Updated: December 19, 2020

Generator Safety Tips

by Charles Jasper

Portable generators are amazing inventions. They can provide power during storms and at remote locations. They can make camping more comfortable, impress friends at parties, keep your family safe during a storm, and even help you start your own business in construction or as an outdoor entertainer. If it needs power, a generator can help you out.

In the words of Voltaire, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” If the proper safety protocols aren’t followed, these generators can be hazardous. They come with risks that include fire, electrocution, injury, poisoning, death, and even lawsuits.

The single best safety tip is to always read and follow your owner’s manual. The manufacturer knows exactly what your specific model of generator can and should be used for, and they have the best instruction for how to do so safely. There are, however, a few key safety tips that should be kept in mind for ALL generators.

1. Ventilation

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Ventilation is your friend. In fact, no generator should ever be operated inside any enclosed space, even with one side open. Your generator should only be used outside in the open air. It’s not safe to use in a garage, shed, or home. All generators give off carbon monoxide. This gas is poisonous to humans and kills an average of 439 people each year according to poisoncontrol.org.

Because of the amount of carbon monoxide produced by generators and the way it interacts with oxygen, it is not safe to run a generator in anything that is less than wide-open outdoors. It is not enough to leave the garage door open. Running a generator in an open shed is not safe.

Your generator should always be placed outside. It should be at least 20 feet from your home, and the exhaust should be aimed away from the home. Be sure that there are no open windows or doors near the generator. It is also a good idea to install carbon monoxide detectors inside your home.

Just in case staying alive isn’t enough of an incentive to keep that generator outside, you should know that it will also run more efficiently there. Appropriate ventilation is best for the generator’s engine as well as your lungs.

2. Turn It On First!

Turn it on first! Get the generator engine up and running before you plug anything into it. Once you are ready to start plugging appliances in, take it one at a time. Prioritize the appliances that are most important to you. Plugin the first appliance and then wait.

Once the flow of electricity has stabilized the appliance is running smoothly, go ahead and plug in the next appliance. Be sure to know the watts your generator is built to provide and take care not to overload it.

Starting the generator first, keeping the load manageable, and introducing new appliances one at a time will ensure the safety of all of your electronic components by reducing the risk of a surge of power.

3. Keep It Dry

Since generators generate electricity, they come with similar risks. It is best not to operate a generate in wet conditions. Consider investing in a canopy that can protect your generator from the rain without limiting airflow.

It’s also a good idea to keep the area directly beneath the generator dry. This can be done with a drain or by keeping the generator on a slightly raised platform. Whatever method you choose, your generator should never be operated while sitting in a puddle.

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4. Keep It Cool

Like all engines, generators get hot as they run. Be aware of this heat and do not allow children or pets to get too close. Parts of the generator will get hot enough to cause burns.

Even once a generator has been shut down, it can remain hot for several hours. Do not try to move a generator until it is fully cooled. You should also never operate a generator while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

5. Refuel When Cooled

Refuel safely. Always wait until your generator is fully cooled before refueling. Adding gasoline to a hot engine risks causing the gasoline to combust. This creates a fire hazard that can easily be avoided with the appropriate patience. Taking the time to safely refuel your generator will also ensure that your generator can keep powering all of your needs for years to come.

It is also important to only fill the fuel tank to its capacity. Under certain conditions, fuel can expand. If the tank is too full, the fuel can overflow and cause a fire. Remember that is never safe to smoke while working with gasoline. Do not smoke near your generator.

6. Use a Transfer Switch

Use a transfer switch. If your generator is being used as your back-up power source, have a qualified, professional electrician install a transfer switch. This will make it easy to switch to generator power without risking “back feed.”

“Back feed” is when power from your generator travels back through the power lines. It can happen whenever you plug your generator directly into your home. It can end up sending electricity back to downed powerlines or whatever the source of power failure may be.

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That means that a line that the power company has cut power to could actually be live. This poses serious risks for the linemen working to restore power along with any bystanders who may be near a downed power line.

Instead of plugging the generator into your home, use an extension cord to plug your appliances into the generator. Check near the largest outlet to ensure that any extension cord you use matches the rating of the generator. Most generators are rated 30-amp, 40-amp, or 50-amp.

7. Store It Properly

Store it safely. If you are planning to use your generator as an emergency back-up, it is a good idea to keep extra fuel around. Be sure to use a fuel stabilizer to ensure that the gasoline stays good. Any gasoline should also be kept only in an ANSI-approved container. Be sure to keep it in a place that stays cool and gets fresh air.

Your generator also requires safe storage. It’s best to start your generator once each month to keep oil running through the engine. Failing that, be sure to drain the gas from the engine and properly prepare it for storage.

Summary

Having a generator around can serve many purposes. They provide excellent back-up power in the event that the utility company experiences an outage. If you are permanently connecting your generator to your home, get a professional electrician to ensure that everything is connected correctly. It will make switching to generator power a smooth and worry-free event.

These generators can also travel with you while camping or to job sites and can keep a party jumping. To ensure that everyone has a good time, remember to keep safety first. Start by reading the operator manual provided by your manufacturer. Keep it in a safe place where you can easily find it should trouble arise. When used properly, generators are a safe source of electricity.