Some generators, whether full-scale set-ups for houses or smaller portable generators need to be grounded before use. While there are generators that do not need to be grounded, if you have one that needs to be, then not doing so can be extremely dangerous.
In this article, you’ll learn about why grounding is important as well as how to ground a generator should yours require you to do so.
Why Do You Need to Ground a Generator?
The point of grounding a generator is to avoid an excessive buildup of electricity from either shocking and electrocuting you, or from overloading the generator and any electronics connected to it.
For instance, if a lightning bolt hits your generator that is not grounded, that massive surge of electricity is going to fry everything that the generator is connected to. However, if the generator is grounded, that excess electricity dissipates into the ground, preventing any damage to connected components from occurring and any person from getting hurt.
Do All Generators Need to Be Grounded?
We do not want to lead anybody astray here, because generators are a bit sensitive. What you need to do here is to read the owner’s manual of your specific generator. It will tell you whether or not your specific generator needs to be grounded. With that being said, not all generators need to be grounded. For the most part, modern portable generators for camping and for RVs do not need to be grounded.
Generally speaking, generators fall into two categories, these being separately derived systems and non-separately derived systems. All generators that fall into the separately derived system category need to be grounded.
If you do not know if your generator is a separately derived system or not, take a look at the transfer switch. If you have a non-separately derived system, there will be a transfer switch that cannot be transferred to a neutral ground conductor which generally means that it does not need to be grounded. As mentioned, though, make sure to cross-check with your machine’s manual.
A separately derived system generator will have a transfer switch that can be switched to the neutral ground conductor which means that it will need to be grounded.
How to Ground a Generator
Grounding a generator is not particularly hard, but if you are to avoid having any electrical mishaps from occurring, it is necessary. Let’s go over the tools and items you will need to ground your generator as well as through the process to follow.
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
First and foremost, in order to ground your generator, there are quite a few materials that you will need. Take a look at the list below for everything required to complete this task:
- A copper rod: This is the main component that you will require to ground your generator. You need a copper rod that is at least four feet long (longer will do as well, but just not shorter than four feet). This is the main grounding material.
- Copper grounding wire: In order for the copper rod to function as it should, the generator needs to be connected to it, and this is done via copper wire. Make sure to get very high quality copper grounding wire, as high in quality as possible.
- A sledge hammer: You will need to drive that copper rod into the ground fairly deep, and the best way to do this is with a sledge hammer. You may also use a regular hammer, although this will be harder and take longer.
- Wire strippers: One of the most important tools you need here are wire strippers. You will need to strip down both ends of the copper wire before you can attach them to the generator and the grounding rod, respectively.
- Pliers: To get the copper wire tight around the generator and the copper grounding rod, you will need a good pair of needle nose pliers.
- A wrench: Exactly what kind of wrench you need for this task depends on the specific generator, but a normal wrench should do just fine. You will need this to loosen some bolts.
Step 2: Insert the Copper Rod into the Ground
The first step in this process is to hammer that copper rod into the ground. Pick a spot close to the generator, close enough so that you don’t need a huge length of copper wire to attach the rod to your generator. Ideally, the copper rod should be hammered into the ground vertically at a perfect 90 degree angle. Use your trusty sledgehammer to do this.
If the ground is very hard, use a shovel to start the hole, then use those biceps to hammer it down into the ground. By the end, there should only be two inches of that four foot copper rod sticking out of the ground.
If driving the copper rod into the ground at a 90 degree angle is not possible due to the ground being too hard deeper down, you may do so at a 45 degree angle. Lastly, if this is not possible, dig a horizontal trench about two feet deep into the ground, long enough for the copper rod. If you need to do this, once the copper rod is in the ground (and connected to the grounding wire, simply cover it with some soil and small rocks.
Step 3: Strip the Wire and Connect It to the Rod
Now that the copper rod is in the ground, use your wire strippers to strip one end of the copper wire. With the wire stripped, wrap the end of it around the two inches of copper rod sticking out of the ground.
Try to wrap it around a good 10 or 15 times, more than enough to ensure that it does not come loose or come undone. You can use your pliers to tighten it so that it cannot move.
Step 4: Attach the Wire to Your Generator
The final step in this process is to use your wire strippers to strip the other end of the copper wire. Then, take your wrench and loosen the grounding bolt on the generator.
Now, take the stripped copper wire and wrap the stripped end around the bolt, under the head of the bolt.
Just like with the copper rod, try to wrap the wire around the grounding bolt at least 10 or 15 times, and then tighten it with your pliers to ensure a secure fit.
Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks
Finally, let’s go over some quick tips and tricks to help make this process both easier and safer for you:
- Never do any work on your generator if it is running, if it is raining, or if there is an ongoing thunderstorm. Make sure the generator is off and that the weather is fair.
- Wear some sturdy gloves when working with copper wire, particularly when stripping it. Those stripped ends are sharp and pointy, and can easily break the skin.
- Do not use anything other than high-quality copper rods and high-quality copper grounding wire. There is no good substitute for either of those.
- Never attach a portable generator directly to the electrical system of any structure unless it has a properly installed open-transition transfer switch.
There you have it folks, how to ground a generator in three easy steps, not counting the first step of gathering the required tools and equipment.
We cannot stress enough just how important it is to ground your generator properly, both for your safety and the wellbeing of anything connected to it. Before doing so, make sure to check the owner’s manual though.