Generator Safety

Portable electric generators offer backup power when outages affect your home or business, but using them can be hazardous. Here are some important tips for connecting and using a generator safely.

Don't Connect Your Generator Directly to Existing Wiring

Connecting a portable electric generator directly to existing wiring in your home or business can be deadly to you and others. A generator that is directly connected to existing wiring can “backfeed” onto the power lines coming from the electrical grid.

Utility transformers can then "step-up" or increase this backfeed to thousands of volts — enough to kill a utility lineman making outage repairs a long way from your house or business. You could also cause expensive damage to utility equipment and your generator.

The only safe way to connect a portable electric generator to 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 Your Generator into a Regular Household-Type Outlet

Plugging a portable generator into a regular household-type 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 wire gauge sufficient to handle the electrical load.

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 unnoticed.

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. Use a portable electric generator only when necessary and only to power essential equipment.

Never Use a Generator Indoors or in an Attached Garage

Just like an 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 or building. Operate it only outdoors in a well-ventilated, dry area, away from air intakes to the home or building, and protected from direct exposure to rain and snow, preferably under a canopy, open shed, or carport.

Read and Follow the Manufacturer's Instructions for Safe Operation

Don't cut corners when it comes to safety. Carefully read and follow all instructions in your portable electric generator's owner manual.

Use Proper Grounding

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 and working 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.

Shut the Generator Down Properly

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

Children are naturally curious. Keep them away from portable electric generators at all times to avoid injury.

Date last reviewed or modified: 5/30/17

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