Generators are essential to us. Be that at home or our businesses, generators are the emergency storage of power that we might need when the time comes.
However, when some people buy a generator, they might not realise they need some added extras which are as vital as the generator itself. One of these imperative items is a generator transfer switch. If only it were that simple to just find a switch and buy one right away!
Some of you know what a generator transfer switch is - but what you might not know is which one to buy. There are so many different types available, it’s like a sea of confusion - you need help!
So, for those of you who need to know where to look and what to get - we got you. For those who are thinking of getting a generator but have no idea what a transfer switch is - we got you too.
So, let’s spark it off. What are the five best generator transfer switches and what do I need to know?
OUR TOP PICK
Let’s start with a fantastic generator transfer switch. This easy to install transfer switch is one of the best you can buy, and is designed to seamlessly keep your power flowing.
If you’ve got a short memory, this switch can help. The circuit breakers are designed in their way in case you’ve forgotten to turn off the mains power - in a freak accident or emergency, this can happen!
This switch must be installed indoors, but that in itself has plenty of advantages. Reliance are reliable when it comes to transfer switches with over 100 years of experience.
This switch has 6 15-amp single circuit breakers with 4 20-amp. It is also UL listed.
It’s specifically manufactured for home and business use and for generators with a maximum of 7500 watts of power.
Its 18 inch conduit has great flexibility and the whip connects simply to the center.
- Easy to install
- Useful for up to 7500 watts
- Reliable manufacturer
- Life saver in bad weather or emergencies
- Only for indoor use
Another transfer switch from Reliance now. Their well designed mechanisms make power transfer a piece of cake.
The wires are easy to see and understand the difference between with their handy color coding.
It’s unlikely to overload due to Reliance’s design which allows you to see the loads and take action when required. This is their smart watt meter.
It’s simplified with 3 settings - all you’ll need to do is turn it to “gen” when it’s needed and you’re ready to go.
Excellent switch for your home or business and will keep you going when the mains power is down. What more could you ask for?
- Easy to use
- Easy to understand
- Easy to install
- Unlikely to overload
- Can be installed on the exterior of your home or business
- Often requires extra parts for it to run at its peak, although they can be inexpensive
Moving away from Reliance here, we’ve got another top class transfer switch for you to take a look at.
It’s worthy to use inside and outside and is designed to be weather resistant. Speaking of safety features, it has rocker switches which decrease the likelihood of a power surge.
It has an easy to use manual and you’ll find the unit itself to be simple to install. Its compatibility is varied and allows for use with nearly all load centers.
If for any reason you need extra or spare parts for the switch, they’re easy to source and relatively inexpensive - so no trouble there!
It works for anything with up to 7500 wattage, so it’s perfect for your home. Very few switches on the market can compete with this one!
- Indoor and outdoor use
- Simple to understand
- Simple to install
- High level of safety
- Very economic
- Good quality product
- Some have said that the switches can be easily damaged by the user, so you’ll need to be light-handed with it
A bit different now with a manual transfer switch. It is a single circuit 15-amp, 125 voltage which can take care of most of your home’s electrical needs.
It has simple instructions with diagrams and extra help, so you should be fine when it comes to the set-up.
It is entirely pre-wired and will have you doing the most minimal amount of work without going automatic.
It’s been thoroughly tested and approved, so your safety is protected with this - boosted more so with the low likelihood of backfeeding.
If you’re looking for a reasonably priced, safe and easy to use transfer switch - you’ve seen one of the best here.
- Easy to set up
- User friendly instructions
- It’s easier to use if you have some basic knowledge of electrics
The final transfer switch in our list is an ETL certified, robust and versatile box. You’ll find it difficult to find another switch that has such a high level of safety and usability.
It has an anti-rust coat along with a flipped design which makes it ideal for outdoor use to prevent weather damage.
One of the best features of this switch is that it has a green light that lights up if it is working properly.
It has an estimated long life and with its smart design, you can understand why. It is safety tested and is the perfect switch for your power needs.
- Green light works as a notification of efficiency and safety
- Tough and durable in all weather conditions
- Geepkey has plenty of help for any problems
- Doesn’t fit into all fittings
Best Generator Transfer Switches Buying Guide
Portable Or Standby Generator?
Okay, before we go any further - you can’t go buying a switch without knowing which generator you have. It’s important that you choose the right switch for your generator.
It’s more common for people to have standby generators, particularly when looking to buy a transfer switch - so let’s explore the types of switches available.
The Types Of Standby Generator Transfer Switch
There are three main types of generator transfer switch:
- Whole home
- Generator sub-panel
- Load center automatic transfer
It’s important that we know the difference between these when purchasing a switch too.
The installation of this type of switch is done somewhere between your main panel and utility meter.
When there’s a blackout, this switch will disconnect the flow of power from the main source and re-route it to the generator. Usually, it will be flowing properly in under a minute, so you shouldn’t be in any real panic for power.
If the switch is service entrance rated, it means the switch will work as the first disconnect for your utility service and will involve a circuit breaker.
If your switch comes with power management, it means that a switch can manage the power to avoid overloading the generator and “flipping the switch.” Basically it can manage how much power is being used so you don’t end up losing power entirely!
It will normally give priority to things with the need for more power, such as refrigerators and freezers.
