Backfeeding with a portable generator - REAL safety concerns???

Hi All! I haven't had time to visit the group much lately, but I'm still here, and still preparing for TEOTWAWKI... ... as well as more practical, short-term survival issues, like the
all-too-frequent power outages here during blizzards and ice storms in recent years (global cooling?).
I live in Northern NY State, where we seem to have a 2-6 day power outage at least once every year or two, usually during the coldest part of winter.
I picked up a Generac, industrial generator, 5kw (sustained), powered by a 10hp Robin gasoline engine. I'm told it will run for 12-14 hours straight on one 5-gallon tank of gas and an oil change. I keep it in a shed about 10 feet from my house. Plenty of gas, oil, and stablizer on hand.
The generator has four, breaker-backed outlets: two 110's and two 220's, one a NEMA L6-30 amp, same as the clothes dryer recepticle I installed in my basement a few years back.
My housed is heated with a boiler and baseboard radiators. Hot water and stove are courtesy of natural gas. In the past, I've heated the house with the stove-top (oven won't light without power to the sensor), and I _REALLY_ don't like the idea of an open flame in my kitchen for several days in a row, especially while sleeping.
The cost of having a professional panel-box job done to meet code is _OUT_ of the question. I don't have the $$$ and I only need once every year or two -and only if the power is out for more than 5-6 hours.
I've been reading extensively about backfeeding to the 220-volt recepticle and at least one person in every forum says "NEVER do it! You'll kill youself, and/or a lineman, blow up your generator, burn your house down, catch scabies, etc.!"
But SERIOUSLY... as long as I don't forget to open the main breaker before hooking up to the generator and disconnecting the generator before closing the main breaker (and I WON'T forget), what are the real dangers to backfeeding???
I've talked to a few people who've done this all their lives without incident. Any professionals out there who can tell me the truth without getting hysterical???
Here's my plan...
When the grid goes off:
1) Build a 40' cord (10/3 Romex) with male NEMA L6-30s (maybe 50s) at each end. 2) Throw (open) main 3) Throw (open) all other breakers 4) Fire up generator and let run for 5 minutes to stablize current 5) Plug in cord, first to house recepticle, then to generator. 6) Close 220 breaker on main box 7) Close breaker to furnace circuit (circulation pump/thermostat), refrigerator, and circuits to flourescent lights in kitchen and bath 8) Run an extension cord into the house from the 110 outlets on the generator to power individual appliances one or two at a time as needed (TV, computer, radio, etc. - NO Microwave)
When the grid comes back up:
1) Open 220 breaker 2) Turn off generator 3) unplug cords to generator at both ends 4) Close main breaker
I honestly don't see how I can feed power back into the grid by mistake, unless, like I said, I forget to open the main- which I WILL NOT do. I live alone, so there's no danger of anyone else F***ing things up.
What is the REAL danger in doing this? * Overheating the panel??? * Main breaker failure???? (But HOW????)
Thanks for any REALISTIC advice.
Cheers, :-) Friday
PS: Like I said, there's not enough $$$ for a professional installation. I suppose I could pull the meter, but that would probably p*ss off the power company.
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PS: What about grounding? I believe OSHA regulations require the generator (manufacturers) to have its own grounding system (being grounded to the chasis inmost cases). So by backfeeding into the house system, what safety procedures should I take to ensure a proper/safe ground?
TIA Friday
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wrote:

OSHA rules only apply to employee workplaces and do not apply to private homes.
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i hear ya. last 2 winters winters would make an eskimo shiver

