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10 Ways to Use a Generator Safely

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

With storm season kicking into high gear, many homeowners will turn to their generators to keep things running during sustained power outages. While they can be life-saving during emergency situations, generators do involve a degree of risk, and operating them properly is critical. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) reminds consumers to never place a generator in the garage or inside a home or building, and to keep it a safe distance from the structure, away from any air intakes. OPEI also offers the following 10 tips for safe generator usage:

1. Assess your generator’s condition now, before a storm hits. Make sure it’s in good working order before starting and using it.

2. Review the manufacturer’s directions. Go over the owner’s manual to make sure you know how to operate the equipment safely. Can’t find the manual? No problem—just look it up online.

3. Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home. This alarm will sound if dangerous levels of carbon monoxide enter the building.

4. Have the right fuel on hand. Use the type of fuel recommended by the generator manufacturer. It’s illegal to use any fuel with more than 10 percent ethanol in outdoor power equipment. It’s best to use fresh fuel, but if you’re using fuel that’s been sitting in a gas can for more than 30 days, add fuel stabilizer to it. Store gas only in an approved container and away from heat sources.

5. Ensure portable generators have plenty of ventilation. Generators should never be used in an enclosed area or placed inside a home, a building, or a garage, even if the windows or doors are open. Place the generator outside and away from windows, doors and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to drift indoors.

6. Keep the generator dry. Do not use a generator in wet conditions. Cover and vent a generator. Model-specific tents or generator covers can be found online for purchase and at home centers and hardware stores.

7. Only add fuel to a cool generator. Before refueling, turn the generator off and let it cool down.

8. Plug in safely. If you don’t yet have a transfer switch, you can use the outlets on the generator. It’s best to plug in appliances directly to the generator. If you must use an extension cord, it should be heavy-duty and designed for outdoor use. It should be rated (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads. Make sure the cord is free of cuts, and the plug has all three prongs.

9. Install a transfer switch. A transfer switch connects the generator to the circuit panel and lets you power hardwired appliances. Most transfer switches also help avoid overload by displaying wattage usage levels.

10. Do not use the generator to “backfeed” power into your home electrical system. Trying to power your home’s electrical wiring by “backfeeding”—where you plug the generator into a wall outlet—is dangerous. You could hurt utility workers and neighbors served by the same transformer. Backfeeding bypasses built-in circuit protection devices, which could damage your electronics or start an electrical fire.   

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