Portable generators are incredible tools – they bring power into the field or keep your home up and running during an outage.
But when not used properly, generators can be just as dangerous as any other tool.
On average, 66 people die in the US every year because of carbon monoxide poisoning while using a generator. Plus, electrocution and fire hazards are significant causes of injury from improper generator use as well.
To make sure you are using your generator safely, we’ll cover some of the important precautions you can take every time you operate your generator.
Table of Contents
1. Use Your Generator Outside
Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of death from using generators. This gas is colorless, odorless, and nearly impossible to detect on your own.
But, carbon monoxide poisoning from generators is entirely preventable.
In almost every situation, your generator should be used outdoors rather than indoors. When you’re powering appliances in your home, make sure the generator is located at least 20 feet away from your house and that the exhaust outlet is pointed away from your house. If needed, plug a fan into your generator to push the exhaust further away from your home.
Even better, protect yourself and your family by using a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector whenever your generator is on. This can alert you when carbon monoxide from your generator is getting into your home even if you have placed the generator outside.
2. Cool Your Generator Before Refueling
Adding fuel to your generator while it’s still running is tempting – after all, who wants to power off all of their appliances only to turn them back on in a few minutes?
But adding fuel to a running generator, or one that has been turned off but is still hot, is one of the most common causes of generator fires. It’s extremely important that you allow your generator to fully cool down before adding more gasoline to the fuel tank.
Additionally, be sure you are storing your extra fuel safely. Fuel should be stored in a flame-resistant canister in a cool, dry area, well away from the heat being created by the generator itself. When in doubt about how to store your fuel safely, check with your local fire department for advice.
3. Never Backfeed Your Home
When the power goes out to your home, you have two options for powering your appliances with your generator. You can either connect extension cords from your appliances to your generator, or you can connect your generator to your home with a transfer switch.
What you should never do is try to connect your generator directly to your home by plugging your generator directly into a wall outlet.
Known as backfeeding, this delivers electricity back to the electrical grid – which can electrocute anyone working on the grid down the street to try to restore power. Backfeeding can also severely damage your home’s electrical wiring or your generator and presents a major fire hazard.
4. Don’t Run Your Generator in the Rain
Most generators aren’t designed to be watertight, so operating a generator in the rain is a dangerous electrocution and fire risk. We strongly advise against getting your generator wet.
If you need to run your generator in wet conditions, simply put up a tent or another cover, like a tarp, over the generator. Just make sure that the generator has plenty of ventilation, or else it can overheat.
5. Stay Away from Hot Engine Parts
Many traditional portable generators have exposed engine parts to allow for air intake and cooling. But those exposed engine components can reach temperatures of several hundred degrees – more than enough to burn you if you come into contact with them.
For this reason, it’s important to be careful when moving around your generator when it is turned on. Be especially aware of children and pets, who may not realize the danger of the generator’s exposed parts.
Alternatively, many newer inverter generators are fully encased and don’t carry the same risk of burns. If an inverter generator can fulfill your power needs, this is a good option for somewhat reducing the danger that comes with operating a generator.
6. Use Heavy-duty Extension Cords
Extension cords are a common pairing with generators, but they too can pose an electrocution risk if not used and maintained properly.
It’s important to consider the thickness, or gauge, of the electrical cords you’re using with your appliances. Heavy-duty appliances that draw a high wattage, such as refrigerators and freezers, will need a higher-gauge extension cord to prevent electrical wear and tear that could ultimately lead to danger.
If you find any nicks or damage to your generator extension cords, replace them immediately rather than trying to get one more use out of them.
Safety is Key with Portable Generators!
Whenever you’re operating a generator, it’s important to remember the dangers these large and powerful machines pose. While you may have used your generator hundreds of times before, it only takes one poor decision to lead to a dangerous situation.
By keeping these important precautions in mind, you can ensure that you’ll be safe every time you operate your generator.