Transfer Switch and Generator Test

Awhile back I wrote about how the power went out here for about fifteen hours and I had to use my generator. The results were poor. I wasn’t able to run my pellet stove and at first it seemed that the refrigerator wasn’t going to work either. Obviously I had some work to do.

One of the things I like about writing for SHTFblog is that there’s some really smart people out there that give good advice in the comments section, so I listened and investigated.  Someone mentioned that it probably wasn’t running at the right hertz in order for the equipment to operate properly. (I can’t remember who made that comment – but thank you! Feel free to speak up and claim credit below.) Our modern day equipment likes a nice steady 120 volts in order to operate properly and when I checked the generator output it was somewhere in the 135 volt area! No wonder my equipment was having problems.

The electrician and I adjusted the throttle on the generator down until it was at 120 volts. I plugged in the pellet stove and voila! It worked like a champ.


Transfer switch. This is the main switch when the power goes out.

He installed the transfer switch, but I didn’t have a chance to test it last weekend. This Saturday I wheeled the generator out to its spot behind the house, plugged in the 30 amp cable to the special outlet, shut off the power to the house from the outside breaker, and started up the gennie. I went down to the transfer switch and started bringing various items up and online. Well pump. Check. Pellet stove and living room lights. Check. Kitchen lights. Check. By the time I was done I had about 80% of the house online.

Big ticket items are out. No stove, oven, or dryer, but I’ve got hot running water, lights and heat, when the power goes out!

I ran the house off the generator for about an hour and aside from the noise it made outside you wouldn’t even know the power was out.  Sweet.  And it wasn’t as noisy as the last time I ran it because it had been throttled down, so I’ll save gas and wear and tear on the generator.


Where the generator runs during a power outage.

Now if the power goes out for a week or more it could get dicey, but it will sure be a lot better than not having any kind of back up at all.

How much did the whole thing cost? I got the generator off Craigslist for around $400. It’s in excellent condition and I feel like I got a really good deal on it. The transfer switch was about $290 and I paid the electrician about $250 to hook it up. (I had one electrician quote me $850!) The 30 amp inlet box was $57. That’s a grand total of just under a $1000.

All I need is one good storm to make it all worthwhile.  My mother in law just bought a propane-based system that will run her whole house.  It’s an excellent system; however, she paid somewhere in the $5,000 range for it; money I just don’t have right now.  I’d like to have something like that someday, but I’m very pleased with the way things worked out during my test on saturday.  My plan is to run the house of the generator once a month so that everything works smoothly.  I hate it when I go to use something and it doesn’t work as expected.

Are you prepared?

30 amp plug. The other end plugs into the house.


 -Jarhead Survivor

27 comments… add one
  • irishdutchuncle December 16, 2011, 8:50 am

    it might be prudent to create some type of anchor point in the yard, so you can chain up that “genny”. that’s a good spot, there by the cellar door: adequate ventilation, so no carbon monoxide problem. close enough to the house so you can service it. someone had a good idea last time; keep the generator in a “dog house” to reduce the noise, and visibility.

    • Jarhead Survivor December 16, 2011, 10:22 am

      I’ve already thought of both of those points Irish. I just picked up some pallets to make myself a little generator house and I’m going to find a way to chain the generator itself to the foundation. There’s too many stories around here about how people like to steal gennies during extended power outages.

      • Legion7 December 17, 2011, 3:54 pm

        Look up something called a “duckbill anchor”. You basically pound it into the soil a ways and when pulled it turns sideways and becomes a permanent anchor point. We had a remote research station a while back that was run on generator and had a guy there 24/7. One night he was watching T.V. , generator purring along etc. when he thought the generator was getting quieter and quieter. A few minutes later the power blinked off. The thieves had gotten to the end of a 200 foot heavy guage cord and unplugged it. It wasn’t had for the local gendarmes to catch the bad guys, trying to run down a muddy road with a 7Kw generator (still running) between them. That was the last time we didn’t lock something down. We locked several things down in an open field for research and watched more than one idiot try to lift a steel box “just sitting there” and run with it. Inside was a lock that was on the duckbill that was passed through a hole in the bottom. They probably thought those boxes were full of lead! It would probably take a couple of tons of force to uproot a well placed large duckbill anchor! There was more than one sore back after they were done. Pretty funny. I’ve never had a duckbill fail. Ever. I have had to just leave them in the ground when we were done with them.

        • Chris January 1, 2012, 10:17 pm

          I think the doghouse is a good idea! You could get away with a small concrete foundation to chain the genni to and it disguises it. Plus it makes would be thieve who don’t know you think you have a four-legged guard/companion. ;)

  • Spook45 December 16, 2011, 9:15 am

    This is something I want for myself that I just havent been able to afford yet. ON many of the comments here I hv made referance to the ice storm of 91 which left us in the dark for a week with nothing but candles and a wood stove. I really want a genny and a transfer switch just for such emergancies.

