How to Ground a Portable Generator | The Complete Guide


Grounded Portable Generator

People use generators for a variety of reasons. Some use them to work as back-ups in case of electricity failure or for camping. Other people use generators so they can apply their power tools when they are working on job sites. On occasion, you may run into a reason why you should ground your portable generator. If you’re able to do it yourself, you can save quite a bit of money.

Do portable generators have to be grounded? Not all portable generators have to be grounded. If your generator is not a separately derived system, you won’t need to ground it. However, if your generator is an independently derived system, then you will be required to utilize a grounding rod. The owner’s manual should provide this information.

Since there isn’t a lot of information on the Internet today about grounding portable generators, we’ve created this article to help you out and to give you a bit of information. There will be occasions that will require you to ground your portable generator. We’ll discuss some of this information below, including what grounding is, how to tell if you need to root your generator, and some of the other information you’ll need. 

What You Should Know about Grounding

If you’re not sure what grounding is, don’t worry. Grounding happens when you connect an electrical circuit into what are known as reference ground. When this is done to a generator, we use the generator’s frame as the electrical circuit and combine it with a grounding rod, which would be our reference ground. This is a safety issue and should not be ignored.

It’s best to use a copper wire when you connect from your generator’s frame and insert it into the grounding rod. That way, the generator should be able to operate safely. Some people decide to ground their generators because an ungrounded generator can create a fire if it short-circuits.

While it certainly sounds safer at this point to ground your generator, there will be a few things you’ll need to consider before you can make this decision.

Do All Portable Generators Have to be Grounded?

If you aren’t sure whether or not you need to ground your portable generator, the best thing you can do is check your owner’s manual. In the owner’s manual, you’ll receive instructions about whether you need to ground your portable generator or not. If you cannot locate your manual or you still can’t tell from the directions, there are still a couple of other options for you.

If you don’t have the manual, check to see if your generator is a separately derived system. If you own an independently derived system, then you’ll need to use a grounding rod to set-up your generator. However, if your generator is not a separately obtained system, then you won’t need to worry about grounding it.

How do you recognize a separately derived system?

All you need to do to acknowledge an independently derived system is to check on the generator’s transfer switch. If you have a switch that can be transferred to the neutral ground conductor, then you’ll need to connect it to a grounding rod.

However, if you have an unseparated derived system, you’ll have a transfer switch that can’t be moved to the neutral ground conductor. If that’s the case, your switch won’t need a connection with a grounding rod.

The majority of portable generators, however, will have several items bonded to their frames. Those items include the fuel tank, engine, and housing. If your portable generator has all of that bonded to the structure, then it doesn’t need to be grounded.

Now that you know how to tell whether you’ll need to ground your portable generator or not, we’ll cover some of the tools you’ll need to ground a portable generator successfully.

Tools Needed to Ground Portable Generator

If you recognize that you need to ground your generator, then we’ve got some pointers to help you out. Below we’ll cover some of the items you’ll need to get the job done correctly. We’ve created a checklist below to help you make sure you have all the tools you’ll need for the job. 

  • A Set Of Wire Strippers– You’ll need a good set of wire strippers when you’re ready o connect the copper wire to your copper rod and the generator. When you complete this action, you’ll have to strip the copper wire. That’s where a good pair of wire strippers comes into play. With a good pair of wire strippers, you can more easily and safely get the job done. While you can also use a knife or other sharp object as a substitute, wire strippers are much safer. 
  • Solid Copper Grounding Wire– You’ll need a lot of copper wire, like this kind found on Amazon. Ensuring that you’ve got plenty of copper wire means you’ll have no problems connecting the cable to the generator. Having some extra wire means you’ll have all the space you’ll need to ground the copper rod, too.
  •  4 Foot Copper Ground Rod– You must make sure to purchase the right type of copper grounding rod. By ensuring you’ve got the correct kind of copper grounding rod, you’ll get a durable grounding procedure. You should get a copper ground rod that is at least four-feet in length, like this one found on Amazon. Also, to ensure you’ve got enough slack, also check to see how far you’ll need to plant the material into the ground before you get started. 
  • A Hammer, mallet, or sledgehammer– You’ll also need to make sure you’ve got a robust hammer on you so that you can get the copper rod into the ground to ground it properly. Having a good hammer, sledgehammer, or mallet should do the trick just fine. When you drive the rod down, be careful not to damage the copper rod’s coating. If you do, you might wind up with a terrible connection, so you want to avoid that. 
  • Pliers– Pliers are a necessity because you’ll want to make sure you wind the copper wire around the grounding rod well. That’s where a good set of pliers can help. You should be able to ensure a great connection with a decent set of pliers. 
  •  Wrench– You’ll also need a good wrench to attach your copper wire to the generator. You can use the wrench to loosen bolts and create secure connections. 

