Portable Electric Generator Safety Tips
Portable electric generators offer great benefits when outages affect your
home. Below are guidelines for safely connecting and operating portable
Don't connect your generator directly to your home's wiring.
Connecting a portable electric generator directly to your household
wiring can be deadly to you and others. A generator that is directly
connected to your home's wiring can 'back feed' onto the power
lines connected to your home.
Utility transformers can then "step-up" or increase this back feed to thousands of volts—enough to kill a
utility lineman making outage repairs a long way from your house. You could also cause expensive
damage to utility equipment and your generator. The only safe way to connect a portable electric
generator to your existing wiring is to have a licensed electrical contractor install a transfer switch. The
transfer switch transfers power from the utility power lines to the power coming from your generator.
Never plug a portable electric generator into a regular household outlet.
Plugging a generator into a regular household outlet can energize "dead" power lines and injure neighbors
or utility workers. Connect individual appliances that have their outdoor-rated power cords directly to the
receptacle outlet of the generator, or connect these cord-connected appliances to the generator with the
appropriate outdoor-rated power cord having a sufficient wire gauge to handle the electrical load.
Don't overload the generator.
Do not operate more appliances and equipment than the output rating of the generator. Overloading your
generator can seriously damage your valuable appliances and electronics. Prioritize your needs. A portable
electric generator should be used only when necessary, and only to power essential equipment.
Never use a generator indoors or in an attached garage.
Just like your automobile, a portable generator uses an internal combustion engine that emits deadly
carbon monoxide. Be sure to place the generator where exhaust fumes will not enter the house. Only
operate it outdoors in a well-ventilated, dry area, away from air intakes to the home, and protected from
direct exposure to rain and snow, preferably under a canopy, open shed or carport. A carbon monoxide
detector would be a good investment when using any combustion engines near the home.
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. Don't use
extension cords with exposed wires or worn shielding. Make sure the cords from the generator don't
present a tripping hazard. Don't run cords under rugs where heat might build up or cord damage may go
Read and adhere to the manufacturer's instructions for safe operation.
Don't cut corners when it comes to safety. Carefully read and observe all instructions in your portable
electric generator's owner manual.
To prevent electrical shock, make sure your generator is properly grounded.
Consult your manufacturer's manual for correct grounding procedures.
Do not store fuel indoors or try to refuel a generator while it's running.
Gasoline (and other flammable liquids) should be stored outside of living areas in properly labeled, non-
glass safety containers. They should not be stored in a garage if a fuel-burning appliance is in the garage.
The vapor from gasoline can travel invisibly along the ground and be ignited by pilot lights or electric arcs
caused by turning on the lights. Avoid spilling fuel on hot components. Put out all flames or cigarettes
when handling gasoline. Always have a fully charged, approved fire extinguisher located near the
generator. Never attempt to refuel a portable generator while it's running.
Turn off all equipment powered by the generator before shutting down your generator.
Avoid getting burned.
Many generator parts are hot enough to burn you during operation. Keep children away from portable electric generators at all times.
How big a generator do you
To determine the size generator needed to supply your electrical demand, add the wattage
requirements for the tools and appliances you expect to operate at one time from the table
Determining electrical load
Remember 1 KW = 1000 watts 2 kW = 2000 watts etc. The formula for finding wattage is:
Volts x Amps = Watts. Example: an appliance nameplate states 3 amps at 120 volts. 3 amps x
120 volts = 360 watts.
Wattage of typical home appliances
Electric Motor Wattage
Electric motors present a special problem. They require up to
three times their rated wattage to start. Example: an electric
motor name plate states 5 amps at 120 volts, 5 amps x 120
volts = 600 watts. Multiply this by 3. This will show the starting
watts needed. 600 watts x 3 = 1800 watts to start.
Some motor nameplates will show starting watts higher in
some case 9 times higher, check the nameplate.
use starting watts, not running watts, when figuring
Electricity and Gas
- Electricity and water don't mix.
- Use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to help prevent electrocutions and electrical shock injuries. Portable GFCIs require no tools to install and are available at prices ranging from $12 to $30.
- When using a "wet-dry vacuum cleaner," be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions to avoid electric shock.
- Do not allow the power cord connections to become wet. Do not remove or bypass the ground pin on the three-prong plug. Use a GFCI to prevent electrocution.
- NEVER remove or bypass the ground pin on a three-pronged plug in order to insert it into a non-grounded outlet.
- NEVER allow the connection between the machine's power cord and the extension cord to lie in water.
- To prevent a gas explosion and fire, have gas appliances (natural gas and LP gas) inspected and cleaned after flooding.
- If gas appliances have been under water, have them inspected and cleaned and their gas controls replaced. The gas company or a qualified appliance repair person or plumber should do this work. Water can damage gas controls so that safety features are blocked, even if the gas controls appear to operate properly. If you suspect a gas leak, don't light a match, use any electrical appliance, turn lights on or off, or use the phone. These may produce sparks. Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. If you smell gas or hear gas escaping, turn off the main valve, open windows, leave the area immediately, and call the gas company or a qualified appliance repair person or plumber for repairs. Never store flammable materials near any gas appliance or equipment.
- Check to make sure your smoke detector is functioning. Smoke detectors can save your life in a fire. Check the battery frequently to make sure it is operating. Fire extinguishers also are a good idea.
- Gasoline is made to explode!
- Never use gasoline around ignition sources such as cigarettes, matches, lighters, water heaters, or electric sparks. Gasoline vapors can travel and be ignited by pilot light or other ignition sources. Make sure that gasoline powered generators are away from easily combustible materials.
- Chain saws can cause serious injuries. Chain saws can be hazardous, especially if they "kick back." To help reduce this hazard, make sure that your chain saw in equipped with the low-kickback chain. Look for other safety features on chain saws, including hand guard, safety tip, chain brake, vibration reduction system, spark arrestor on gasoline models, trigger or throttle lockout, chain catcher, and bumper spikes. Always wear shoes, gloves, and protective glasses. On new saws, look for certification to the ANSI B-175.1 standard.
- When cleaning up from a flood, store medicines and chemicals away from young children. Poisonings can happen when young children swallow medicines and household chemicals.
- Keep household chemicals and medicines locked up away from children. Use the child resistant closures that come on most medicines and chemicals.
- Burning charcoal gives off carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide has no odor and can kill you. Never burn charcoal inside homes, tents, campers, vans, cars, trucks, garages, or mobile homes.
- WARNING: Submerged gas control valves, circuit breakers, and fuses pose explosion and fire hazard!
- Replace all gas control valves, circuit breakers, and fuses that have been under water.
- Gas control valves on furnaces, water heaters, and other gas appliances that have been under water are unfit for continued use. If they are used, they could cause a fire or an explosion. Silt and corrosion from flood water can damage internal components of control valves and prevent proper operation. Gas can leak and result in an explosion or fire. Replace ALL gas control valves that have been under water.
- Electric circuit breakers and fuses can malfunction when water and silt get inside. Discard ALL circuit breakers and fuses that have been submerged.