What Is A Transfer Switch? All You Need To Know

Having a portable generator ready to use is important, especially in times of power outages. If you live in an area that experiences frequent power cuts, you must have a generator for emergencies. Of course, it’s important to ensure that your generator runs safely and is safe for the other electrical appliances that are being powered by it. One of the best ways to ensure that is by using a transfer switch.

This guide discusses everything you need to know about transfer switches. If you are unsure whether to buy it, you have come to the right place. Go through this guide to know transfer switches in detail and understand their importance.

What is a transfer switch?

What is a transfer switch

In simple terms, a transfer switch is a switching device because of which your generator runs safely and doesn’t overpower any of the other electrical circuits. A transfer switch is usually installed beside the Mains power source inside one’s house.

 Basically, the function of the transfer switch is to create a safe connection between the home’s electrical wiring and the generator. With the proper installation of a transfer switch, one can switch electrical loads between the generator’s power source and the home’s electrical circuits.

Speaking otherwise, one can repower the house safely by simply switching on the transfer switch.

What does the transfer switch do?

The function of a transfer switch is basically to police the connections between the generator’s source of power and other electrical circuits. The transfer switch is responsible for preventing any sort of overpowering.

Now you might wonder, whether you need a transfer switch, when using a generator. Well, considering its functions and the safety it offers, one must use a transfer switch.

When you install a generator to power an entire house, the generator is connected to the transfer switch that’s placed on the circuit panel. When the generator is switched on, the transfer switch shifts the load from the Mains power to the generator.

How does a transfer switch work?

How does a transfer switch work

Let’s now understand the mechanism of a transfer switch.

When you start a generator, the main breaker in the ATS automatically shifts the power source from the utility power to a secondary source of power, in this case, a generator. Needless to say, it isn’t practically possible for your house to draw power from both the Mains power source and the generator.

When there’s a power outage, and the generator is turned on, the main breaker automatically shifts the power from the primary source to the secondary. This ensures there’s no back feeding of power into the utility lines or vice versa.

Multiple circuits are plugged into a transfer switch. One can assign loads to different circuits for powering different appliances. Your generator might not be capable enough to power every appliance on every circuit all at once. In this case, a transfer switch divides the load between different circuits.

For instance, if you have to use your washing machine when there’s a power cut, you simply have to switch off the circuit that’s powering your Air Conditioner or Refrigerator.

That’s why a transfer switch makes it easier for people to use multiple appliances as per their requirements when there’s a power outage. By doing so, a transfer switch also enhances a generator’s efficiency.

Why do I need a transfer switch?

As we already mentioned, a transfer switch makes it easier for people to use multiple appliances at home when there’s a power outage. It effectively divides the load among the various circuits, if a generator cannot bear the load all at once. If you use heavy-duty equipment like an HVAC system or similar appliances, you definitely require the help of a transfer switch.

Besides ensuring your safety and that of the electrical appliances from power surges or drops, using a transfer switch is an important electrical code that everyone must follow. Heavy electrical systems carry huge loads and without a transfer switch as an intermediary, the connections can be dangerous. Not only can it harm a person physically, but there are high risks of electrical fires, along with irreparable damage to the appliances.

To ensure one’s safety and operate within an electrical code, a transfer switch is of utmost importance while making connections.

One must use a transfer switch even if the generator only powers the lights or TV. A transfer switch makes the process simple. It ensures that the shift in power takes place within seconds and not minutes, which greatly improves one’s productivity and safety.

Do all generators need a transfer switch?

If you have a stand-by generator at your place, you must install a transfer switch, because these devices always wait for the power to go down. That’s why having a transfer switch in between is important to ensure a smooth flow of power without downtime.

On the other hand, if you use a portable generator at your home or office, you might not use a transfer switch, but abiding by an electrical code, you must install one. Installing a transfer switch, irrespective of the type of generator is always advised.

The biggest benefit of using a transfer switch is that it allows you to power things through your circuit breaker and not by extension cords. All this is possible simply by installing the generator and connecting it to the transfer switch!

