Do You Really Need an Automatic Transfer Switch for Your Generator?

When constant power is required, many automatic transfer switches perform critical roles, ensuring that backup power will be employed when the primary power source ceases to work. Their control panels detect any loss in voltage. If the loss persists for more than a pre-determined number of seconds, the control responds by transferring the load from the primary source to the backup source, such as a generator or a battery. But is this function worth the additional cost for the average homeowner?

An alternative to the automatic transfer switch is the manual version. Unlike the automatic version, manual transfer switches lack a control panel that allows them to sense a drop, or even an outright loss, of voltage; they will not break the connection to the primary power source or create one to a backup source without intervention from a person. When primary power fails, no backup will be available until that person switches the load and engages the generator.

Providing for a seamless switch from primary to backup power is always convenient, but not always essential for a homeowner. Automatic transfers are most valuable for homes with medical equipment, security systems, multiple refrigerators or freezers, or even large aquariums; they’re also more important in harsher climates, such as where pipes could freeze in an un-powered home. If, on the other hand, your losses would be minimal in the event of being temporarily without power, a manual transfer switch might be the better option.

Manual transfer switches lack the sophisticated electrical components of their counterparts; their more limited function also makes them less expensive. A basic manual transfer switch will cost a fraction of what you would expect to pay for an automatic version; it will also take your electrician less time to install. And because automatic transfer switches require more regular and more elaborate maintenance than their simpler rivals, the difference in cost will only increase over time.

The best way to decide whether an automatic transfer switch is right for you is to weigh the added installation and maintenance expense against the losses you’ll incur without one. If you’re a typical homeowner without a non-typical need for constant power, your losses are liable to be minimal – not enough to justify the expense. If you have unusual needs for constant power, such as those described above, then an automatic transfer switch may be worth every additional cent. Your local electrician can help you decide for sure.