Learning how to ground a portable generator is crucial to keep yourself, your family, and your possessions safe. Not only can an improperly grounded generator damage your appliances, but there’s also a threat of shock and electrocution to users. To prevent this from happening, we’re going to cover all the ins and outs of grounding a generator.
We probably couldn’t imagine living or functioning for a minute without electricity in our day and age. Whether it’s in our home during a power outage, on the road with an RV, or during a camping trip. We need power for cooking, cleaning, entertainment, and many things. This constant need for electricity yielded extremely useful inventions, such as portable generators. In order to use them safely, you need to get familiar with grounding a portable generator.
What Does It Mean To Ground A Generator?
Let’s start with the basics in case you’re hearing about generator grounding for the first time now. If you ask a qualified electrician, they would say that grounding refers to connecting an electrical circuit with a reference point. In our case, that would be connecting the generator frame with the earth. The way to do this is to connect the frame by using a grounding rod or a copper wire.
Why Ground A Generator?
Generator grounding has one primary purpose – and that is safety. To understand how exactly grounding keeps you and your property safe, you need to have a basic understanding of how the electricity flows through the wires and from the generator to appliances, devices, etc.
This flow happens through three types of wires: live, neutral, and ground. The first delivers electricity to your appliances or transfer switch, while the second does the opposite and represents the path for the electricity to go back. The third type, the ground wire, doesn’t participate in this. However, this grounding wire comes into play when things go wrong. Suppose anything out of the ordinary occurs with the regular electrical circuit, such as a short circuit. In that case, the ground wire ensures a safe path for the electricity to be directed to the earth.
This redirection is important because the alternative path that the electricity would take leads to the generator frame. And in that case, the frame becomes dangerous to touch. As you can probably assume, you can get a serious shock or be forced to deal with fires or explosions.
Which Portable Generators Should Be Grounded?
The next logical question is whether all portable generators require grounding. The answer is not all portable generators require grounding, but we need to explain further. To determine whether your specific generator falls into the category that needs this bit of extra work, the first thing you need to do is check the user manual. It should clearly state whether you should ground your generator or not.
But What Qualifies A Generator For Grounding?
This depends on the type of generator you have. Most modern generators are made with a metal frame, and they are grounded “by default.” There are also specific Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines that contain criteria that your generator needs to meet, so it doesn’t need to be grounded. This means the manufacturer bonded the frame with the fuel tank, engine, and generator housing, ensuring the path of least resistance for the electricity. So you don’t have to do the extra work to ensure safe use. If you own an older model, this may not be the case.
Another clear sign if the generator will require grounding or not is its construction and household wiring system. More precisely, you can take a look at the generator’s transfer switch to determine whether you’re dealing with a separately derived system or a non separately derived system. If you can use the switch to transfer current to a neutral ground conductor. Then you’re working with a separately derived system. In this case, you need to ground your generator with a separate grounding rod.
However, if your generator is not connected to a transfer switch and your powered appliances are directly connected to the generator using the receptacles mounted on the control panel or using extension cords. Then you do not need to ground your generator. Providing that all the generator’s equipment (engine, fuel tank, housing, etc.) is bonded to the generator’s metal frame. In this case, the frame around the generator acts as a ground bar.
So let’s recap: the manufacturer’s instructions are the first thing to go to for guidance. Alternatively, you can assess the type of system your generator uses. Finally, if you’re absolutely not sure what you’re doing, consult a licensed electrician.
What Do You Need To Ground A Generator?
So, now that you know what grounding a portable generator is and why it’s essential, you can decide whether you need to take further steps. If you do, you’ll need some tools to be able to get the job done efficiently. If you’re wondering whether you’ll need help from a professional electrician, chances are you’ll manage on your own. Of course, if you don’t want to risk it, you can always hire help. But if you think you can follow these simple steps, these are the tools needed for proper grounding requirements:
- A grounding rod – as an essential component, make sure it meets the length and diameter criteria by OSHA. This means you need to get an 8ft long copper rod which is 5/8 inches wide in diameter.
- A solid copper grounding wire – you’ll use them to connect the frame of the generator with the grounding rod. Make sure you are aware of all the characteristics. Such as, the voltage, circuit, and current to get the copper wire with the proper wire gauge and of the right length.
- A knife or wire strippers – you’ll use a wire stripper to strip the wire.
- Pliers, wrench, and a hammer – these are some basic tools you probably have lying around somewhere.
- A shovel and some water (optionally) – this will depend on whether you’ll be working on rocky terrain or hard ground.
As you can see, no specialized electrical tools are necessary to ground a portable generator. One trip to the store would get you everything you need. You can also find what you need online and almost everywhere. Moreover, you can consider getting a grounding kit, especially if you like to go camping. It contains everything you’ll need for a successful trip, and you don’t have to think about all the individual parts.
How To Ground A Portable Generator?
With the correct tools, grounding a generator is a pretty simple process. In just a few steps, you can ensure the safe use of your generator. Here’s a step-by-step explanation of the process:
- Installing the grounding rod
The first thing to do is get the copper rod into the ground. Depending on the type of terrain you’re working on, this can be easier or harder. You may need a hammer or a sledgehammer for driving the copper rod into the ground. You can also use water to soften the ground if necessary.
If the terrain is rocky, you can hammer or dig a narrow hole and bury the grounding rod at an angle of a maximum of 45 degrees. In this case, the hole has to be at least 30 inches deep.
- Connect copper wire and copper rod
First, strip the insulation of the copper wire end with wire strippers or a knife if you have the skills just one or two inches. Then, wrap the grounding rod with the copper wire tightly using your pliers. You can also solder it if you have the necessary tools.
- Grounding the generator
Now that the grounding rod and the copper wire are connected tightly, the last step is pretty simple. Find the grounding bolt on your generator and loosen it. Make just enough room to wrap the other end of the wire around the bolt. Then tighten the grounding bolt again.
FAQ: How To Ground A Generator?
Yes, any portable generator should be grounded, but the process is different depending on the kind of generator you have. Most portable generators these days already have a metal frame that plays a role in grounding. While some you have to ground yourself. Grounding your portable generator depends on whether it uses a separately derived system or a non separately derived system. This goes down to your generator’s construction. In addition to whether your electrical equipment is directly connected to the generator’s receptacle or a transfer switch if you use a camping generator for your RV. Make sure to check the owner’s manual. It should state whether you should ground your portable generator or not.
Inverter generators are, after all, generators. However, since inverter generators are more modern machines, they are usually grounded via the frame. But, you still have to make sure that the frame itself is grounded. So make sure to read the generator’s manual for safe operation.
Suppose you don’t ground a generator, and something happens to the standard circuit. In that case, the electricity will take a path of least resistance and end up making the generator’s frame hot and therefore dangerous. It can cause electric shocks or electrocute someone. If the electricity ends up in the engine or reaches the fuel, it may cause explosions and fire.
Grounding a generator means directing electricity into the ground; in this case, it is earth. This means that you should use a grounding rod dug into the ground and connected to the generator with a copper wire.
Yes, you will need a copper ground rod for a portable generator if the generator needs to be grounded. However, some portable generators are manufactured with a frame that replaces the ground rod, in which case you don’t need one.
As you can see, the path to safety is an easy one when it comes to grounding a generator. With a few everyday tools and a bit of skill, you can easily ground your portable generator properly and ensure no one gets shocked or worse. Check the owner’s manual of your portable generator of choice to learn more about its type. We hope this guide helps you go through how to ground a generator quickly and successfully.