How To Ground A Portable Generator

It is good to learn and understand how to ground a portable generator. Having a portable generator means you will never lack electricity. Whether you are using it for your outdoor activities or using it as your backup, you are sure to have power.

Some of the common types of outdoor activities that may necessitate you to have a portable generator includes;

  • Camping: Here, you will mostly need lighting, cooking, device charging, among others.
  • When you are working at a remote worksite-you may need to power some tools.
  • Outdoor events such as tailgating parties, among others

For the best experience when using a portable generator, the generator should be safe to use. Did you know you can make the generator safe to use by learning some basic skills?

Among the safety skills that you need to learn is how to ground a portable generator when using it. With the right tools at hand, grounding a portable generator is fairly easy, and it will save you from possible injuries.

However, not all portable generators require grounding, some come with in-built grounding features, and some can only be grounded during certain conditions. It is also good to learn what is the difference between inverter generators and conventional portable generators.

Read on to learn more about grounding a portable generator.

What Is Grounding?


how to ground a portable generator

Grounding, which is also known as ‘earth,’ refers to linking electrical equipment to the ground.

In this case of a portable generator, the generator’s frame is the circuit that is to be earthed using a grounding rod-a a long copper rod approximately eight feet in length and six inches in width.

You can link the generator and grounding rod by connecting a copper wire to the generator’s frame and the other end to the grounding rod. However, not all portable generators require the use of a grounding rod.

Grounding of generators allows excess electricity to be to dissipate to the earth. If your portable generator requires grounding, make sure you ground it before you start using it.

Potential Hazards Involved Should You Fail To Ground Your Portable Generator

All generators have metallic frames (metals are good conductors of electricity). As your generator is running, any current fault will find its way to a path that has less resistance.

The metallic frame is the one part of the generator that has the least resistance. If the generator is not grounded, the metallic frame will allow electricity to flow, which can be dangerous to anyone who may touch the frame.

The risks of coming into contact with the ungrounded metal frame can be mild, severe electric shock, or worse, cause electrocution.

In some cases, the fault current can quickly find its way to the engine, resulting in a fire.

However, with a grounded generator, the stray current is transferred to the ground making the metal frame safe for anyone who may come into contact with it.

Do You Need to Ground Your Portable Generator?

No. Even though grounding of portable generators makes them safe, not all models require you to ground them.

Most modern portable generator models are designed so that you don’t need to ground them.

Portable generators that do not require grounding belong to the class of non-separately derived systems.

Checking the generator’s user manual is one quick way of determining whether you are required to ground your portable generator.

You can also search your portable generator’s model online to ascertain whether grounding is required.

What if you are not in a position to check your user manual or not able to search online? Here is what you can do; inspect the generator for a transfer switch.

  • If the transfer switch has the option of transferring current to a neutral ground conductor, then you must connect the generator to a grounding rod before you start using it. It belongs to the separately derived systems category.
  • On the other hand, if the transfer switch cannot be switched to a neutral ground conductor, then you are not required to connect it to a copper rod. The portable generator is already grounded. It is an un-separated derived system model. This is where the latest models of portable generators belong.

Are the major components of the generator, that is, fuel tank, engine, power receptacles, and the generator’s housing, bonded to the frame of the generator? If yes, then you do not have to ground your portable generator.

Tools Required For Grounding A Portable Generator

Once you are certain that your portable generator model requires to be grounded, you must have the right tools for the job.

You can get the tools from your local hardware store or even buy them from an online store. Here is a checklist to keep you equipped with all the tools you need for this task.

A copper ground rod

This is a critical requirement when you need to ground your portable generator. The rod is designed to be propelled inside the ground to allow safe dissipation of electric current. Getting a quality copper grounding rod can make a huge difference, do not compromise on the quality.

When buying this rod, ensure that it is longer than eight feet (NEC standard) and has a width of about six inches. The longer the copper rod, the easier it is to drive it into the ground for durable grounding. No copper rod is available?

You can also get a grounding rod made from stainless steel or zinc-coated steel, and it will serve the same role.