Besides the above tools we’ve listed here, there are also some optional tools and supplies that you might need to use.

Optional Tools

There are a few other optional tools you might want to consider keeping on hand, too, when you start this process. Those tools include:

  • Water– You may need some water to soften the ground, which can save you a lot of time and energy when you are hard grounding. Depending on the ground you’re working in, water might help you get the job done more quickly.
  • A good screwdriver– Consider getting a decent screwdriver, like a Phillips’ head screwdriver, to take out any grounding bolts that become rounded off or don’t have a hex head. 
  • Shovel– You may need a shovel if you are trying to get your copper rod down into steep terrain. In that case, you might need to bury the rod, and a shovel can help you get the job done. 

Now that you know what tools you’ll need to ground your portable generator, we’ll cover the steps you’ll need to know so that you can correctly ground your portable generator. 

How Do I Ground My Portable Generator?

Below we’ll cover the steps so that you’ll know how you should ground your portable generator.

Step 1: Place the copper ground rod

To start, grab your hammer and your copper ground rod. Using the hammer, start placing your copper ground rod into the ground. You’ll want to make sure you drive it down at least four feet down so that you have a good ground. 

If you are trying to drive your copper ground rod into the ground and you feel that the ground is too harsh, then grab some water and start softening up the ground. Spread the water out, let it soak up a bit, and test it out. If it still feels too harsh, then you’ll need to add more water. 

If the terrain you are using is very rocky, you might want to bury the rod so that its angle won’t exceed 45 degrees. That way, you can keep a proper ground and not need to worry about moving the copper ground later. 

Step 2: Connect your copper wire after stripping

Now that you’ve placed your grounding rod four feed into the ground, you’ll need to proceed to the next step, which involves your copper wire. You’ll need to connect your copper wire. However, before you can join it, you’ll need to grab your wire stripper.

Once you have your wire stripper, you’ll need to strip the copper wire initially. After you’ve stripped the copper wire, you’ll need to wrap it around the copper ground several times with your pliers. 

Step 3: Grounding your generator

After you’ve stripped your copper wire and connected it to the grounding rod, you’ll need to move onto the next step, which is grounding your generator. 

Check the other side of your copper wire and make sure you’ve also stripped that section down well enough so that you can connect it. After you’ve done that, find a grounding bolt, which should be on your generator, and unfasten it. You want to have it just loose enough so that you can put stripped wire around the bolt. 

Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to circle the stripped wire around the bolt area. Then, tighten the bolt back down. Once you’ve done that, you should have a stable connection. 

Do I Really Need to Ground My Portable Generator?

Many people that own portable generators don’t think about what to do with them until they realize they need to use their generator. People that purchase portable generators often do so to use them as back-up electricity plans in case of a power outage. Most people are thankful to have a generator when a storm knocks their power out, or a hurricane comes to town. 

However, while most people are glad to own a generator when they need to use them, many people that own generators don’t know much about how to use them. Not knowing how to use your portable generator correctly can result in injury during a storm or other weather emergencies. 

So, when it comes to grounding your portable generator, know that you’ll be making your world much safer by doing so. We’ll cover why you should consider grounding your portable generator below.

Safety Concerns

First off, if you have any doubts be sure to have a qualified electrician complete the grounding for you. Also, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly when performing the grounding.

If you work with portable generators often, then you already know that there are many risks associated with these machines. If you don’t ground your generator, you’ll wind up with an electrocution risk. By grounding your generator, you are helping to displace extra electricity so that somebody using the generator doesn’t wind up accidentally shocking, or even worse, electrocuting themselves. 

