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Portable Generators - Can They Kill You?


I have come into an issue with GFCI receptacles on portable generators. When testing the GFCI, I find that they do not trip when checked with a GFCI tester. Can you give me any insight as to why this happens?

Michael Woodall
Project Safety Coordinator

Mike Holt's Comment: The 1999 NEC contained an exception that GFCI protection was not required for 2-wire, single-phase portable or vehicle-mounted generator rated not more than 5 kW, where the circuit conductors of the generator are insulated from the generator frame and all other grounded surfaces [305.6(A)].

This exception was removed in the 2002 NEC (I missed that one), so when it comes to construction sites, all generators must have GFCI protection. However my understanding (I might be wrong) is that the grounding (bonding) terminal from the receptacle of a portable generator is typically not bonded to the generator winding! Therefore the GFCI tester cannot trip the GFCI sensor on the receptacle, because you really don't have any GFCI protection!

I might be wrong about this, so if you know more about this, please share it with us. Maybe you can check the wiring of a generator or two for me.

  • Is the grounding (bonding) terminal of the receptacle bonded to anything?
  • Is the metal frame of the generator bonded to anything?
  • Is the system (generator winding) bonded to anything?
  • What is the make, model, kW rating of the generator?

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Grounding and Bonding Book — 2002

Grounding and Bonding textbook is all new and printed in full color. Loaded with detailed, color coded graphics, this text gets to the root of all problems associated with grounding and bonding.

Product Code: 02NCT2
Pages: 94
Illustrations: 206

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