Quality copper grounding wires:

You need to link your generator to the grounding rod; this is where you need quality copper grounding wires.

The quantity of copper wire you will need will rely on the length between your portable generator and the point you have buried the grounding rod.

Do not be precise on the length of the copper wire. Give room for an extra length that can be stored or used if the main one is damaged. Ensure your cable is of good quality.

Wire strippers:

To correctly connect the copper wire to the generator and the grounding rod, you will need to strip off the insulation from the copper wires.

Some electricians use their nails or teeth to remove the cables’ insulation material and do not do this! Get a decent set of wire strippers, and the stripping process will be quick, easy, and neat. If wire strippers are not within your reach, you can use a sharp object such as a knife.

A hammer, sledgehammer, or a mallet:

To ground the grounding rod on the ground as it should be, you need to have a robust hammer. You may also require to have a spike or shovel; this will depend on the terrain in your area or camping site.

When driving the rod downwards, you should be keen not to damage the copper coating on the rod; a damaged copper coating can give you a poor connection.

A pair of pliers:

For a reliable connection, you need to wind the copper wire firmly on the grounding rod. A loose connection may lead to an inconsistent dissipation of electric current to the ground; this is risky. It would help if you had a reliable pair of pliers.

A wrench:

When attaching the copper wire to the generator, you need to unloosen either one or several bolts and later tighten them. This is where a wrench comes into play.

Other optional tools that you may require to have are;

  • A screwdriver: Sometimes, the grounding bolt may have not a hex head, or it may have been rounded off; you will require a good screwdriver (the grounding bolt).
  • Water: When the ground is hard, you may need to pour some water to soften it. This can save you a lot of time and energy.

Good storage of these tools will help you the next time you grounding your portable generator.

How To Ground Your Portable Generator

Once you have the right tools for grounding your portable generator at your disposal, the grounding work should not be complicated. Here is what you need to do.

Step#1: Insert The Grounding Rod In The Ground

You need to have a reliable mallet, hammer, or sledgehammer to drive the grounding rod into the ground. For soft soil terrain, use a mallet or ordinary hammer to sink in the rod. If the ground is hard, you can pour on some water to soften it and use a sledgehammer to drive in the copper grounding rod.

According to NEC standards, the copper grounding rod should go at least 8 feet deep. This means your grounding rod had to be at least 8 feet long. At that depth, there are no chances that electrical discharges coming from the grounding rod will electrocute anyone standing on the earth’s surface when the generator is running. However, in some situations, you may find yourself with four feet grounding rod; if this is the case, ensure that the rod has gone four feet deep into the ground, it will still be safe.

If you are in rocky terrain, driving the copper grounding rod straight can be challenging. In this case, you should slant the road to not more than 45 degrees and bury it at least thirty inches deep. If there is any part of the rod that is not covered on the ground, you should cover it using a protective clamp. Do not assume the uncovered part of the rod. The distance from your portable generator to where you are sinking the copper grounding rod will depend on the length of your copper wire. In most situations, the rod is installed six to eight feet away from the portable generator.

Step#2: Strip And Connect The Copper Wire To The Copper Grounded Rod

Once the copper rod is grounded, your next course of action will be stripping and connecting the copper wire. At this point, you need a wire stripper to remove the insulation on one end of your copper wire. Remember, this end is the one that you will wrap on the grounded rod. When stripping the cable, you should be careful not to expose a big portion of the copper wire. You only need a considerable size of about six to twelve inches that you will tightly wrap onto the hex head or grounding bolt of the grounded rod using pliers. If you have soldering equipment, you can solder the wire to the rod as an alternative to wrapping. At this point, you only have one end of the grounding copper cable attached to the grounded copper rod.

Step#3: Ground The Generator

It is now time to connect the generator to the grounded copper rod. Prepare the unattached end of the copper grounding wire by carefully stripping it off the insulation material to about six inches. Before starting to connect the generator to the grounding rod, ensure that the generator is turned off.

