Solar: Installing A Power Transfer Switch
Our electrician neighbor came over last night to help us install a power transfer switch. We needed this switch to enable us to switch from solar power to generator power when we go off-grid. There will be times when we want to use more electricity than our solar can provide (like when I use the washing machine to wash quilts, when I need to vacuum, if we need to pump a large amount of water from the well, etc.), so the generator will be available for backup. We’ll also need a generator to charge the batteries if we experience prolonged cloudy conditions. If the batteries completely drain they’ll be dead, and will cost a fortune to replace. It’s important that we keep them topped off.
Until we completely disconnect from the grid, we can use the power transfer switch to alternate from grid power to solar power. We’ve been running our fridge, freezer, and computers off of solar power via a drop cord connected to the inverter. Now that the transfer switch is installed we can plug whatever we want directly into the wall outlet and it’ll run on solar.
We don’t really know what all the system can handle yet, ’cause we haven’t been able to connect the whole house to it up until now. This way we’ll be able to see what we can use with the solar, and what we still need to work on while remaining on the grid as backup until we’re all set to pull the plug for good.
We went with a Reliance Power Transfer Kit, basically because it was the only option our local Home Depot had available to us. It was sufficient for our needs. I’ve gotta tell you the story behind this switch… it still makes me nauseous to think about.
The day we went to Home Depot to get this kit, we had several other things we were shopping for. It was me, my husband, and our four kids. I swear we walked up and down every single aisle of that store, and lapped it a hundred times. It felt like we were there for HOURS. The kids were antsy, I was losing my patience, and I wanted nothing more than to just be DONE.
When we finally checked out and left the store, I had only one thing on my mind: GET BACK HOME.
My husband loaded our trailer up with timbers and other stuff, and I unloaded the kids from the shopping cart and got them buckled into their carseats. The kids were in, the doors were shut, and the A/C was cranked. I settled into my seat and breathed a sigh of relief.
…this is where it gets sickening…
I completely forgot to get the transfer switch out from underneath the shopping cart. A $280 kit.
I also forgot to get some rebar out of the cart.
We didn’t realize my mistake until we were almost all the way back home and my husband asked, “Did you get the transfer switch out of the cart?” My eyes widened as I turned to him, “No! You didn’t get it?” We both grew nauseated.
As soon as we got back home my husband got on the phone and called the store. They located our shopping cart, which still had the rebar in the basket. However, the transfer switch was nowhere to be found. The manager asked several of the workers if they’d seen it, they double-checked inventory, they even had Loss Prevention watch the security footage to see if they could figure out what happened to it. Unfortunately, the cart was out of range of the camera so they weren’t able to see who picked up the kit. I was extremely grateful that they went through all of that trouble to try to help us, but I just couldn’t believe that somebody would take off with it like that! I kept waiting to get a phone call that they’d found the kit- that somebody had brought it back into the store and stuck it somewhere behind the counter. But nope. Several days went by with no word. It was gone. The manager did offer us $75 off the purchase of a new kit- which was extremely generous seeing as this was totally my own fault. We humbly accepted the offer and forked out another $200.
It’s just paper, right?
You know what else I’m really kicking myself about? I just realized that Amazon has the same exact kit for $40 cheaper… and if I’d gone through them I wouldn’t have LOST THE FIRST ONE. Grrrrrr. I hate shopping.
Needless to say, this has been an overly expensive project. But we have the kit, it’s installed, and life goes on.
The transfer switch was hooked up to the breaker box, and installed right next to it on the wall. That yellow cord connects the transfer switch to the inverter. Tim, the electrician, who is quite a character and whom we thoroughly enjoy having work on our stuff, did all of the wiring, so I can’t give you any of the specifics as far as that goes. He pulled wires from the breaker box and connected them to the transfer switch- that’s all I know. Actually, he isn’t 100% sure if this is gonna work as it’s wired right now. He’s never done an installation like this, so it was all new and exciting to him. We had to laugh at his enthusiasm as he informed us, “Your house is now running completely on solar! THAT is pretty cool!” And he grinned from ear to ear.
They make transfer kits with 10 switches but they’re considerably more expensive. We opted for the 6 switch unit. That means we could only choose 6 electrical circuits to hook up out of our whole house’s wiring.
To give you an example of what that means, one of the circuits in our home wires the laundry room light, the guest bath light, and the boy’s bedroom light. By connecting that circuit to one of these switches, it enables us to use solar power or generator power to run the lights in those three rooms at the flip of a switch.
We still had 5 more circuits to carefully choose. They had to be rooms of priority. Tim flipped each breaker one at a time so that we could identify exactly which switches went to each room, and whether they were for outlets or lights, or both.
We opted not to connect the outlets in most of the rooms since there isn’t really anything that we would need to power in them. Most electronics, such as alarm clocks, radios, etc. can be run on battery power if we need them.
We did choose to connect the outlets in our master bathroom, since the chest fridge and freezer are in there and will be run on solar. We also connected the master bedroom so we can still have the TV and DVD player for the kids (only on days when we can spare the electricity), and the office so that we can run our computers, printer, modem, router, and telephone- oh, and the cell phone charger.
The other switches were wired so that we can turn on the lights and ceiling fans in all of the rooms in the house. Last year we invested in LED light bulbs, which draw very little power. Only 10 watts, as a matter of fact.
It’ll be interesting getting used to these limitations.
The electrician thinks we’re crazy for wanting to go off the grid. But he also said he envies us. It’s funny- the plumber who installed our hand pump on the well said the same thing. I think they think we won’t make it very long. Hopefully we’ll prove them wrong.