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Portable Generator Safety Tips You Need to Know

close view of portable generator in front of home

Portable, gas-powered generators are must-haves for many homeowners in places prone to inclement weather and power outages. These fuel-driven sources of energy can come in handy and temporarily power your home’s critical appliances, but improper use can do much more harm than good. 

Read further to learn eight portable generator safety tips for smart, safe, and secure use of your gas-powered generator. 

What Is a Portable Generator?  

A portable generator is a compact, mobile device that produces electricity to power several electrical appliances and tools when access to a traditional power source is unavailable due to events like natural disasters or electrical outages. 

Typically, a generator producing 5,000 to 7,500 watts is sufficient to run a household. This capacity can support devices like: 

  • Air conditioners 
  • Sump pumps 
  • Refrigerators 
  • Laptops 
  • Televisions 
  • A few light bulbs 

What Is the Generator Safety Rule? 

The number-one generator safety rule is to never operate a generator indoors or in an enclosed space.  

Generator exhaust contains high levels of carbon monoxide (CO), which can be poisonous—and even deadly—if inhaled or ingested.  

Because you can’t see, smell, or taste it, CO circulating in enclosed spaces, like your home or garage, is very dangerous.  

To practice maximum safety and minimize the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, generators must be used outdoors in well-ventilated areas, at least 20 feet away from open windows or doors. 

You may also consider installing carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home.

Popular holiday festivities can invite added fire and electrical risks to your home. Check out these holiday fire safety tips to keep everyone safe. 

8 Portable Generator Safety Tips 

Before you start operating your portable generator, take all the proper precautions. Check out these tips for safe handling. 

1. Follow the owner's manual. 

Reading the owner's manual for your portable generator is crucial for safety, correct operation, and maintenance. It should come with the generator and provide key information on: 

  • Fuel requirements 
  • Load capacity 
  • Troubleshooting 
  • Warranty details 
  • Legal compliance 
  • Manufacturer-specific features 

In emergencies, knowing everything specified in the owner’s manual is important for quick and effective use of the generator.  

2. Only operate it under dry conditions.  

Generators are powerful little machines, but they aren’t invincible. Water can seep into the outlets or engine and end up frying your entire electrical system.  

Therefore, keep your generator in a dry, covered area, whether in use or storage. 

3. Don’t backfeed.  

Don’t attempt to power your house by “backfeeding” your generator directly to your home’s electrical system.  

Done by tying the power source of the generator to your home's electrical panel via an extension cord so it’s not running on fuel, backfeeding is extremely risky.  

A qualified electrician is the only person who can safely connect a generator to house wiring.   

portable home generator

4. Invest in a voltage regulator.  

Consider using a voltage regulator to stabilize the power output, especially if you're running sensitive electronics, such as computers and televisions. 

A voltage regulator is like a traffic controller for electricity, ensuring a steady and safe flow of power to your devices. It prevents electrical fluctuations and keeps the voltage at a constant level, protecting your appliances from damage.  

5. Refuel it properly.  

Most generators need their oil and filter changed every 50 to 60 hours. Prior to refueling, be sure to shut your generator completely off.  

Allow plenty of time for it to cool down, as fuel can catch on fire when added to a hot engine.  

6. Perform maintenance.  

Regularly check your generator for any visible signs of damage, such as cracks, dents, or loose components. Inspect for leaks, including fuel or oil leaks, as these can pose serious safety hazards and compromise the generator's efficiency. 

Pay attention to wear and tear on components like belts, hoses, and electrical connections. Frayed wires or worn-out parts can lead to malfunctions or failures during operation. Addressing these issues promptly not only extends the lifespan of your generator but also helps maintain its optimal performance.  

It's imperative to stay on top of all appliance maintenance. Check out these 12 tips for DIY washer and dryer maintenance now. 

7. Store & dispose of fuel correctly.  

Always drain the gasoline from the generator before storing it. Look for a hazardous waste disposal center to get rid of leftover gasoline, or reach out to your local fire department for more information.  

Some laws may restrict fuel storage. If your area permits it, store new fuel in an approved container separate from your generator and outside your home.  

Regular gasoline typically lasts for three to six months. You’ll know fuel is bad when the smell changes, it becomes discolored, or water is present.    

You should prioritize safety, and if you have any doubts or concerns, consult with a professional or the generator manufacturer for guidance. 

fuel storage containers in garage

8. Remember, it’s a temporary solution.  

While gas-powered portable generators are incredibly useful, they aren’t meant to be used long-term.  

Depending on the size and type, many generators can power your home’s essential electronics for around 15 hours.  

A diesel standby generator is a better choice if you need to run your generator for an extended period.  

Be Ready and Prepared, The Right Way 

Being prepared means more than just having a generator; it's about understanding and using safety measures. With the tips above, you can confidently use your generator in emergencies. For extra readiness, check out the best hurricane preparedness tips before the season starts.