Find the grounding bolt, with the help of a wrench, unloosen it to allow the stripped wire to wind around it. Tightly wrap this end of the copper grounding wire to the bolt and tighten it. This should give you a stable connection. Check on the other end of the grounding rod to ascertain the grounding wire is firm, start your generator, load it as usual. You can enjoy using your portable generator without any fear of anyone getting shocked in case of a current fault.

Safety Precautions To Follow When Grounding Your Portable Generator

While the process above may seem easy, there are precautions that you need to observe.

  • If you are not comfortable or have any doubts about the grounding procedure above, consult a certified electrician to do the grounding for you.
  • Before you start grounding your portable generator, go through the manufacturer’s grounding instructions.
  • Only use your portable generator as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • When using your generator, ensure it is an open space and not in an enclosed space.
  • When connecting any appliances to your portable generator, ensure that you are using heavy-duty cords, such have a grounding conductor.

How To Make Money As An Electrician

Almost all aspects of our lives rely on electricity. Whether it is for domestic power needs, the hospitality industry, the transport sector, and even our recreation activities, we need electricity. For these reasons, the services of an electrician are in increasing demand, same as their pay. However, this may not sound true to an entry-level electrician. While novice electricians may pay much, an experienced electrician in the US can make more than $47,060 annually. Here are numerous ways to make money as an electrician.

Get The Right Training

Electricians are not born but made. To be a reliable electrician, you need to join an apprenticeship program that the state has accredited. The apprenticeship program may run for four to five years and be attending like three classes weekly. In this training, you will learn basic electrical knowledge, which acts as the foundation for your electrician career. While learning this trade, you can earn from $15 to $21 in your first year, depending on your state.

Get A Journeyman Electrical License

After graduating from the apprenticeship level, your next target should be getting a Journeyman Electrical License. It would be best if you undertook some tests to get this license. Depending on your state rules, you can do this test online via national testing agencies. The license indicates that you have been fully trained, tested, and serious about your career.

With a Journeyman Electrical License, you can earn up to $34 per hour, depending on your state. Most employers are looking for people with this type of license.

Gain Relevant Experience

The more years you spend in your electrical career, the more experienced you become and the more employment opportunities you get. With wide experiences passing your future examinations will be easier. As you spend more time in this industry, you can set-up your career goals. You can either choose to become a foreman, then later a superintendent or a general foreman. At this level, you can be making anywhere between $36 to $40 hourly.

Once you attain a general foreman level, you can apply to be a licensed electrical contractor and open your electrical contracting firm. With vast experience, becoming a project manager is easy; you can earn more than $75,000 annually at this position. Starting your own business is the goal of most successful electricians. You cannot be successful by sticking to employment. Starting your own electrical contracting business is not easy; you will require funding, and you will have to overcome some challenges before you achieve your dream.

There are numerous opportunities in the electrical field. However, certifications and experiences are key if you are looking to excel in this industry.


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Does a portable generator need to be grounded?

Ideally, yes. All portable generators need to be grounded for them to be safe. However, the grounding procedure that you can undertake will depend on the design of your portable generator. Some have an in-built grounding feature, while others have to do it manually. Refer to your portable generator manual for instructions on how to ground it.

  1. Can I ground my portable generator to my house ground?

Yes. You shouldn’t separate the ground of your house from that of your portable generators, and it should be grounded in the same ground. Separating the grounds can pose risks, especially when you are living in lightning-prone areas.

  1. How deep does a grounding rod need to be for a portable generator?

According to NEC, the copper grounding rod for a portable generator should go eight feet deep into the ground for domestic uses. The eight feet depth is to ensure there is no electrical discharge on the ground. While NEC proposes this depth, some copper grounding rods are four feet long in the market. You can still use such grounding rods, and they are safe.

The deeper the grounding rod goes, the better the contact it makes with the ground.

  1. Do generators need earth stakes?

An earth stake is another name for an earth rod. Yes, generators need to be earthed. You can do this by attaching the neutral to the metallic frame linked to the earth. This is referred to as the earthing.

  1. Can rebar be used as a grounding rod?

Yes. Rebar can be used as a grounding rod; even so, you should use a copper rod, stainless steel rods, and zinc-coated steel. Among the three mentioned, copper grounding rods are recommended for residential grounding rods because of their high connectivity and corrosion resistance properties.

