Portable Generator Safety

How to use your portable generator without endangering your home or family

Portable generators are becoming a household staple, as more Americans realize the need for back up power.  A portable generator can safely be used during a power outage at home, but it can also be used on job sites, camping trips and during tailgating festivities.  There are several important safety steps to remember when using your portable generator:

  • Always refer to your owner’s manual for the most up-to-date safety and usage information.
  • NEVER run a generator indoors or in partly enclosed areas such as garages. Generator exhaust contains carbon monoxide, a deadly poison gas you cannot see or smell. ONLY use outdoors where adequate ventilation is available and far from windows, doors, vents, and other openings to your home.
  • Do not overfill the fuel tank. Always allow room for fuel expansion. If you overfill the fuel tank, fuel can overflow onto a hot engine and cause fire or explosion.
  • Never add fuel while unit is running or hot. Allow the generator and engine to cool entirely before adding fuel.
  • Use the proper power cords.  Plug individual appliances into the generator using heavy-duty, outdoor-rated cords with a wire gauge adequate for the appliance load. Overloaded cords can cause fires or equipment damage. Do not use extension cords with exposed wires or worn shielding.
  • Do not operate the generator in wet conditions such as rain or snow, as you run the risk of electrocution.
  • Do not connect your portable generator directly to your home's wiring or into a regular household outlet. This is called “backfeeding”, and it can be deadly to you and others because it sends electricity back across the power lines connected to your home, and could injure neighbors or utility workers.
  • Manual transfer switches are available if you want to safely connect your portable generator to your home’s wiring. But these should be installed by a licensed electrician.
  • The best solution for connecting a generator to your home’s wiring is to use a permanently installed backup generator with an automatic transfer switch.
  • Avoid overloading your generator, because it can seriously damage your valuable appliances and electronics.  You can avoid overloads by operating only as many appliances as the electrical output of the generator can support. Prioritize your needs. A portable electric generator should be used only when necessary, and only to power essential equipment.
  • Allow at least five feet of clearance on all sides of the generator when operating.
  • Operate the generator only on level surfaces and where it will not be exposed to excessive moisture, dirt, dust or corrosive vapors.

If you use your portable generator safely, it will be an invaluable investment for your home.