This is fitted right in the main panel. During any power outage, it will disconnect from the mains and heads to the generator.
Load Center Automatic Transfer
This effectively swaps your main power panel. The circuit breaker will act as a disconnect and then the mechanism will connect to the meter plus the generator.
If you’ve recently moved into a new house, it’s a good choice as it doesn’t need extra wiring and can work well with newly designed houses. The older the house is, the more scarce the utility services.
Those are your types of main switch. However, there are further things to consider.
You may have seen when looking for an automatic switch, that the description might contain a NEMA rating. This is crucial for knowing where your switch can be installed:
NEMA 1: Requires dry areas and must be inside. They can handle the sporadic drop of water or accidental spillage to an extent - but are absolutely useless in heavy rain or snow.
NEMA 3: You can have indoor or outdoor. Normally weather resistant, the product is usually durable and designed in such a way to keep the elements out of harm’s way.
Do I Need Automatic Or Manual?
Automatic switches mean you don’t need to go outside and deal with the power outage, or if you’re indoors - you don’t need to move from your seat!
However, automatic switches are generally far more expensive. Generally, manual switches are easier to install but automatic switches have the ability to be programmed for certain scenarios.
Depending on what you need the generator for, you’d need to think about this. For your home or business - it is far better to get an automatic.
What’s The Deal With Watts?
You will absolutely need to check this when buying a switch. You’ll need to work out what you’re going to be powering and how many watts will be powered using the generator. If you’re unsure, you should speak with the generator supplier.
I’ve Read Transfer Switch Kit - Do I Need A Kit?
If you can buy an entire kit, this will simply speed up the process of installing the switch.
You’ll normally find when buying a switch that it is part of a kit, but you should definitely double check that. Nothing worse than waiting longer for no reason!
What Are The Certifications?
If you see UL or CUL, you can rest assured that the product has been safety tested. If you’re buying a well-known manufacturer’s product, it should almost always have these certifications.
It is a case of getting what you pay for sometimes. The reliable product will normally come from the reputable manufacturer but may cost slightly more.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is A Generator Transfer Switch?
In essence, a generator transfer switch is a permanent fixture that connects to a power source - in this case a generator. It alters its power between two sources.
If your normal source of power goes down, the transfer switch will automatically swap the power source - making it an ideal bit of kit to keep your power going. This is perhaps more essential if you’re running a business.
For your home, the switch will have the generator plugged into it from the circuit panel. When the generator is activated, the switch will alter the power source from the usual grid to the generator.
Do All Generators Need A Transfer Switch?
Any standby generator will more than likely need a transfer switch. It is constantly “on pause” until your power goes down. This will happen at some point, and more frequently depending on where you live - so it’s crucial to have this so your power can continue until the main source of power is back.
At home, this is a helpful tool to have. You’ll find it much easier and tidier to power stuff up from a circuit breaker than having to deal with a load of wires and extension cords.
Is It A Requirement To Have A Transfer Switch Though?
Okay, so we’re thinking here about health and safety and any legal requirements. For safety - if your generator goes from 5000 watts or above, you will need a transfer switch. This level of power will require some sort of regulator.
In some places, it is a strict legal requirement to have a transfer switch, whereas other areas simply suggest that you have one. It’s best to check this with your authority or building code offices. Even better though is just to have one.
Are There Any Risks For Not Having A Transfer Switch?
Yes, yes and yes again. For a standby generator - your safety, your family’s safety or your work environment and employees safety is at risk.
Without a good regulator of power in a transfer switch, your power could end up going haywire with two currents flowing to your home or business.
This can lead to fires or fatalities with the power workers on the line. Portable generators will not see these issues though.
Are There Different Switches?
Yes, there are two main kinds. The first is automatic, which will automatically switch the power when required. The other is manual which needs someone to flip the lever (most portable generators have this.)
It’s of course, far better to have an automatic transfer switch in cases of poor weather conditions or awkward landscapes etc.
Can I Just Install The Switch Or Do I Need To Call Someone?
Are you qualified? If not, please don’t try and put it in yourself. It’s highly recommended that you call a professional. If you’re unsure who to contact, speak with the generator supplier or utilise social media in your area.
Is There A Permit I Need To Apply For?
Almost always, yes. However, if you’ve hired a professional - they will likely have done this part on your behalf and charge you in the bill accordingly. Again, if you’re unsure what’s happening - speak with your local authority.
Of course there are probably other questions you have - we’ve got you covered there too.
Now that you’ve understood the basics of a generator transfer switch, you might be considering buying one? Well, have a read below of our buyers guide.
When you’ve finally decided if you’re going to buy a generator transfer switch, you should have considered the following:
- What will I need to power? This is for your wattage and is crucial. It will also determine if you’re going to need an automatic or manual and more than likely answer if you need an indoor or outdoor switch.
- Am I going to install it or do I need to call someone? As we’ve said, it is extremely recommended that you contact a professional if you have no experience in doing this. Any error can cause fires, injury or at least extra costs.
- Am I buying from a reputable seller? Ensure that you’re not buying something just because it’s cheaper. You cannot put a price on safety and it is always recommended that you pay the extra to protect your home, business and family.
We hope that you now have all the information that you need to go forward and make an informed decision on your generator transfer switch. If you’ve already made a decision - great! More power to you!