While rebar is cheap to acquire compared to a copper grounding rod, it quickly loses contact, and it can easily rust.  Compared to a copper grounding rod, rebar can easily bend when being hammered into the ground with its soft nature. This means it may not go deep as you will be expecting it to go.

  1. Can ground rods be buried?

It is advisable to drive in your grounding rod to about eight feet deep into the ground. However, in some instances, like when your terrain is rocky, you will be required to bury the grounding rod but under specific terms. A copper grounding rod is the only one allowed to be buried because of its inability to rust.  You can bury a grounding rod on a rock bottom ground, but it should be in at least 2.5 feet deep trench.

When burying grounding rods, you should ensure that the rod’s top is flush with the ground, and this applies to when you are using an approved clamp and rod. Even so, you are likely to experience moisture and corrosion on the grounding rod’s connection part when it is completely covered with dirt.

  1. Can you leave a portable generator outside?

Yes. Outdoors is the only safe place to operate a generator. You should not run your generator indoors or in a confined area such as a garage. A running generator produces carbon monoxide; this gas can be poisonous when inhaled. Not even good ventilation can eliminate carbon monoxide gas from your house; you should avoid running it even near your vent, window, or even door. It should be in an area with adequate ventilation.

Even so, you should protect your generator from moisture. For this reason, you should not let your generator be rained on. You can use it under a canopy-like structure when it is raining.

When not in use, you can store it in a generator tent or shed. Remember to empty the fuel lines and tank before you keep them away, giving them a long lifespan. Ensure it is a cool and dry place.

  1. What is a floating ground on a generator?

Electrical appliances, including a portable generator, have a ground that is galvanically linked to the earth. When there is no connection between the generator’s ground and the earth, it is called floating ground. Therefore, floating ground on a generator is the reference point of the generator, which is electrically not connected to the earth ground. You will be required to ground the metallic frame of this generator before you start using it.

  1. What’s the difference between ground and neutral?

A ground is that electrical path intended to transmit fault current in case of a short-circuiting in electrical equipment. The current safely flow through the grounding path to the earth. This reduces the possibilities of electrocution or shorting of the equipment.

On the other hand, neutral is a reference spot in an electrical distribution system. Any connection made to this reference point should not be carrying any current.

It is important to note that neutral can be grounded (earthed), but the earth (ground) is not neutral.

  1. What is the minimum depth for a ground rod?

According to NEC, ground rods should not be less than eight feet deep into the ground.

  1. Does a standby generator need a ground rod?

Not likely. Most standby generators are floating neutral generators. This means the neutral conductor is not connected to the metallic frame of the generator.

  1. What kind of wire do you use for a ground rod?

This is the wire that links your generator to the grounding rod. For domestic use, the grounding wire should be made from copper. Copper wire is ideal because it has good conductivity, and it is also durable.

Final Thought

Whether you are using your portable generator to power your outdoor events or for your domestic power back-up, you should ground it before powering it. Grounding makes your generator dissipate excess current to the ground (earth) in case of a current fault. While it is good to ensure you have grounded your portable generator, not all should be grounded.

Check the manufacturer’s manual to determine whether you should ground your generator or not. You can check the transfer switch- does it have the option of transferring current to a neutral ground conductor or not? If it has, you need to ground the generator before using it, and if it does not have the option, then the generator should not be grounded. With the grounding process outlined above, grounding your portable generator should not be a hard nut to crack. It is also essential that you follow on manufacturer’s grounding instructions. However, if you are unsure what to do, consult a qualified electrician to do it for you.

Next time you are going for an outdoor event, be sure to ground your portable generator.










About Steve Stuart

Steve Stuart is an electrical engineer who developed interest on generators during his school years. After school, he became a generator enthusiast. This is after encountering power supply problems at the area of residence where he lived. Power would be on and off and so food would go bad and the room heater would go off especially during winter. After trying the different generator brands for several years, Steve now provides information on the available brands and products in the market today. Based on his experience, he gives the do’s and the don’ts when it comes to generator use.

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