its called a "power distro" (short for power distributor). it looks and works very much like your main house panel.
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Hospitals and other critical facilities do exactly this. They use Orange colored outlets for critical power sources, if the entire facility is not on a huge genset.
Gunner
"At the core of liberalism is the spoiled child - miserable, as all spoiled children are, unsatisfied, demanding, ill-disciplined, despotic and useless. Liberalism is a philosphy of sniveling brats." -- P.J. O'Rourke
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Well, given that you already know this is against code....
Here are some items to double check.
*Always* plug the 'suicide cord' into the load first before the generator (plug into dryer receptacle first). Otherwise, the exposed blades on the plug at that end will be 'hot' from the generator when you go to pick it up.
If your cord includes a neutral, then you don't really need a separate 110 cord. Just turn on 110 branch circuits one at a time and they will get powered from the neutral and one of the 'hot' leads in dryer circuit.
Since the service panel neutral will be connected to grounding rod (if *that* part of your installation is code compliant), then that will probably be enough of a ground for you. Of course, if the neutral lead from generator to dryer rect or from dryer to service panel opens up, you may have some mismatched voltages on any 110 circuits.
Of course, if you just run extension cords into home (110 & 220 versions) and unplug equipment from house wiring and plug into extension cords, you don't have any problems at all. Put suitable plug/recpt on your furnace and you can run that on an extension cord too. No code problem, little hazard at all.
daestrom P.S. And why not microwave? P.P.S. *NOBODY* ever *intends* to forget to open the main. And yet..... (sh__ happens).
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Thanks daestrom - good, practical tips.

Yes, it is. It's a VERY old house (150+ years), but was rewired about 20 years ago.

What might cause that to happen? What would the consequences be?

Of course
I was considering that. But with only two 110 recepticles on the generator.... (And it _WOULD_ be nice to be able to walk into a room and simply flip on the overheads).
I don't know enough about the subject to make use of those 220 outlets. The only thing in the house that runs on 220 is the clothes dryer. Are there "converters" I could purchase to allow me to make use of those 220 recepticles(on the generator) as you suggested? One is a standard NEMA L6 and the other is a four-prong recepticle marked "120/240 - 20 amp".

(I only have a 5kw generator (about 6250 surge). If the boiler pump AND refrigerator both kicked on while I was running the microwave...)

Yes. Granted. But that only happens to stoopid people. Right?
Thanks d;- PS are you a certified electrician? I ask, because what worries me most, is that According to an article I read on one power company Website: "Main breakers _CANNOT_ be trusted to create a clean break." Sounds like scare tactics, but... Is there anything to that? Could a surge "jump" across the main breaker when the grid comes back up????
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snip..

Want a clean break? Pull the meter.
CC
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Pulling the meter will only work in a home with a SINGLE through feed meter. If the home has a second meter for the air conditioning or for the water heater then that will serve nicely as the back feed route. If the service to the building is four hundred or more amperes then the meter is likely to be of the sampling type and pulling it will not effect the power to the home. If a feed through meter is pulled under load or if you fault it out by using improper technique you can receive fatal arc burns. Some meters have bypass switches built into them that will close automatically if the meter is removed. Such bypass switches are often combined with the meter base jaw release.
The set up you are suggesting is just one mistake away from a fatality. I pray that the fatality will be you rather than a lineman who is working a twelve hour shift to try to restore your power.
If the person killed turns out to be your teenage son, your spouse, that ever so helpful neighbor while you are away then I hope you are just as glib with the judge at your manslaughter trial as you are in cyberspace. Just once I would like to see one of you know it alls have to face the consequences for your self centered actions. -- Tom H
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Great, you're hoping I die for asking questions. Nice guy.
I didn't say I was going to do it. I said I've seen it done and asked for intelligent FACTS about the subject.
When was I glib?
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| Great, you're hoping I die for asking questions. | Nice guy. | | I didn't say I was going to do it. I said I've seen it done and asked | for intelligent FACTS about the subject.
Use a listed transfer switch. Period. They come in manual and automatic. There are even some double-throw light switches for transferring single loads. Be sure the switch is rated for "load break" or "load transfer". One rated as "isolating" is insufficient unless you be sure you shutdown the generator before transferring back to the grid.
Don't even think of depending on doing the right procedures. There can be a time when someone else could try to switch things because you are not around. You may be smart enough to be sure you don't get hurt, but can you be sure anyone else who might ever have access is?
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We understand that you were well meaning. But after the 4-5 comment from others that to do as you wish, it became apparent that your wishes to do this the easy way..ala do it yourself cardiac bypass, were overruling common sense and life saving methods.
Sometimes you can do things cheap and easy, sometimes either cheap or easy, but not both..and other times..neither.
Gunner
"At the core of liberalism is the spoiled child - miserable, as all spoiled children are, unsatisfied, demanding, ill-disciplined, despotic and useless. Liberalism is a philosphy of sniveling brats." -- P.J. O'Rourke
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Friday wrote:

