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Last Updated on August 9, 2021
Ah camping. A chance to get away to the great outdoors, escape from the rat-race, and be at one with nature. Or so it used to be, before kids needed infinite screen time, your partner decided that they needed a fan every time they went away, and you realised that there’s a certain joy to be had from being able to have your speaker play music while you are away.
What with one thing and another, sometimes going camping can feel like you are still at home, but without the home comforts of a roof that stays quiet in the rain, or the ability to go to the bathroom at night without shoes and a torch.
Okay, so we may be exaggerating a little. Going camping is still a great chance to get away from it all and enjoy all that nature has to offer. But, we’ve got to admit, things have changed a bit. And one of the main differences is how intrinsic electricity has become in our lives.
The idea of going a night without being able to recharge phones seems almost unthinkable for so many people. Luckily, portable generators seem to provide the answer. They allow you to recharge, or set the fan (or heater, depending on the season) overnight, and they can help you to keep things cool, or have the game showing. The problem comes when you need to ground it.
Grounding might be a somewhat unfamiliar concept for you, but don’t worry, we’ve got your back. We’re going to take you through why you should ground your generator, when you need to ground it and, most importantly, how you ground your portable generator. First though, let’s take a quick look at what grounding actually is.
What is grounding?
Some of you might already know all about grounding, but just in case, we’ll give you a quick overview. In its most basic form, grounding is a way to help carry away excess electricity, to keep you and your appliances safe. It helps to conduct the electricity away from the output, so it can’t all just surge out.
Electricity flows in a current within a circuit, and then after delivering from the power source, it discharges its negative energy to return to equilibrium. Usually, it is discharged through the neutral wires in an electrical system, but that is a bit different in a portable generator system.
Why should you ground a portable generator?
The dangerous part of electricity is that it tends to be looking for the shortest path to ground. As we said, this is usually conducted by the neutral wires, but it can also look for shorter paths through other materials. With your portable generator, it will no doubt have come in a frame.
This frame is bonded to the generator with an intentional electrical connection, in order to allow the grounding to occur naturally. However, there are some occasions when you could do with grounding a generator.
For instance, if your generator is not bonded to a frame, then you will definitely need to ground it. You also need to ground your generator if you are going to plug it directly into some sort of wired system, as it is more likely to suffer from surges.
If you are plugging an extension cord into the portable generator, then you probably don’t need to ground it. However, if you are going to plug your appliances into the generator directly, you probably should ground it.
The reason for grounding is all to do with safety, for your appliances, your generator, and also for yourselves. If there is a surge of electricity and it is not properly grounded, a short circuit is possible, which in extreme cases can cause an electrical fire. In the less extreme cases, a lack of grounding can cause your generator to break, and anything that is plugged into your generator can break too.
So, now that we’ve been through what grounding is and why you need to do it, let’s take a look at how you ground a portable generator. We’ll take you through where to do it, and how to do it, but first, let’s take a look at the equipment that you need in order to ground your portable generator.
Make sure you have the right equipment
Grounding a portable generator might sound complex, but it’s actually a fairly simple process, and you don’t need much to do it either. Mostly, it’s a few simple tools, but there are two items in particular that you need, in order to correctly ground your generator.
First up, you will need a copper rod. This rod should be around eight feet long. You might hear that it needs to be more than four feet, and to an extent this is true. However, the real reason is that you need to make sure that the copper rod goes into the ground to a minimum depth of four feet, but ideally it should go closer to eight feet deep. If it is shorter, or doesn’t go as deep, you won’t get a proper ground connection, so it might not work in re-directing the electrical surge to the ground, away from your generator.
The second essential item for your grounding is copper wire. You will need a minimum of six feet of copper wire, or up to twenty feet. This is the part that will direct the electricity away from the generator and towards the copper rod. Needless to say, the longer the copper wire, the further away you can ground the rod, which in turn takes the electrical surge further away from you and your generator.
The other items that you need are your basic tools. None of them are completely essential, but they will all be helpful. The main tool that you will need is a hammer. If you go camping then you’ll know that some ground is more susceptible to banging in tent pegs than others. So now imagine how hard it can be to try to bang a copper rod nearly eight feet below ground. A hammer can be a big help with that task.
Wire strippers are also really useful, as they can help you to strip off the insulation that tends to be around the grounding wire. You’ll need to take the insulation off at both ends, so that you can attach the copper wire to both the grounding rod and the portable generator, so wire strippers can make this task a lot easier.
In terms of attaching the copper wire, pliers and a wrench can be really useful. With pliers, you should be able to twist the wire around the rod and generator very well, establishing a good connection between them. The wrench comes in handy when you try to attach the wire to the generator, as you’ll often need to loosen a nut in order to attach it.
How to ground a portable generator when camping?
We are going to break these directions down into four simple steps for you. Although the idea of grounding a generator to divert electrical surges can sound overwhelming, it’s actually far more simple than it sounds.
1. Hammer in the copper rod
As we mentioned before, your copper rod should be around eight feet long. You will need to hammer it into the ground to at least a depth of four feet, but ideally nearly eight feet. This is crucial for redirecting the electrical current.
If you are having difficulties with hammering the rod, then try to sink it in at an angle, as you would with a tent peg. However, make sure to not go at more than 45º, otherwise it won’t go deep enough.
Remember to hammer it at a distance that is relevant for both where your generator is situated and how long your copper wire is. It’s no good spending ages hammering in the rod, only to discover that your wire won’t reach, or similarly that you could have put it further away at a safer distance.
2. Strip the copper wire
This is where your wire stripping tool will come in handy. As we mentioned before, your copper wire has probably come with insulation. You need to strip through the insulation at each end, so that you can attach the metal to the rod. However, you only need to to strip enough that you can attach each end to the rod and generator. Don’t strip the whole wire.
3. Connect the copper wire to the copper rod
Where you have stripped the copper wire, you will now be able to see the metal wire. You need to take one end and wind it tightly around the copper rod. Pliers can be useful to make sure that it gets a good grip on the rod. This is where the electrical current will be diverted to, so that it can flow safely through the grounded rod.
4. Attach the copper wire to the generator
This step is similar to the previous one. You will be taking the other stripped end of the copper wire, and attaching it to the generator. The difference is that you will probably need to remove a grounding bolt first. Using your wrench can help to loosen the bolt to make a gap for the wire. Again, you need to twist the wire tightly around the generator. Then you can tighten the nut back up, to keep it in place.
Also Read: How to ByPass Low-Oil Sensor on a Generator?
So there you have it, you have grounded your portable generator. Congratulations. You can now use it safely, without worrying about dangerous electrical surges.
We just want to take this moment to quickly point out that as you are dealing with an electrical device, it is very important that it stays dry at all times. So make sure that your hands are dry, the surface is dry, and that the generator will remain dry, and then you shouldn’t have any problems.