Portable generators are useful when temporary or remote electric power is needed, but they also can be hazardous. The primary hazards to avoid when using a generator are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, electric shock or electrocution, and fire.
Follow these safety tips to protect against those hazards when using a portable generator:
- NEVER use a generator in enclosed or partially-enclosed spaces. Generators can produce high levels of carbon monoxide very quickly. When you use a portable generator, remember that you cannot smell or see carbon monoxide.
- NEVER try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet, a practice known as “backfeeding.” This is an extremely dangerous practice that presents an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors served by the same utility transformer. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices.
- Keep the generator dry and do not use in rain or wet conditions. To protect from moisture, operate it on a dry surface under an open, canopy-like structure. Dry your hands if wet before touching the generator.
- Plug appliances directly into the generator. Or, use a heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cord that is rated (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads. Check that the entire cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin.
- Make sure that electrical devices are turned off before you connect them to a generator or generator-powered circuit. Once the generator is running, switch devices on one by one. Shut them down again before switching back to your utility service.
- Read and follow the manufacturer’s technical information carefully to ensure your generator won’t be overwhelmed by start-up power needs or the total running load of the appliances or other uses you attach to it. In addition, if you plan to hook up larger appliances like ranges, well pumps, or dryers, be sure your generator is rated for 240-volt as well as 120-volt loads.
- If you must connect the generator to the house wiring to power appliances, have a qualified electrician install the appropriate equipment in accordance with local electrical codes.
- For power outages, permanently-installed stationary generators are better suited for providing backup power to the home. Even a properly connected portable generator can become overloaded. This may result in overheating or stressing the generator components, possibly leading to a generator failure.