Dear Mr. Electrician: How do I install a generator interlock kit to supply portable generator power to my Cutler Hammer main circuit breaker panel so that I can power all of my circuits in the event of a power failure from the power company?
Answer: A generator interlock kit is great if you want to supply power to your entire circuit breaker panel and can be an economical choice compared to installing a separate external transfer switch. Below are step by step photos depicting an interlock kit installation on an older Cutler Hammer main circuit breaker panel. NOTE: Links in the text are to products sold on Amazon.
Before beginning the work of installing an interlock kit on your main electrical panel, you should obtain an electrical permit from your town’s building department. Submit a copy of the interlock kit installation instructions with your permit application. In addition I always write a short “Scope of Work” and include that with my permit applications so that the inspector has a clear understanding of the work being done before hand. When the work is completed you will arrange to have an electrical inspector look over the job to make sure that it is compliant with the electrical code. This is very important to ensure that your installation is safe and not hazardous to someone connecting the generator during a power outage.
Main Breaker Generator Interlock Kit Installed on a Cutler Hammer Load Center
To install an interlock kit you will need a few extra spaces in your main electrical panel as a two pole 30 amp or two pole 50 amp circuit breaker will need to be installed adjacent to the main breaker. The new two pole breaker will be connected to the incoming power from the portable generator. Usually two or three spaces are required for the generator two pole circuit breaker.
Generator interlock kits are available for many new electrical panels from the original manufacturer. However for older electrical panels it is sometimes necessary to use an interlock kit from a third party manufacturer. The interlock kit depicted in the photos on this page is from a third party manufacturer (www.interlockkit.com). It is approved by a certified testing laboratory for use on this particular electrical panel. The work was inspected by the town electrical inspector.
Prior to the start of the job of installing the interlock kit you should identify some of the circuits that you will definitely want to be powered by the generator. Circuits such as the refrigerator, heating system, and well pump are most commonly used for generator power. You should also identify the circuits nearest the main circuit breaker as they will need to be relocated to allow room for the generator circuit breaker.
Pick a location outside of your house to mount the generator inlet. It should be in an area that is convenient for you to wheel the generator over to and should also be easy enough to install the permanent electrical wiring from the generator inlet to the main electrical panel. You should not plan to operate the portable generator near a window or inside of the house as the exhaust fumes from the generator are deadly and can kill the occupants.
For a 30 amp generator inlet use #10 wire in conduit or use a 10/3 cable with ground as depicted in the photo above. For a 50 amp generator inlet use #6 wire or 6/3 cable. In the photo above I used two wood spade drill bits to make the hole. I used a larger bit first and drilled into the siding approximately 3/8″ to allow space for the cable connector. Then I drilled with a smaller bit to accommodate the wire only. A small hole will keep out rodents and outside air.
After pulling the wire through the hole and stripping it back, push duct seal into the hole and leave a small mound on the surface. The cable connector will push into this and make a tight seal. If you use a button type cable connector you would attach that to the inlet box first and just pull the wire through.
If you use a two screw Romex type connector you would put that on the cable first after removing the locknut. Do not over tighten the clamp screws as that could cause the wires to short circuit each other. I usually cut the clamp screws short after attaching the connector using my Knipex Diagonal Pliers or my Klein Lineman Pliers. This makes it easier for the cable connector to fit into the hole in the house that the cable is coming through. Remove the 1/2″ knockout on the back of the generator inlet box and bring the wire through the hole. When the threads of the Romex connector come through the hole, screw the locknut back on tightly.
Now you can attach the inlet box to the house. For a wood or vinyl siding house I use #8 or #10 sheet metal screws. For a solid masonry house I use plastic anchors with #12 sheet metal screws.