Portable generators are used for a variety of tasks, such as back-up power for your home, powering tools at a job site, or when camping.
Some situations, like camping, might mean you need to ground your portable generator. You will need the right tools and some knowledge to get this done safely.
But do you need to ground your generator when camping? I mean, is it really necessary? Let’s dive straight in 🙂
What is grounding?
Grounding is when you connect an electrical circuit to a reference ground. For generators, the frame of the generator acts as the electrical circuit.
A properly installed grounding rod acts as the reference ground.
You can connect a copper wire from the frame of your generator to the ground rod to ground the generator for safe operation.
Grounding is important, as a short circuit in an ungrounded generator can cause a fire.
Do I need to ground my generator when camping?
The easiest way to work out if you need to ground your generator when camping or not is to check the manual for the generator.
If you don’t have the user manual to hand, or don’t have it at all anymore, there are still some checks that you can do to make sure you’re using your generator safely.
If your generator is a separately derived system, you will need to use a ground rod. And if it is not a separately derived system, your generator doesn’t need to be grounded.
To find out if you have a separately derived system, you can just check the generator’s transfer switch. An unseparated derived system will have a transfer switch that cannot be transferred to the neutral ground conductor, so it will not need to be connected with a grounding rod.
Most portable generators have their fuel tank, engine, and housing bonded to the frame, so they will not need to be grounded before you can safely use the generator.
Tools needed to ground a portable generator
If you do need to ground your generator, make sure you have the right tools ready to do the job safely and correctly.
Most of the tools you will need can be easily found on most job sites, but you probably don’t have them at home, and certainly not while you’re camping. Find out what you will need first, and make sure you have the tools with you.
You will need:
A set of wire strippers
In order to properly connect your copper wire to the copper rod and the generator, you will need to strip the copper wite first. The easiest way to do this in a clean, safe way is with a set of wire strippers. If you don’t have any, you can also use a knife or something else sharp.
Solid copper grounding wire
You need to have a good amount of copper wire to make sure that you can connect the wire to the generator and the copper ground rod with a little extra to spare, just in case.
4-foot copper ground rod
This is the most important part of the process. Having the proper copper grounding rod makes all of the difference in this procedure for adequate grounding. You will need to make sure that the copper ground rod is at least 4 foot in length. You should also check to see how you will need to drive the rod into the ground.
Hammer, mallet, or sledgehammer
If you are going to be able to drive the copper rod into the ground for proper grounding, you will need something to hammer it in. A good hammer, mallet, or sledgehammer will work for this. Just be careful not to damage the coating on the copper rod, as this can create a poor connection.
To wind the copper wire tightly around the grounding rod, pliers will make this easier and improve the connection better.
When you attach the copper wire to the generator, a wrench can be used to loosen a bolt on the generator for proper connection.
There are some other tools and supplies that might be useful to you:
Water: If the ground is hard, you can use water to soften it to safe time and make getting the grounding rod in much easier.
Screwdriver: You can use a screwdriver to remove a grounding bolt that has been rounded off or that doesn’t have a hex head.
Shovel: If you need to drive the copper rod into rocky terrain, use a shovel to bury it instead.
Here’s a more in-depth article on the grounding requirements.
How do I ground my portable generator?
There are essentially three steps to take in order to ground your portable generator.
Step #1: Install the copper
Use a hammer to drive the copper ground rod into the ground at least 8 feet to be properly grounded.
If the ground is too hard, you can use water to soften it. In rocky ground, you can bury the rod at an angle that doesn’t exceed 45 degrees.
Step #2: Strip and connect copper wire to copper rod
After you have properly staked the grounding rod, you need to move onto connecting the copper wire. Use the wire stripper, strip the copper wire and then wrap it tightly around the copper grounding rod, with your pliers.
Step #3: Grounding the generator
After you have stripped the wire and connected the copper wire to the grounding rod, you need to connect the wire to the generator.
Carefully strip the other side of the copper wire to prepare it for connecting.
Find a grounding bolt on your generator and loosen it just enough to wrap the stripped wire around it.
Wrap the wire around the told and tighten it down for a secure connection.
Grounding your generator is a very important part of setting up and using your portable generator safely and properly.
This will reduce the chance of a malfunction happening, and will keep you and your appliances safe.
If your generator doesn’t need to be grounded, knowing to how properly and safely ground a generator is useful for anyone who often camps, and can help to keep others safe.