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Is a transfer switch required?

If your generator is above 5,000 watts, you definitely require a transfer switch. Though, users of every kind of generator are advised to use transfer switches for their safety.

A transfer switch also ensures the safety of the electrical appliances. You must always remember that irrespective of the amount of power that’s produced, a regulator is needed to regulate power surges and drops and prevent backfeeding.

Every user having a generator must therefore install a transfer switch as it’s a safe way to connect a generator with your home appliances. It isolates your home from the power lines, thus ensuring that there’s no backfeeding of power. Backfeeding is utterly dangerous for the home and for the residents. Using a transfer switch is a safe way to prevent it.

A transfer switch makes it extremely easy to use a generator.  You no longer require long electrical cords to connect to your home appliances. Therefore, with a transfer switch, you can get rid of these unnecessary time-consuming hassles.

A transfer switch is a must if you want to power certain items during a power outage. For instance, water pumps and furnaces. They cannot be connected by extension cords and therefore a transfer switch becomes a requirement.

Now you might wonder if you legally need to use a transfer switch while using a generator. Well, that depends on the area you are residing in. In some places, the jurisdiction makes it a rule to install a transfer switch while some areas strongly suggest using one, but doesn’t enforce it. Some places make it a requirement to use a transfer switch in case of standby generators.

If you do not know if you require a transfer switch as per the jurisdiction, contact the building code enforcement office. They would guide you on the types of generators that require a transfer switch and the types that don’t require one.

Do you need a permit to install a transfer switch?

Yes, mostly, people require a permit before installing a transfer switch at their homes or offices, though this varies from place to place. If you have hired a professional electrician to install a transfer switch, he will look into the matter and bring you a few documents where you simply have to put your signature. 

Of course, he will be adding extra charges to the overall cost of installation. If you are eager to know why or what type of a permit is required, you must contact your area’s building code enforcement office.

While you might be tempted to skip this process and not install a transfer switch, you really do not have much of a choice. Most places have made it a mandatory component. You must also remember that it’s an electrical code, that one must abide by.

So, choosing to install a new transfer switch or not isn’t really a choice. Nevertheless, the type of transfer switch you want to install is at your discretion. 

How much does a transfer switch cost?

After knowing so much about transfer switches, you might be eager to get a rough idea about its cost of installation. Well, there’s no fixed cost and it depends on the type of transfer switch installed and the capacity of the generator. In that regard, manual transfer switches are less costly than automatic ones.

Installing a manual transfer switch will cost you around $300-$500. On the other hand, an automatic one will cost you around  $400-$800.

If you already have a portable generator or intend to buy one, you might not require to install it separately. They usually come with their own transfer switches and its cost is already included. In that case, you do not have to incur additional costs. Only if you are willing to upgrade the transfer switch to a better variety, should you pay the additional cost.

Risks of not using a transfer switch

If you are still not convinced that using a transfer switch is important, are tempted to skip it, you must be well aware of the dangers you are putting yourself and your home appliances into. There are several risks of not using a transfer switch.

 We have already mentioned how using a generator without a transfer switch increases chances of back feeding of power which can put anyone’s life in danger.

When you install a transfer switch, there is no chance for the utility power and generator power to supply electricity to the household circuits at the same time. Thus a transfer switch prevents the chances of electrical fires and shocks.

Keeping in mind how deadly backfeeding can be, it’s important to keep the household circuits separate by plugging them into the transfer switch. 

There are serious chances of backfeeding when you use a standby generator. Therefore it’s utterly important to use a transfer switch if you do not want to compromise with your safety. The chances of backfeeding are less in case of portable generators. Though, you must use a transfer switch even then. 

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The Bottom Line

By now you are well aware of the functions and importance of a transfer switch. Through this guide, we attempted to inform users about the efficiency and convenience that a transfer switch brings.

So, when you buy a generator, do not forget to install a transfer switch along with it. When it comes to the installation of a transfer switch, you must call a professional and let him handle the matter.