The latter half of the 2020/2021 winter saw some brutal storms across North America. Tons of snow and power outages that lasted for days.

For many, this has led to a decision to buy a portable generator so they would be prepared in the future. If you’re thinking of buying a generator or you’ve bought one and you’re in the process of setting it up and have questions like how to safely ground a portable generator, I have you covered.

By the time you finish reading this, you’ll know all you need to know about setting up a portable generator. I’ll start with a quick down and dirty and then expand on it below.

To ground your portable generator, you need to install the copper ground rod by driving it into the ground at least 8 ft. Next strip the copper wire and wrap it around the copper rod. Finally, secure the other end of the wire to the grounding bolt on the generator.

Keep reading, and I’ll give you a bit more detail. (You’ll might need it!)

Do You Need to Ground a Generator?

Let’s get this out of the way first.

There are several risks involved with using a portable generator. One of the biggest is the chance of electrocuting yourself because of not grounding the machine. Grounding protects you by displacing excess electricity—meaning the shock goes elsewhere, not into your body.

Portable generator that's yet to be grounded
Generators are great, but come with their risks.

However, not all generators need to be grounded. Here are the criteria.

The “does your generator need to be grounded” checklist:

Do you plan to plug your appliances directly into the generator with extension cords, and NOT directly connect the generator to your circuit breaker?      Yes      No
Are all parts of your generator including the fuel tank, the engine, the housing, and the power receptacles bonded to the frame of the generator?      Yes      No

If you answered yes to both of these questions, then your generator does not need to ground with a rod. The reason for this is because the frame of the generator works as a grounding rod.

If you answer no to one or both of the above questions, keep reading. You need to ground your generator.

What Happens if you Don’t Ground a Generator?

Potentially? Very bad things.

Grounding may take a bit of muscle, but in the long run, it’s a simple thing to do that could save you from a lot of pain—physically and financially.

As mentioned above, there is the risk of electrocution. Spend a few moments imagining yourself as a crispy critter. Not a nice thought, right?

You also run the risk of damaging your electrical equipment. Just like you could fry yourself, you could fry it. And it will cost you a lot to replace it—and anything else it may burn in the vicinity.

Voltage spikes and surges are very common when you turn appliances on and off. And a generator that hasn’t been grounded offers no protection from spikes, whether they occur naturally or not. In turn, your wiring could overheat, along with the appliances connected to them, even causing them to catch fire.

The generator itself could catch fire in this situation.

So again. If you have the circumstances where you should ground and you don’t, bad things can happen.

Can Rebar Be Used as a Grounding Rod?

Yes. No. Maybe.

Really, do a quick Google search and there are all types of answers for this. Some say yes. Others say no. Fortunately, I’ve got the right answer for you. And it comes right from the NEC (National Electrical Code).

And to be fair, the code has been revised, so that’s likely the reason for different answers.  According to a 2017 revision of the code, “if a rebar-type concrete encased electrode emerges from the concrete and has contact with the earth, it must have corrosion protection.”

That has been clarified since earlier revisions of the code stated that rebar shouldn’t be used because it could corrode. So as long as there is corrosion protection you are good to use rebar.

What Tools You’ll Need to Ground Your Generator

Before we get to the actual process, make sure you have the tools to do the job.

These are required:

  • A grounding rod*
  • High quality copper grounding wire
  • Wire strippers
  • Hammer
  • Pliers
  • Wrench
  • Protective fittings or clamps

These are optional:

  • Water
  • Shovel
  • Soldering iron

*A little bit more about the choice of grounding rod.

There are some rules that need to be followed here. The above-mentioned National Electrical Code has some standards that must be adhered to.

  • The rod has to be at least 8 feet or 2.44 meters in length
  • The rod has to be at least 5/8 inches or about 16 mm in diameter

And now for the process.

How to Safely Ground A Portable Generator: Step by Step Guide

1. Install the grounding rod.

Remember, the rod needs to be embedded in the ground at least 8 feet. And if the ground is dry and hard, this is where the water comes in. You can use it to soften up the ground. You may also need a sledgehammer.

If you run into a problem with hitting rock before hitting 8 feet in depth, there’s also an option to install the rod at an angle. However, the angle can not exceed 45 degrees and the rod must still be buried in a trench at least 30 inches below ground level.

2. Wrap copper wire around the rod.

Use the wire strippers and remove some insulation off the wire. Using pliers, tightly wind it around the rod. You also have the option of soldering the wire to the rod.

3. Ground the generator.

Your generator will have a bolt for the purpose of grounding. Loosen it up a bit with a wrench, wrap the wire around it and then tighten it back up again. You have the option of soldering it in place as well.

Conclusion

I thoroughly believe in having a generator.

But I lived through an ice storm in 2013 and my house didn’t have power for 8 days. After a day of roughing it for a day, I was fortunate enough to have somewhere else to go.

Many people don’t have that luxury. And they are stuck in their homes, desperately trying to find a way to stay warm. But with the information and the cautions above, you’ll know what to do if you decide on a generator.

You’ll know if you need to ground it. You’ll know why you should ground it. And you will know how to ground it.

Thanks for reading. I hope wherever you are, you are warm and toasty. And why not check out the related articles below?