Grounding a Portable Generator: Staying Safe in the Storms

Grounding a portable generator can be a fussy task if you are not familiar with how to do it or why you need to do it in the first place. Not all portable generators need to be grounded and it is not always easy to determine when or when not to ground one. Grounding means to connect your portable generator to the earth. When you properly ground and bond the generator, you help to prevent shocks and electrocutions. Electric current takes the path of least resistance to the ground so grounding your portable generator forces the current directly into the ground via the grounding rod (or the generators frame in a self-derived system) versus through the attached appliances, or tools, and ultimately through the operator. When a portable generator is not grounded the electric current will have no other choice than to make its way through the attachments and finally the operator to get to the earth. As the operator you are connected to the earth simply by standing on it so you could be a pathway for electric current to travel if the portable generator is not properly grounded, which would result in electric shock.

When working with electricity you can never be too careful and the more caution you take the better. Before you purchase your portable generator be sure to research grounding requirements so you can prevent problems in the future. If you are uncomfortable grounding your own generator you can also hire a professional that specializes in grounding portable generators so become familiar with the process and ensure your equipment is setup properly before use. However, if your generator is intended to be used for unforeseen power outages it could prove beneficial for you to become familiar with the grounding process so you are confident grounding your portable generator when the time comes to do so.

When and When Not to Ground

It is important to know when you are supposed to ground your generator and when not to. It may come as a shock to know that if your generator does not require grounding then you should not provide additional grounding for it. If you ground a generator that doesn’t require it then you can overdo it and put your generator and yourself in danger. If your portable generator is providing power via a transfer switch to a structure, it has to be grounded through a grounding electrode system.

Generators that do not require grounding actually have a grounding system built into their frame. Basically the entire generator frame acts as a grounding rod so it doesn’t need an additional grounding rod to be driven into the earth for safe operation. The generator’s frame is the actual grounding electrode system. This information can be found in the generator’s Operational and Maintenance Manual. If you do not have your manual on hand then you can easily look up your generator’s make and model online.

Your generator will require a grounding rod if it is a separately derived system. If your generators frame operates as the grounding electrode system then it is a self-derived system and does not require the separate grounding rod. Your transfer switch will also verify if your system will require grounding. You will need a grounding rod if your generator’s transfer switch can be transferred to the neutral ground conductor.

Safety Instructions to Consider Before Grounding and Operating Your System

  • To operate a portable generator safely you should always use best management practices. The items on this checklist will help ensure your safety and the safety of others while operating a portable generator.
  • Have your generator checked yearly by an electrician to verify your equipment is safe to operate. Any ohmic resistance measures that are higher than zero will indicate you have a loose connection in your generator.
  • Use the appliance manufacturers supplied cords when plugging in appliances to your generator.
  • When using extension cords, make sure they are heavy-duty and contain a grounding conductor.
  • Verify your transfer switch is installed correctly before plugging any structure into your generator for power supply.
  • Per the manufacturer’s instructions use ground-fault circuit interrupters.

How to Ground Your Portable Generator: Step by Step Process

If your generator requires a grounding electrode system then you will need to know the step by step process to connect it to a driven ground rod. Before getting started, make sure you have the required tools necessary to ground your portable generator. Remember that grounding your portable generator is priority number one before using it. This is important for your safety and the safety of others.

Tools Required for Grounding

  • 4 foot copper ground rod
  • Solid copper grounding wire
  • Wire strippers
  • Hammer
  • Wrench
  • Pliers

Step One: Install the Copper Ground Rod

The first step to grounding your portable generator is to install the copper ground rod. To do so you will use a hammer to drive the 4 foot copper ground rod into the ground.

Step Two: Connect the Wire to the Ground Rod

Next you will use the wire strippers to strip the copper wire so it can be connected to the ground rod. After the wire has been stripped, you will use the pliers to wrap the wire tightly around the ground rod.

Step Three: Connect the Wire to the Generator

The final step is to connect the other end of the wire to your generator. You can do this by stripping the free side of the copper wire. Then, take your wrench and loosen the grounding bolt on your generator. Finally, use the pliers to tightly wrap and secure the wire to the grounding bolt. Verify you have a secure connection before operating your generator. Now your generator has successfully been grounded and is ready for use.

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