NO. I'm hoping that if you undertake to back feed your houses wiring that if anyone is killed it is you. I never said you should be killed for asking questions.
As for providing you with the applicable facts in an internet posting it simply cannot be done. I have been installing and servicing power systems for most of my adult life. It would take a book to provide you with all of the sneak current paths I have encountered over those years.
I thought it was pretty glib of you to say that only stupid people would forget to open the main breaker. Fatigued, drug or alcohol impaired, or over stressed people who are not stupid can and have made that mistake. Not all panels have a single main breaker. Some have four or six and one of those mains would be the dryer outlet while another would be the stove outlet and so forth. In order to get power into those homes you would have to close one or more of the main breakers each of which is connected to the service entry conductors from the service drop or lateral and thus to the transformer. Federal Pacific two pole breakers, of an extensive number of production runs, will fail closed after a very limited number of manual or automatic operations. I have seen other brands fail closed as well usually from internal corrosion secondary to water following the service conductors to the main breaker from the service entry cable.
I am a firefighter and I have responded to a child shocked by a suicide cord as well as to a tree worker electrocuted by a generator back feed.
The injured child was shocked after a playmate found a double male cord hanging in the garage and plugged it in. When the child touched the exposed pin on the other end he received a shock that fortunately did no permanent harm. He was treated for a small The cord had been made up by the landlord to bridge out an open circuit in order to avoid the cost of an electrician on a service call. The circuit continuity had failed at a push in terminal receptacle. After the tenant had demanded the repair of the circuit through the city housing office the landlord had stored the cord for future use.
The back feed death occurred during the 1988 micro burst clean up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. A tree trimming crew was clearing limbs and trees off of power lines so that they could be rebuilt. The power was out over a very large area and some of the sub stations had been taken off line and grounded out to facilitate the tree work. When my engine arrived on scene we were met by the owner of that family owned, two truck, tree trimming company begging us to get his son down. He had come in contact with a 13.9 kilovolt line that was energized through a neighborhood transformer from the only service drop that was still intact. That drop was to a home were the back feed was coming from. Another fire fighter used one of our fiberglass pike poles as a hot stick to open the fuse above the transformer while I pulled the homes meter. We then brought the tree worker down and attempted CPR and applied an automated external defibrulator. The tree worker did not recover and was pronounced dead after nearly an hour of resuscitative effort at the hospital emergency department less than five minutes from the scene.
Several utility workers have been killed by back feeds from generators. A search of the FACE reports on the OSHA web sight will bring up several examples. In one case, in Georgia, the line had been grounded out but the lineman had failed to notice that the grounding wire on the pole had been broken by a motor vehicle. Since that incident occurred during the clean up after hurricane Hugo the Multi Grounded Neutral (MGM) that should have provided a perfectly safe ground had been broken into short segments by falling limbs. With the only grounding electrode conductor that was still attached to that segment of the MGM damaged near the base of the pole the protection of the grounding was lost.
I'm a sore looser when it comes to the death of young healthy people who are killed by the negligent actions of others. -- Tom H
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Friday wrote:

It (backfeeding power through the main) happens only to people who have set up a system that makes it possible. Some would call them "stoopid". Others might use stronger language.
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breakers can and do go bad. usually they go intermittent or open. its hard to predict just what will happen each time power is restored, sometimes nothing bad happens. i think the greater worry would be that you might have taken a lightning hit through the panel. i spend a lot of time repairing industrial equipment after a storm as moved through. a lot of times the root cause is matter speculation. what i have is a melted gob of goop that used to be a component. surge suppressors (TVSS) help protect your stuff but as they are installed after the main breaker or fuses the "mains" have to survive the current hit.
for what its worth, when i service equipment, after i turn off the breaker i touch all formerly "live" connections with a grounding stick. i do this every time i turn power off before putting my body in harms way.
id like to add my voice to those that recommend you not proceed with the plan as you described.
for some reason it puts me in mind of a church in my home town that was so poor that it ran an extension cord from the house next door to get electricity. when city building inspector became aware of it he of course made then remove it. the very next sunday the reverend opened his sermon in a loud booming voice with: "and the lord said let there be light... then the devil came and took it away"
i think there may be a solution to your problem that can implemented within your budget and be relatively safe sane and legal.
i think you have take a prudent first step by asking for opinions of people who appear to be knowledgeable.
the nest step is to discuss the matter with the local electrical inspector. he may suggest a scheme you both can live with. he may even point you toward an election who has something used on hand that will work just fine. is your power company NIMO? just curious
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Now, _THAT'S_ what I am looking for: an intelligent, informed answer. So my plan is _OUT OF THE QUESTION_ then. If there's _ANY_ chance of the main breaker failing -- and letting power slip by -- then I WILL _NOT_ take that risk. The lightning issue is also something I han't considered. Remote possibility as it is, it _IS_ a risk, and I'm NOT willing to take ANY risks. Thank You!
PS: You said breakers can go bad and stay open. Did you mean closed (leting power flow through it)? Also, am I to understand that transfer switches never experience this? Isn't it just a three-position breaker? Or is it engineered differenty? Heavier duty? Better quality control?
Thanks Again for your thoughtful answer. Oh yeah - Yes, NiMo is my power company (Or whatever their new name is now). Friday
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wrote:

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Properly designed transfer switches are usually interlocked both electrically and mechanically. I have seen numerous transfer switch failures, but none where the utility and alternate power sources were inadvertently connected, with one exception where someone had modified the transfer switch for some unfathomable reason.
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> >

residential curcuit breakers are basicly switches that can turn themselves off once the curent through them reaches a trip point. the failure modes therfore are basicly the same as for switches (with the addition that sometimes old breakers trip sooner then they should) have you ever seen and old wall switch the wouldent shut off? its not as common as the other failure mode where it wont turn on but i can show you an example right now.
one could hope that breakers were made significantly better then common wall switches. i have had a few apart (just to see how they are made) but i certinly cant speak for all the brands that are out there.
to try to answer you question as best i can i will say yes i believe it is possible for a breaker to short in such a way that it will conduct even if the lever is in the off position especially if lightning is involved. i would also say they the likelihood is pretty small. i would also say that it would be likely that if it failed due to lightning or surge there would be some external evidence like molten plastic, burning smell, and/or "gritty" operation of the switch. the problem is no one can predict what will happen only what might happen or can happen or has happened in the past. when it comes to electrical stuff or mechanical stuff some of us old guys were taught Murphy's Laws at an early age. they seemed funny at first, a rather dark, pessimistic outlook. but as time goes by we come to realize that the "Laws" are the one constant in an ever changing existence.
my favorite corollary: Murphy was an optimist
Also, am I to understand that transfer

i have several (transfer switches) at this point under my care three are 3 phase automatic. they are big, expensive, and use contactors (large relays) when i open one of the older ones i am sometimes greeted by a snake. how the snake has kept from being fried by 208 i don't really know. he slithers down the conduit until i close the cover and go away.
one other is a manual 3 phase. it is very old. i believe it to date from 1949. it is mearly a large double throw knife switch in metal box (wih external handle). fortunatly for me the associated generator is long dead and not worth the cost of repairs therfore i have never have to actully use this.
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On Mon, 6 Sep 2004 23:46:33 -0400, "Tim Perry"

Many UL listed transfer switches use off the shelf household circuit breakers as their isolation elements (they do add a mechanical interlock)
This would seem to negate the failed main breaker argument.
A lockout padlock on the main breaker would go a long way toward removing danger.
In almost every case a back feed situation would result in an immediate generator failure (engine stalling or circuit breaker opening) due to loads in neighbor's homes. The exceptions would be very large generators or a very small isolated line section (no neighbors).
This all leaves the mistakes happen even to careful people issue. And in this case a mistake could lead to manslaughter charges.
Bottom line: Use extension cords or intall an approved transfer switch of some sort. Remove SPAMX from email address
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Jim Michaels wrote:

A breaker is a single throw device. It cannot transfer a circuit. It would be interesting to see the switches you have in mind to get an idea of how they accomplish a positive transfer. Do you have a particular make/model in mind?

Only if it is used. And also, only if it is used in the correct sequence.

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