How to Ground a Generator

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If you’re no electrician, I’m sure you must have been confused with whether you should ground your portable electrical generator or not. Grounding a generator is no simple feat, several factors can influence your decision to do so. And to make it more confusing, grounding doesn’t even matter sometimes.

If you have no idea whatsoever about grounding a generator, don’t worry because you have come to the right place. This article will tell you about a couple of things that you need to know.

What Grounding Means

Portable generators are often used to generate electricity temporarily in a remote area or during times of emergency at a smaller scale than those in utility companies. Depending on how you will use your generator, it requires undergoing proper wiring to be used for electricity backup situations.

You want to make sure that your home or the area you are powering it with is completely safe from short circuits or other issues that arise from the lack of grounding.

Grounding is basically the connection of an electrical circuit to a reference ground. For example, the generator’s frame can act as the electrical circuit and the ground rod as the reference ground. To make things simple to understand, simply picture the connection between the neutral wire and the generator’s frame. Ensuring that connection is all that grounding is.

The Right Way To Ground Generators

According to the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), if you are using a portable generator, there will be no need to connect it to a ground rod. This is because the frame of the generator itself will serve as its own ground rod.

However, this only applies to generators whose noncurrent-carrying metal parts including its fuel tank, internal combustion engine, and housing has been properly bonded to the frame and generators with an unseparated derived system.

Knowing Your Generator

To know how your generator should be grounded, you should first find out whether it requires the use of a grounding rod. Simply put, you will only need to use a grounding rod if your generator is a separately derived system.

What is a separately derived system? It’s a wiring system that produces power by utilizing a battery, a solar photovoltaic system, a transformer, converter windings, or from a generator that has no direct electrical connection such as a solidly connected grounded circuit conductor that supplies the conductors coming from another system.

To know whether this is the case, all you need to do is pay attention to the transfer switch. If the transfer switch cannot be transferred to the neutral grounded conductor, this means the grounded circuit conductor of the generator is solidly connected, making it have an unseparated derived system. Otherwise, it would require a connection to a grounding rod or grounding electrodes.

Take note that if you are going with the cord and plug system, you will no longer need to use and earth grounding rod for your generator since there are no other sources of lightning surges, fault currents, or sources of electricity that you would need to struggle with. Your generator’s frame can serve as the ground for fault currents generated by the generator itself.

Why You Shouldn’t Ground A Generator With An Unseparated Derived System

If the generator’s transfer switch only switches the hot, this means that the generator is not a separately derived system, and should be connected to the grounding rod of the utility power at the transfer switch since it can be very unsafe to create a difference between the two grounding points.

Needless to say, only certified electricians should ground a generator with an unseparated derived system. Doing so without proper electrical knowledge can lead to unfavorable circumstances including death.

Grounding a generator with an unseparated derived system requires the understanding of the connection between the power source system and the circuit breaker panel through the transfer switch.

Though the transfer switch is basically a means to transfer power from the utility power source to the generator, it can be a bit complex to work with if you don’t have an electrical background.

Safety Precautions And Checklist

Before you begin, here are a couple of safety precautions you must be mindful of to avoid getting shocked or electrocuted from improper use and connection to structures:

  • Inspect your generator and other equipment before use and remove defective ones for service to avoid getting shocked or electrocuted
  • Unless your generator comes with a properly installed open-transition transfer switch, never attach your generator directly to the electrical system of your home, office, or trailer
  • Always maintain and operate your generator by the manufacturer’s use and safety instructions
  • Only use the ground-fault circuit interrupters by the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Never connect your generator to a structure if there’s no properly installed transfer switch
  • Make sure that the generator’s noncurrent-carrying materials have been properly bonded to the generator’s frame to prevent shocks and electrocutions
  • Only use the manufacturer supplied cords when connecting electrical appliances and tools directly to the generator
  • Use heavy-duty cords that contain a grounding conductor such as 3-wire flexible cord and 3-pronged cord connectors.

Let’s Get Started

Grounding a generator can be a bit complex if you have no electrical background whatsoever. But it is something that you must properly do if you want to prevent unfavorable circumstances such as a house fire caused by a small short circuit.

To prevent any catastrophic problems that can result from electrical systems malfunction, simply follow these steps to ensure that all the current released by a malfunction will be turned away from your home and into the ground instead.

