Generator backfeed is dangerous and potentially deadly

When a storm strikes and knocks out power to your home, you may be forced to use a generator.

But, do you know about a potential danger with the use of generators? It’s called “backfeed” and it can endanger you, a family member or someone else — especially linemen or electricians working at your property.

What is backfeed? Backfeed occurs when power travels back through the utility lines and re-energizes them.

Backfeed creates a very dangerous, and potentially deadly, situation for lineworkers at your electric cooperative. If your generator isn’t installed properly, the resulting backfeed of electric current could kill or severely injure a lineman working to restore your power.

“At Indiana Electric Cooperatives, we encourage our members who use generators to make sure they are installed correctly. This is not only for the protection of our employees, but for your safety as well,” stated Rick Coons, CEO of Indiana Electric Cooperatives.

To prevent backfeed, generators (whether permanent or portable) should never be plugged into a home’s wiring or directly to the circuit breaker panel.

The best way to avoid backfeed is by installing a transfer switch. A transfer switch ensures your household wiring, or selected circuits to be supplied by the generator, can’t be connected to the power grid and the generator at the same time, eliminating backfeed. It also protects your generator from damage if the power is restored while it’s connected. Make sure to have a qualified, licensed electrician installs the transfer switch for you.

Indiana Electric Cooperatives’ responsibility for electric service ends at the meter, so we cannot know when, or if, you have installed a generator and we cannot know if the installation was done to the specifications of the National Electric Code.

Here’s another reason for having a qualified electrician complete the work. If you plug your generator directly into a wall outlet, then the wiring in your home is no longer protected by a circuit breaker or fuse in your power panel. The wiring in your home could then become overloaded, overheat, and start a fire.

When the power goes out, having a generator means that you can continue to have heat, light and many of the other conveniences we’ve come to enjoy. Make sure you aren’t creating unnecessary danger by properly and safely using your generator to prevent backfeed. It could save a life.

Electrical Safety Foundation International
National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
Central Maine Power Company (Augusta, Maine)
BARC Electric Cooperative (Millboro, Va.)