After the Event
- NEVER use a generator indoors, including in garages, basements, crawl spaces or other enclosed or partially-enclosed areas, even with ventilation. Generators can produce high levels of carbon monoxide very quickly. You cannot see or smell carbon monoxide, and exposure to it can rapidly lead to full incapacitation and death. Keep generator at least 20 feet from your home.
- Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent carbon monoxide buildup in the home.
- Try to be considerate of neighbors and locate your generator away from bedroom windows where noise can interfere with sleeping.
- Plug appliances directly into a portable generator. Or, use a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cord.
- Check manufacturer's recommendations and follow them for proper use and load.
- Each generator has a rated wattage, which provides a limit for how many appliances it will safely power. Add together the wattage of different appliances and DO NOT exceed the manufacturer's total rated wattage for the generator.
- Do not attempt to hook up a generator to the main electric panel of a home or business. Only a licensed electrician is qualified to do this.
- If you improperly connect to a main panel, power can "backfeed" from the generator (including RV generators) into utility lines and injure a neighbor, property or utility crews working to restore service.
- If you have any doubts about the operation of your generator, consult a licensed electrician.
- Keep ample fuel on hand and store it safely outdoors in a properly labeled, non-glass safety container. Do not store near fuel-burning appliances such as a natural gas water heater or dryer.
- Save gas by using appliances only as needed. If no appliances are running, shut the generator off.
- If you’re just running a few lights, using other sources may cost less than running the generator.
- Don’t leave a running generator unattended; turn it off at night and when away from home.
Tip: Refrigerators may only need to run a few hours a day to preserve food. Using a refrigerator thermometer, aim to maintain 40 degrees in the refrigerator compartment and 0 degrees in the freezer.
To Protect From Toxic Engine Exhaust:
Most generator-related deaths are from carbon monoxide poisoning, which is a result of toxic engine exhaust produced by generators used indoors or in partially-enclosed spaces.
- If you start to feel sick, dizzy, a headache, confusion, or weakness while using a generator, get to fresh air RIGHT AWAY. DO NOT DELAY.
- If you experience serious symptoms, get medical attention immediately. Inform medical staff that you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.
- If you experience symptoms while indoors, exit the building and call the fire department. Do not re-enter the building until the fire department tells you it is safe to do so.
To Protect From Electrical Hazards:
Electrical hazards from operating a portable generator include shock and electrocution.
- Keep the generator dry and do not use in rain or wet conditions. To protect from moisture, operate the generator 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.
- 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.
- 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. Or, check with your utility company to see if it can install an appropriate power transfer switch.
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.
To Protect From Fire Hazards:
- Never store fuel for your generator in the home. Gasoline, propane, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in properly-labeled, non-glass safety containers.
- Do not store generator fuel near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater in a garage. If the fuel is spilled or the container is not sealed properly, invisible vapors from the fuel can travel along the ground and can be ignited by the appliance's pilot light or by arcs from electric switches in the appliance.
- Before refueling the generator, turn it off and let it cool down. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.
After Storm Season
When storm season is over, properly store your generator so it will be ready to go next season when you need it.
To store a generator until next season:
Fill the tank with fresh gasoline.
Add the proper amount of fuel stabilizer.
Drain the carburetor float bowl.
Drain the sediment cup (if one is installed).
Change the engine oil if needed.
Updated August 2015