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.

Connecting A Power Transfer Switch For Solar

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 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.

Connecting A Power Transfer Switch For Solar

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.

Connecting A Power Transfer Switch For Solar

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.

Kendra
About Kendra 1123 Articles

A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.

13 Comments

  1. Installed 4000 watts of solar panels and charge my Nissan Leaf with solar now. When it is not totally sunny the utility makes up the difference.
    How sweet it is.
    Chris

  2. If you really want an easy way to heat your house if you have natural gas and solar is to use a hydronic heating system. This includes heating your hot water (using a heat exchanging Amtrol hot water tank). My system used three grundfos circulator pumps (two loops for heating the house, and one loop for the hot water tank), and twelve WHITE-RODGERSTYPE 1311 HYDRONIC ZONE VALVES (3 WIRE), and twelve 24v DPDT relays ({used to either to turn on or off the Zone Valves or for logic in the system) and five hydronic kickspace heaters(one in the bathroom, one in the kitchen, and three in our shop). The Hydronic Kickspace heaters used less then a 1/4 watt to run. So you could use them wherever you need them. Note about the ZoneValves- The reason I used this type of Zone Valve was once they were done turning they used Zero amount of power, where other type of ZoneValves drew power when they were on, which meant you had to have a larger transformer to power them.

    The REASON I am pointing this all out was I was able to run all these for under 200 watts. You could not do that with central air.

    Our Boiler was a Burnham boiler. Make sure you follow installation instructions with the boiler. When it says to use 1 1/4 black iron pipe for return and supply connecting the boiler, do it. Our installer undersized the pipe, and the supply pipe could not handle the weight of the pumps, and we ended up with about two inches in our basement. So I used 1 1/4 black iron nipple to a reducing bell (2 inch to 1 1/4 inch) and used 2 inch copper pipe to attach to the 2 x 2 x 1 copper tees which attached to the 1″ NPT GF 15/26 Pump Flange Kit (Which hooked up to the Grundfos Pumps. Note- I am leaving out all the 1 inch Ball valves I use to isolate the pump and the Boiler, and the 2 inch ball valve on the supply side of the boiler too. Yes, the boiler was 1 1/4 in & out lets, but oversizing the supply and return lines allowed for a more stable system (no more pump sagging and having water all over the floor. Yes plumbers tape would have help, but the way I did it was rock solid.), also by oversizing it helps retain the heat in the water with proper insulation on all runs.

  3. We got solar 2 years ago and it runs practically everything but the airconditioning and heater and our oven which is on 220. Ooh and i forgot to mention our pool. It does run the whole house including the washer, dishwasher, 2 freezers, 2 refrigerators, our well and septic plus our TV.s and all the lights abd computers. Its reallt been a blessing to have it.,

  4. Wow, you’re getting pretty close! I’m just thinking through the list of must haves (I think you did a post on this once?): basic electricity (solar/generator), hand pump for water, wood fire for winter, a way to run fans in summer. Plus you’ve lowered all of your water and electricity usage…low flow water adapters, you can do laundry/dishes by hand, freezer chest, working on the outside kitchen, dreams of a root cellar…

    Talking with a septic guy during an unfortunate, pricey situation, and he was telling me how he’s going off-grid. He spoke of it in hush tones, like it’s something very secretive. I was so encouraged talking to him, I just wish I could figure out a way to get solar panels with our shady home and minimal roof usage if possible…and sell my husband on them. 🙂

    • Becca,

      Yes, there is often a feeling that you have to be careful who you tell that you’re going off the grid. Some cities have taken issue with people disconnecting from the grid, and are persecuting citizens in the form of fines or condemned homes because of it. 🙁

      • Interesting, I really didn’t know about that aspect of it. In my eyes, it is something to be celebrated. I’m sure this could be a whole other conversation with maaany paragraphs. I’ll do some investigating around my area, see what’s going on.

        • The issue isn’t so much going solar, but having one foot in each boat. Grid power is expensive and the recent EPA rulings against coal fired generators doesn’t help. The maintenance costs are spread across the customer base. Every one’s bill is a little higher. As more people opt out for solar, wind, home hydro,etc. the cost escalates for the remaining folks. Some states have enacted a monthly fee for being connected and using the grid as backup. It would be great if they could invent a hydrogen home power plant that made electricity and produced water as waste(Tesla’s Elon Musk is working on this aspect with his home battery ideas). Pretty much the equivalent outcome of cellphones destroying the old land line companies. But for now, the change of the status quo in home power is very stilted. Hopefully a method will arise as technology improves the ability to be energy independent! Congratulations for making the switch. Hope it exceeds your expectations in every way!

  5. Don’t forget, you can get phone chargers and other electronics chargers to plug into your automobiles. I haven’t charged my phone in my house for years. Why pay for that electricity when it is “free” in my van?

    • Adding to Any’s idea. I bought a solar phone charger. And I also bought a solar battery charger that charges 12v, AA, AAA, C, D sizes, and big packages of these most commonly used batteries on eBay for good prices. I’m still building my battery collection as we all know they won’t last forever.

  6. After reading your previous posts I started inquiring about my states solar programs. I got two quotes from installers that made my heart drop into my shoes but after I started searching for comparable panels I found out their mark-up is through the roof! Basically they were selling a $270.00 panel and after install it would cost the purchaser $1,250 per panel. It’s also important to get good quality panels that “convert” solar power to energy. The panels they planned on installing were a low grade and did not cover my yearly needs, in fact they only covered half! That was with 26 panels on my roof! Also “weight” is an issue on your roof and some of the better quality panels weighted 19 pounds each, the one’s they were selling weighted 43 pounds each. I went over my previous years information and tallied it all up.

    I also found a internet site that gives the ratings on solar panels by company. Solar Panel Comparison http://energyinformative.org/solar-panel-comparison/

    The 2 over-the-top quotes haven’t discouraged me because I’ve learned a lot more about all of this but I also decided to make the LED light bulb switch. I got all the bulbs last weekend.

    We do tend to get hit with big wind storms that knock out power. We purchased oil lamps and my husband made beautiful craftsman style wall sconces from cherry wood to hang on the walls. We don’t even run to fire-up the generator, just light the oil lamps, play backgammon and enjoy the storm!

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