Tools You Will Need

Wire Strippers

You will need a pair of sharp wire strippers. If your wire strippers are a bit worn out, you can easily sharpen it with the use of a honing steel. Do not attempt to use blunt wire strippers. Doing so might only lead to damaged or improperly cut wires that can lead to electrical malfunctions.

Copper Wire

You will need a piece of copper wire to connect your generator to the grounding rod. The length of the copper wire you will need, of course, depend on how far your generator is from the grounding rod itself. Before you use your copper wire, make sure that it is completely intact, and is free of any minor cuts that can lead to breakage.

Copper Ground Rod

You will need an 8 to a 10-foot copper ground rod. You can easily get your hands on a copper ground rod in your local hardware or supermarket store along the electrical or gardening hose area. Be sure to check if it is scratch free, especially since the copper coated ones can easily get scratched.


You will need a nice heavy-duty shovel to make it easier for you to place your copper grounding rod about eight to ten feet below the ground. Using a shovel can help you avoid getting your copper grounding rod scratched. A shovel can be very handy if you are placed in rocky terrain.


You will need an ample amount of water to make the ground softer before you stick your grounding rod to it. You can use water from your garden hose to wet the ground where you plan to place your copper grounding rod.

Hammer, Wrench, Pliers

Hammer: A heavy-duty hammer can help you drive your copper grounding rod into place with just a couple of whacks. It can also be handy when a rock has blocked the rod. However, do keep in mind that whacking your grounding rod with a hammer to go through rocks can cause scratches that can remove the rod’s copper coating.

Wrench: You will need a wrench to loosen and tighten the bolts in your generator. The type of wrench you should use would, of course, depend on the size of the bolts in your generator. If you don’t have any idea what size your generator’s bolts are, you can always use an adjustable wrench to adjust your bolts.

Pliers: You’ll need a good pair of pliers to twist and turn the wires around the generator and the grounding rod. I recommend you use a nice pair of long nose pliers for easier twisting.

Grounding Procedure

Once you have prepared all your materials, and you have practiced all safety precautions, here are a couple of steps you should follow:

Step 1 : Connect Wires To The Ground Rod

Use your wire strippers to strip your copper wire of its insulation. After stripping your copper wire, simply wrap it tightly around your ground rod by using your pliers. When doing so, make sure the end of the copper wire is far from any source of electricity to avoid shocks or electrocution.

Step 2 : Install The Ground Rod

Select an area where you wish to install your ground rod vertically into the ground, and pour an ample amount of water on it to make the ground softer. Then, use your shovel to dig a small hole where you can place the grounding rod. Simply pour some water over the hole you dug, and stick your grounding rod in it and push your way down.

Step 3 : Grounding The Generator

After completely driving your grounding rod into the earth, next thing you should do is connect it to the electrical circuit of the generator you want to ground. To do so, simply use your wrench to loosen the grounding nut of your generator.

Once loosened, wrap the grounding wire connected to the grounding rod around the grounding nut with your pliers. Once put into place, secure the grounding wire by tightening the grounding bolt of your generator with the use of your wrench.

Pro Tips

Burying The Grounding Rod

If you are trying to install a grounding rod in a rocky terrain, it can be quite difficult to vertically push down your grounding rod all the way into the earth. If there are too many rocks in the area, you can always bury your grounding rod at a slanted angled that will not exceed 45 degrees.

Stripping Copper Wire Without Wire Strippers

Don’t fret if you don’t have any wire strippers at hand. You can always strip a long stretch of copper wire with the use of a simple box cutter. To do so, all you will need is a sharp, heavy-duty box cutter, and a table top.

Simply cut away the wire’s insulation by making a cut at one end of the wire until you reach the copper inside. Once the insulation has been peeled off at one end, simply pull the wire against the box cutter as you hold the blade really close to the copper wire itself.

Grounding Your Generator Is A Must!

It’s all about safety. Properly grounded generators can prevent a lot of unfavorable accidents that can be caused by a simple short circuit electrical malfunction. However, even though this article has provided a simple set of instructions on how to properly ground a generator, you must always be mindful of the safety precautions you must follow to avoid getting shocked or electrocuted. When in doubt, call a licensed electrician.