  • Jen Greyson December 16, 2011, 9:24 am

    My husband installed this a couple months ago, and we’ve only used it once, but it was amazing!

    He did a different system where we can pick and choose which breakers we want to have on…which is especially nice to have the choice if we lose power in the summer or winter and need to funnel energy to different places.

    He also added an 3-way adapter that will allow us to run it off propane, gas, or tied into the NG in the house….they all get about the same mileage, but our propane fluctuates during the year, especially if we’ve come home from a camping trip — next on the list is one of the big tanks.

    I think we’re into ours about $700-$1000…I’ve been meaning to blog about the whole process of installing it….

    So nice having the peace of mind!

    (only a little worried about living in the middle of suburbia with that loud-a$$ generator when the SHTF!)

    • Emanjamin December 17, 2011, 12:21 am

      Where/How does one go about getting this three way adapter… I have NG coming in… A few propane taks for cooking out, and only enough gas for the cycles… (new to prepping so I have very little of the essentials so far) but to be able to have the function of all three on one genny sounds wonderful!

  • Lisa December 16, 2011, 9:25 am

    Excuse me if I’m wrong, for I am a little ignorant of such matters really. But don’t generators run on gasoline? I personally, believe that the gasoline supply will not be available in a “shit hits the fan” scenario.

    • irishdutchuncle December 16, 2011, 9:49 am

      the least expensive, portable ones do. as Jen Grayson suggested, they can be adapted to run on propane and or natural gas by replacing the carburator. you can also buy a “diesel”. diesel generators will run on kerosene or fuel oil, as well as they run on “road-diesel” fuel. it will cost more to buy than your gasoline powered generator, but they are more robust. these fuels also store more readily than gasoline.

      the natural gas powered generators will continue to work, until the gas company goes out of business…

      • Jarhead Survivor December 16, 2011, 10:25 am

        Hi Lisa – that’s an excellent point, but this is really to get my family through a week or two of power being out during major storms up here in the Northeast. If there were an extended SHTF scenario we might run out all the various fuels altogether, but I’ve got another plan for that.

  • vapatroit December 16, 2011, 9:38 am

    there are some things to know about electricty. Volts, is the pressure that forces the electrons out of the wire (think water pressure) Resistance is the hose or pipe that the pressure must overcome to move the water (electrons) through the pipe. Amps, is the actual movement of the water (electrons) and produces heat, Watts is the power used and is a product of the amps X the volts. Hertz is the frequency at which alternating current (AC) goes back and forth from positive to negative and back to positive again. In our country this is set at 60 hertz or 60 times per second the current goes from positive to negative and back positive again. If you’ve ever been shocked that is why you feel a vibrating sensation (that’s the current going back and forth). Direct current (DC) like from a battery only does in one direction (positive) and back to zero. It does not go “negative” like AC current does. Your voltage on the genset was too high which likely caused your equipment to shut itself off (preset factory settings on newer stuff). Low voltage can be worse for your equipment because most stuff will try to work on low voltage but it causes overheating and will eventually burn up what ever is trying to work. The actual math is Volts = Amps X Resistance. So if you know 2 of any of the 3 you can figure out the 3rd.

    irishdutchuncle: The dog house is a great idea, just make sure it can’t catch fire from the exhaust.

    • irishdutchuncle December 16, 2011, 9:55 am

      thanks, but i didn’t think of it myself. make sure it’s a big doghouse, so the casual observer worries that you have a big dog.

      • Jarhead Survivor December 16, 2011, 10:29 am

        It’s hidden out back of the house on a country road. And I do have a big dog. That’s his run on the right in the picture.

        Thanks for the info Vapatroit. I actually have that formula in my little notebook!

  • Danny Pizdetz December 16, 2011, 4:25 pm

    Thanks for the post. The last time I looked at transfer switch they were running around $2500. I’m glad they’ve come down to a more reasonable range. I’ll have to find some money in the budget to get my generator set up right.

  • coydog December 16, 2011, 4:41 pm

    When you run/exercise your generator monthly make sure you put a load on it, I use old elec. irons from the Goodyear store, each one draws about a 1000 watts, with 4 I put a 4kw load on my 10kw set when I exercise it. This is, at least for me, much easier than hooking it up to the transfer switch.

    When the remmants of Hurricane Ike swept through in September, 2008, we were without power for 7 days. Having the generator saved not only all the food we had in the frig and deep freeze but saved my sister’s and in-laws frozen food also, allowed us to take hot showers, do laundry and live more comfortably than if we didn’t have the generator. I ran the set 6-8 hours a day, and burned 2-4 gallons of gas per day.