Most portable generator systems that are grounded require you to use a grounding rod. When you purchase your grounding rod, you’ll be buying an eight-foot long copper rod that’s about five-eighths of an inch around. Not all generators need grounding rods, however. You’ll have to check on two things to determine whether or not you’ll need a grounding rod:

  • Honestly, assess how you’ll be using your generator. If you know you’ll need to plug appliances directly into your generator using several extension cords, then you may not need to ground your generator.
  • Check the components in your generator and see if they are all bonded to the generator’s frame. By parts, we are referring to your engine, fuel tank, the power receptacles, and the generator’s housing.

If your answer is “yes” to both of the above issues, then you should not need a grounding rod with your generator. Your generator’s frame will be replacing the grounding rod. Remember when we looked to see if every component was bonded to the generator’s frame? If they are bonded to the structure, any errant electricity you get will already by grounded by the frame of your generator, meaning you don’t need a grounding rod. 

On the other hand, if your answer to one or both of the above questions is “no,” then you will need to get a grounding rod. That grounding rod will make it much safer for you to run your generator when you need it without experiencing any accidents or injuries. 

There is also one exception to the rule we discussed above that we need to address. Even if you answered “yes” to the above questions, you might still have a problem depending on the type of system you have. If you own a system that you must plug right into your house’s circuit breaker using a manual transfer switch, or if you had to connect your generator right to a building, then you’ll still need to install a grounding rod. 

If you still aren’t sure whether or not you need a grounding rod for your generator, even after going over the above items, then we recommend that you talk to a trained electrician for some advice. That way, you can be safe and know the best approach. 

Now that we’ve covered some safety concerns for grounding portable generators, we’ll discuss the grounding requirements for portable generators. 

Grounding Requirements for Portable Generators

Portable generators are an excellent option for generating electricity when you need a temporary stream of power, or when you might need to power up power tools on a job site. Often, you’ll see portable generators being used to help cleanup efforts that typically follow natural disasters.

If you’re planning on grounding your portable generator, then you’ll need to know some of the proper safe work practices to follow when using a portable generator. The primary reasons for injuries and fatalities when working with portable generators has to do with shocks and electrocution to users who aren’t using the system properly. Sometimes, however, if there is an improper connection to a building, shock or electrocution can occur, causing injuries.

To help you understand how you can stay safe when following grounding requirements for portable generators, we’ll cover some safety practices you’ll want to utilize below.

Safety Practices When Grounding Portable Generators

Below we’ll cover some of the safety practices you’ll want to follow when grounding portable generators.

  • Before you work with any portable generator, check on the manufacturer’s use and safety directions. Familiarize yourself with them and make sure you use the portable generator following those safety guidelines to prevent injury or harm.
  • Remember, you should avoid attaching a portable generator directly into a building’s electricity system. The only time you can connect a portable generator directly into a building’s electricity system is when you see that the generator has an open-transition transfer switch with the correct installation.
  • When you are using electrical appliances and tools, remember you’ll need to plug them directly into the generator. Whenever you plug something into the generator, remember that you’ll need to grab the appliance manufacturer’s supplied cords and use those. You’ll also want to make sure you own a few heavy0duty extension cords that include a grounding conductor. By that, we mean making sure you have a three-wire flexible wire as well as three-pronged cord connectors.
  • By properly grounding and bonding your portable generator, you’ll be able to prevent mishaps and injuries caused by shock and electrocution.
  • When you use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), make sure you check on the manufacturer’s safety directions before using them. Once you feel comfortable with the instructions, you can proceed.
  • Avoid connecting your generator to a structure if your generator lacks a properly installed transfer switch. However, if your generator has a properly installed transfer switch, you should be able to connect your generator to a structure without issue.
  • Before you use your generator or any of the equipment, you’ll use with it, scrutinize everything, you’ll want to get rid of defective material and make sure you’ve marked it as unsafe for use in the future.

