Did you know that a generator isn’t the only thing you need to prepare for a power outage? In most cases, you would also require a generator transfer switch – learn more about it in this article.


The US Energy Information Administration reported that electricity consumers in the country experienced an average of seven hours of power interruptions in 2021. With electric outages rampant in recent years, it makes sense to plan to prepare for them to protect your home and business.

The first thing you should do to get ready for a power outage is to find an alternate electricity source. One of the best (and environment-friendly) options to get backup power is the use of solar generators. But did you know that a generator isn’t the only thing you need? In almost all cases, you would also require a generator transfer switch.

Related Reading: Emergency Power Outage Preparedness Plan Tips

What is a generator transfer switch?

To quickly explain, a transfer switch is a device that allows a safe connection or disconnection between different electric sources. For example, when the electric service from your local utility is out, the transfer switch enables you to use backup power from your generator. This will allow you to use devices and appliances that are connected to the circuits in your main panel.  
Without the transfer switch, you will have to connect the generator to the devices you wish to use with extension cords; however, this is not entirely safe. This also means that you are only limited to power appliances or devices that you can plugin. During blackouts, it will be for you impossible to use hardwired appliances like HVACs, which could be essential, especially during cold winter months.

Are all generator transfer switches the same?

There are two types of generator transfer switches: manual and automatic transfer switches. These types of transfer switches technically serve the same purpose, the main difference between the two is how they are operated.
Manual Transfer Switch - As previously mentioned, a transfer switch allows you to change electric loads from the local grid to a backup power source and vice versa. With a manual transfer switch, someone will have to be onsite to transfer between loads. Depending on the model, some manual transfer switches come with a lever or a bolt-switch mechanism, while other transfer switches use rocker switches for easier use.

Since the transfer of electric loads is done manually, a delay of a few minutes is expected since starting the generator, warming it up, flipping the main breakers and turning on circuits are involved to operate it.

Automatic Transfer Switch - Compared to a manual transfer switch, an automatic transfer switch is more “intelligent” and complex. This type of transfer switch has sensors that can detect when there is an electric interruption. In an event of a power outage, this transfer switch will automatically send a signal to the generator for it to start and then the power will be transferred from the grid to the backup power source. Depending on the type of automatic transfer switch, the downtime could be just a couple of seconds or none at all.

Some industries where an automatic transfer switch is used are in medical, aviation and production where a steady flow of electricity is vital.

Which one should I purchase, a manual or automatic generator transfer switch?

Given the complexity of the automatic transfer switch versus its manual counterpart, you can say that the automatic is more convenient to use. However, because automatic transfer switches are more advanced this means that they cost more and are more expensive to maintain.

The huge advantage of a manual generator transfer switch is that it is cost-effective and low-maintenance. For residential settings and small businesses, a manual transfer switch is ideal if a few minutes of power loss wouldn’t cause any inconvenience.

So when deciding whether you will purchase a manual or automatic transfer switch, it will all depend on your requirements and budget.

Can you hook up to a generator without a transfer switch?

Technically speaking, it is possible to use a generator without a transfer switch; BUT without a generator transfer switch, you’ll have to use multiple heavy-duty extension cords to provide backup power for your devices. Note the word “multiple” because you will have to use numerous cords to avoid overloading. For example, if you’re planning to use a space heater, you would need a dedicated extension cord only for this device as it draws heavy loads.

Besides convenience, there are plenty of safety risks involved if you’re not using a generator transfer switch. For example, you’re using a standby generator and don’t have a transfer switch. When the utility power comes back on, backfeeding will take place. This issue is dangerous for utility workers in your area and can also cause fires in your residence or business.

Legally speaking, almost all states in the US mandate the use of a transfer switch for a generator. Nonetheless, it is a good idea to use a transfer switch, even if you're using a portable generator for your safety and peace of mind.

Can I install a generator transfer switch by myself?

Unless you’re a certified electrician, you are not permitted to install a whole house transfer switch. Remember, you’ll have to work with wires and electricity, so it’s always best to trust an expert to do the installation for you. So if you’re looking in the market to purchase a generator transfer switch, be sure to also include in your budget the installation for it.

In residential settings, it will usually take an electrician to install a transfer switch for around three to four hours, and it will cost you somewhere between $200 to $500.

Top Recommendations for Generator Transfer Switch

If you’re looking for affordable and reliable options, Nature’s Generator offers a range of transfer switches: Standard Power Transfer Kit (CAD 529.99), Power Transfer Kit - Elite ($599.99. You can also purchase the transfer switch with Flush Mount for in-wall installation.

These manual transfer switches come in four or six single-pole circuits so you can power all the essential devices and appliances during an electric interruption. Our transfer kits are all code compliant so you’re assured that the generator power and utility power are isolated from each other at all times. 

In addition, Nature’s Generator transfer switches don’t have to be operated only during power outages. When you incorporate the transfer kit into Nature’s Generator Gold System or Nature’s Generator Platinum System, you can continuously power your devices in your off-grid homes or RVs.

If you have any questions about power transfer kits and would like to know more information, our support team are here to help. Get in touch with us.


  * We want to give credit where credit is due. Professional writer, Ishna Sablaya, contributed research and content to this blog titled: Generator Transfer Switch Thank you, Ishna, for your contributions!