Is Backfeeding A Generator Illegal?

Upgraded Home Team
by Upgraded Home Team

People commonly use backfeeding in areas with sudden power outages due to problems at utility power grid plants or natural calamities, like hurricanes. However, although it might appear to be a good solution in some situations, is backfeeding a generator illegal?

Backfeeding a generator ties a generator directly to your home’s electrical panel and is illegal in many states, counties, and neighborhoods. It causes property damage, injury, and death because it makes the electrical load flow differently than it should. Another reason that makes backfeeding illegal is the danger it poses for utility workers that are working down the line.

Consumers might need to keep appliances like refrigerators or freezers running at all times, which requires continuous electricity. Therefore, they backfeed their generators to create their own voltage for running appliances at home. However, backfeeding a generator can result in critical damage to you, your home, neighbors, and the workers restoring electricity in your block.

Different Types Of Backfeeding

There are three types of backfeeding:

Intentional Backfeeding

There’s been an increase in commercial production of power generation equipment for consumers, like photovoltaic systems and wind turbines. Due to this increase, there has been an inflation in the generated electrical power.

It has become more than required during ideal power-generating conditions. What if the consumer’s electric utility provider is unable to support this excess power generation? Then the electrical power is fed back into their power grid systems.

This phenomenon causes the power user to become a power generator for a short period due to the backfeeding process. The electricity stays reversed as long as the generator remains active.

Utility providers often deal with this issue by adding an electric meter in their electrical power grids. This meter tracks the customers’ power consumption.

Unintentional Backfeeding

Unintentional backfeeding generally happens due to the use of an electrical power generator, also known as a portable generator. A consumer often plugs in the generator incorrectly, which causes the power to back feed without the user knowing about it.

The energy then flows over the electrical power lines in the reverse direction, re-energizing it. Such a situation occurs during a power outage when the consumer needs to power the house to use appliances.

Therefore, the user needs to plug the generator directly into the dryer or appliance outlet of their home. When they do this, it might power the devices, but it also causes a problem. It causes the electricity to flow back to the power lines, leading to a risky situation.

Intrinsic Backfeeding

This type of backfeeding occurs in a situation where the power generator itself becomes the user. In such a case, the power generation plant cannot produce more electrical power than the standby or parasitic loads.

Appliances and systems that need a continuous power supply generate this load, even when there is a power outage. Such systems include HVAC systems, facility lighting, pumps, and similar control utilities.

These units stay active due to standby power modes or a power generation unit of their own. If this power has more capacity than the commercial power generator supplying electricity to the units, it results in intrinsic back feeding.

To reduce the phenomenon of backfeeding, electrical utilities need to reduce the parasitic load or standby power. This reduction can also help increase efficiency.

If Backfeeding A Generator Is Illegal, Why Do People Do It?

When the power flows in the reverse direction from the usual course of action, an electrical power backfeed occurs. It can also happen when there is voltage present in related equipment or conductors of an appliance or system. Plus, backfeeding can occur even after you unplug the appliance from the usual power supply.

Despite the hazards, plenty of individuals backfeed portable generators in their homes during a power outage. Back feeding re-energizes the power outlets in the house, thus giving users electricity to run their appliances.

Upon backfeeding, the power travels back through a house’s electrical panel. It then redistributes the voltage throughout the house.

Why Is Backfeeding A Generator Illegal And Dangerous?

It is dangerous to backfeed as the power load is not in a stable condition at that moment. Not only are unbalanced electrical loads inefficient, but they also add more strain on the portable generator.

When you plug the generator in an appliance outlet, you utilize a non-approved way of generating power. The power then travels through the electrical circuit without any control.

Additionally, it flows out of the house through the power grid lines in the opposite direction. This reverse flow leads to the generation of immense energy within the lines.

If some electrician is actively fixing those lines, unknowingly, you are putting him in danger because of the risk of electrocution. Therefore, with backfeeding, you can cause danger to your property and the surrounding neighborhood’s electrical lines.

How Can I Stop My Generator From Backfeeding?

You can use a transfer switch to stop your portable generator from backfeeding to the power lines outside your house. You can toggle the switch on and off manually to isolate your house’s electrical system from the electrical utility lines.

That way, the transfer switch distributes the electrical power through the selected circuits present in your house. Otherwise, the electrical power would flow without any control and risk everything.

Tips To Backfeed Your House With A Generator

Backfeeding a generator is illegal and dangerous, and yet many people still insist on doing it. If you’re determined to use backfeeding to power your appliances and other components in an emergency, it’s imperative you know the risks.

To minimize the risk of property damage, injury, and death, familiarise yourself with these tips. However, remember, if anything happens to you, someone else, or anyone’s property, you will be liable.

  • Use a backfeed cord, also called a suicide cord. A backfeed cord with the right amp capacity can provide some safety while connecting your generator with your house’s outlet.
  • Keep the cord out of reach of others. Ensure that the cord is away from children, pets, and any other external force in the surrounding area.
  • Face the generator exhaust away from your house. The toxic gases that exhaust releases are harmful, and you should not inhale them.
  • Get a firm grasp of how electrical systems work before proceeding. Do not backfeed if you have no clue how an electrical power circuit or system works in the first place.
  • Install a main circuit breaker as a precaution. Make sure that the breaker unit present in your house’s electrical system works perfectly. You might need it if the situation goes overboard.
  • Get a transfer switch. This switch is capable of controlling the flow of electrical power. So, it can prevent it from flowing through the power grid lines outside your house.

Extra Generator Safety

Place the generator outside your house. Always keep the portable generator outside the house when you plan to back feed your home with it.

The rule of thumb with all generator use is a minimum distance of 20 feet. Generators release carbon monoxide gas, which is not suitable for breathing.

Use the power generated from backfeeding only for necessary appliances. Set up a dedicated circuit around your house. Use it only for the appliances you need to keep in power with a generator during an outage.

Otherwise, you will be risking overload and other electrical hazards. This overload occurs when the electricity flows through every electrical circuit in the house unnecessarily.

Related Questions

Do you need a permit to install a transfer switch?

Yes, you need a permit from the authorities present locally in your area when you are modifying your circuit system around the house. If you use a portable generator to power your house appliances, you will mandatorily require transfer switches, as they provide some form of safety.Instead, you can hire an authorized electrician to help you with the generator installation. Such professionals take care of all the legalities and permits needed for the installation on your behalf.

Can I tie a portable generator into my electrical panel myself?

You should contact a professional electrician if you are interested in connecting a portable generator to your main electrical panel. However, if you want to find a solution for powering your entire house, consider a permanently-installed residential generator. These systems tie directly into propane or natural gas lines and don’t require manual refueling. Plus, they provide you with a safe and legal way to power your main electrical panel.

Upgraded Home Team
Upgraded Home Team

We are a team of passionate homeowners, home improvement pros, and DIY enthusiasts who enjoy sharing home improvement, housekeeping, decorating, and more with other homeowners! Whether you're looking for a step-by-step guide on fixing an appliance or the cost of installing a fence, we've here to help.

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