Portable and Vehicle-Mounted Generators

When working with portable and vehicle-mounted generators, you’ll also need to check to see if you need a grounding cable or not. OSHA allows you to use the generator’s frame as the ground if all of the generator’s components are connected to that frame. You can avoid grounding your generator and still be under OSHA guidelines as long as the below conditions are met.

  • Your generator is used to supply energy only to the equipment you have mounted on the generator, or by using a cord and plug and the receptacles mounted on the generator.
  • You verify that the noncurrent-carrying metal parts of the generator, which includes the internal combustion engine, the fuel tank, and the generator’s housing, are all bonded onto the generator’s frame. You also need to make sure that the equipment grounding conductor terminals are also bonded to the structure.

If both of these conditions are met, then you don’t need to worry about using a grounding rod. The generator’s frame will operate as the grounding electrode. However, if these two conditions aren’t met, then you will need to get a grounding electrode like a grounding rod.

Also, if you are planning to use your portable generator to provide power to a building through a transfer switch to the building, you need to connect it to a grounding electrode system, like a grounding rod. You’ll also need to make sure your transfer switch is approved for use by the manufacturer and installed adequately following the manufacturer’s directions.

Safety Practices for Portable Tools

Also, since we are on the elements of safety when working with portable generators, we want to cover some safety practices for using mobile tools. Since you’ll probably be using these often if you are setting up a generator, knowing how to focus on safety is essential.

  • Never use underrated cords when working on your portable generator. If you have an underrated cable, consider replacing it with a cord that has a better rating. Cords with higher rating scores typically use heavier gauge wires, and that means you’ll get a more robust connection and fewer accidents.
  • Always check the condition of your electrical tools and appliances before you use them. If you inspect them and notice you have any frayed cords, grounding prongs missing, or any other damage, you should replace your electrical tool or appliance with the issue before you attempt to use it.
  • As much as you possibly can, use double-insulated tools and equipment that’s marked for double-insulation.
  • We also recommend using battery-operated tools as often as you possibly can.

Verification

You’ll also want to make sure you verify the integrity of the connection you’ve set up. You’ll need to check on the line between the generator’s frame and the equipment grounding terminals before you can start using the generator without concern.

To get the connection confirmed correctly by testing it, you should hire a competent electrician who already has the equipment needed to examine your connection. It’s best to have an expert confirm the set-up is correct for safety purposes. When the electrician checks on the connection, he’ll ensure that the ohmic resistance shows up around zero and isn’t fluctuating. If it’s varying, then you have a loose connection, and you’ll need to re-connect it.

The Difference Between Bonding and Grounding

There is a difference between bonding and grounding. Bonding and grounding are different requirements for generators and other systems. When you ground a system, it means that the connection you are making has to do with an electrical circuit and a ground, which could also feature the frame of the generator.

On the other hand, bonding refers to the connection between a grounded circuit conductor, which should be the neutral connection, and the grounding of the generator, which could mean the generator’s frame, too. Of course, that means you want to make sure everything is bonded correctly to your generator’s frame before you use your generator’s structure as the ground.

Bonding and grounding both must be confirmed and tested by an electrician with the correct equipment to verify the connections.

My favorite portable generator

The Champion 3100 (Click to see Amazon Listing) is my favorite portable generator of all time. It does need to be grounded but the process is easy. The owner’s manual will walk you through exactly how to do it.

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve covered some reasons why you would want to ground your portable generator, the tools you’ll need to complete the process, how you can complete the process, and some safety factors you’ll want to consider, you should be ready to prep your generator. Remember, you’ll want to double-check the manufacturer’s directions on any appliances you use as well as on the generator itself to ensure you follow all safety requirements.

By grounding your portable generator, you’ll be able to keep yourself safe from accidental injuries and electrocution. Grounding a portable generator makes the generator much more reliable and easier to use in case of an emergency, which is when you’ll want your generator. To get the best use out of your generator, make sure you’ve set it up and had it verified by an electrician before you use it.

Cropped main image courtesy of Petr.adamek [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

Jim James

Jim James spent most of his childhood outdoors fishing on lakes in his area. Due to his scouting background, he has always been interested in survival, camping, and the outdoors in general. Jim is a best-selling author and has a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. He lives with his family in Charlotte, NC.

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