  • Jason December 16, 2011, 10:44 pm

    Way to go JH! I love it when solutions are simple like dropping the idle on the generator. Thanks for acknowledging one of the great values of this blog – collective intelligence.   

    Quick SHTF story for you –

    I grew up in L.A. & in the early 60’s there was a devistating fire in Bel Air – a very, very, very ritzy area. It levelled every house in the hills except one on top of the hills. I asked my dad why it remained standing & he proceeded to tell me the story of the owner. 

    The owner was a retired Army general & he set up an irrigation system on the roof of his house in case of, you guessed it – fire. Every 6 months he started his generator, submerged a hose into his pool, connected the other end to his roof irrigation system he installed & tested it – every 6 months without fail. 

    Of course his neighbors thought he was a complete lunatic because he’d been doing this for 6 years – scoff, scoff.  

    The fire broke out, the winds sent it flying up the hills of L.A. & when his house was in the path, he did SHTF routine, packed a couple of things & drove to safety. The irrigation kept a constant flow of water going over his roof, which is usually where fires start in the hills area. He had more than 30,000 gallons of water to draw from so, no worries. 

    I remember watching the news helicoptors flying over the area & the newscasters were amazed how this house was uneffected. I can still remember seeing all if the neighbor houses burned down to the foundations. 

    Nothing like being prepared eh? 


    • Jarhead Survivor December 18, 2011, 10:16 am

      Great story. Kinda like Noah and his ark.

      • Jason December 19, 2011, 7:17 pm

        This article from the L.A. Times recalls that November 1961 tragedy pretty well – note the names of the residents – Zsa Zsa Gabor’s comments are classic!

        Remember – these are 1961 dollars where a gallon of gas was 31 cents, a gallon of milk was 49 cents & minimum wage was a massive $1.15 per hour!

  • Joe December 16, 2011, 11:51 pm

    Glad to hear that you’ve gotten it ready for the next ice storm. Thanks for the follow up.


  • Edmo December 17, 2011, 5:25 am

    Having a Generator is one of the best preparedness buys, I have ever made. I got a good deal on one, several years ago, when I was still in the Army, stationed up at Fort Drum. It sat for years, in the garage, after I retired to Alabama. I used it a little, when building a Cabin at the lake, but then, back into the garage. Along came Hurricane Ivan, through Pensacola, where my eldest daughter and her mother lived, taking out power for two and a half weeks, where they lived. That little Coleman 4000 watt Generator paid back what it cost in spades, by providing them the power to get through those 2 weeks. The following year another Hurricane took out the power again, for 2 weeks, and they were ready( I had left it down there, just in case), and already trained up, LoL.
    Buy one when you can; you will never regret it. They usually go on sale at the end of hurricane season, at places like Lowes and Home Depot. Run it once in a while, to make sure it is ready, when you need it. I know it does need gas to run, but it is for that time the power goes out for 2 weeks; it will be so appreciated then…

  • izzy December 18, 2011, 2:01 am

    Were you ever able to run your fridge on the generator? In a long-term (post-thaw) situation, in summer I’d rather use that fuel for food storage, even instead of electric lights. Maybe with a smaller freezer/fridge? – it’s amazing how much energy a fridge uses.
    Might be useful to have a big Igloo chest ready to load it up in the basement for short-term emergencies, with bubble-wrap insulation to keep some of the cold in (if the kids can’t keep the fridge door closed till the power comes back on…)

    • Jarhead Survivor December 18, 2011, 10:12 am

      Hey Izzy – yes, the fridge and freezer were the primary reasons I wanted the generator and after I got the generator voltage set properly it was able to run them – including the pellet stove – with no problem.

  • svchost.exe December 20, 2011, 8:53 pm

    cool story bro

  • Firehawk February 16, 2015, 11:22 am

    I am a jarhead too, and from the Northeast. Through Sears I purchased last year a 4400 watt fairly quiet running generator that uses gasoline and propane. Your can just switch between the fuels. The propane is by far the better fuel as you don’t need to put a stabilizer in it or rotate the fuel as you do gasoline. You can just buy the tanks used for the BBQ grill and store them. You will get in excess of 15 hours per tank. I use an extension cord made up by a licensed electrician that I can plug into my electric dryer outlet and have power to the whole house, albeit I can’t RUN the whole house. You need to shut stuff off when you go room to room. Of course you MUST shut off the elec. main at the box so you don’t back feed the power line coming into the house. A hell of a lot cheaper than going with the transfer switch. Keep in mind you MUST have the proper size cable for the distance between the genny and the dryer outlet.


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