wrench to adjust the generator's grounding bolts
- Protective fitting or clamps to secure any ground rods above the ground
- Soldering equipment in case you prefer to solder metals together
What is the Best Way to Ground a Portable Generator? Step-by-Step Guide
Once you have all the tools, the next step is to ground your generator. Here's the step-by-step guide on how to do that while ensuring safety:
1. Install the ground rod
Knock the ground rod into the ground using a rod and a hammer, ensuring that the rod is at the proper depth based on your local electrical codes and touching the earth. A shovel will also be handy in breaking into hard grounds.
Burying the rod much deeper into the ground provides more effective earthing which means better safety.
If you encounter hard rocks on your way to installing the ground rod at the appropriate depth, you can install the rod at an angle not exceeding 45 degrees.
Cover any remaining rod parts with a protective clamp to protect anyone who may come into contact with the rod when the generator is still on.
2. Use wire strippers to remove insulation off your copper wire
Strip between six and twelve inches of insulation from your copper wire to prepare it for coiling on the ground rod. You can also solder the wire around the ground rod if you have soldering equipment.
Be careful not to strip off more copper wire than you need. Strip off just enough to wind into the rods.
3. Coil the copper wire on the ground rod
Wire the copper wire tightly around the grounding rod using pliers. Use your pliers instead of your hands to help you get a good grip of the wire.
4. Attach the copper wire to the generator
Loosen the generator's grounding bolt first using a wrench when the generator is turned off.
Twist the copper wire tightly around the bolt using your pliers and tighten the bolt back using your wrench when you're done with the copper coiling. You can also solder the wire on the ground bolt.
5. Test your connections' integrity
When you're done grounding your generator, test whether you've done it right. A competent electrician with the right tools can help you do the test. The ohmic resistance should be 0 if the connection is good and secure. Intermittent resistance signals a loose connection.
How Do You Ground a Portable Generator for Camping?
Access to electrical power helps you charge your devices or even provide lighting when camping.
The process of grounding a generator when camping is the same as outlined above. Some special safety precautions and set-up issues you should take when grounding your generator during a camp are:
- Lay the copper wire far from your campsite. A longer copper wire allows you to ground the rod far from your camping site
- If you'll be camping in your RV, use a heavy-duty four-wire cord to connect to your generator
- You can connect the neutral metal terminal to your RV's metal frame or use a ground rod for extra grounding safety
How Do You Protect Your Portable Generator?
Knowing how to ground a portable power generator safely is good. Knowing how to prevent your generator from electrical issues that could cause damage is even better.
OSHA recommends several ways you can ensure safety while working with portable generators. Some of these are:
- Follow manufacturer instructions when operating portable generators
- Inspect equipment for defects before making connections
- Use heavy-duty manufacturer-supplied cords when connecting electrical equipment directly to your generator
- Never attach your generator directly to the electrical system of a system such as a home or office unit unless the generator has a well-installed open-transition transfer switch
High-Performance Portable Generators From DuroMax Do Good Job at Keeping You Safe
Are you ensuring safety when using your portable generator? Follow the instructions in this guide on how to ground a portable generator safely to keep yourself and your devices out of danger. At the same time, you should be using a high-performance portable generator built for versatility under different conditions.
Powering everyone anywhere, DuroMax delivers portable generators with premier versatility and performance in the power equipment industry. They also help you set up your portable generator!
Check out the collection of portable and affordable portable generators at DuroMax.