Purchasing a Generator

If you choose to buy a generator, be sure to get one that is rated for the amount of power that you may need. Look at the labels on lighting, appliances, and equipment you plan to connect to the generator to determine the amount of power that will be needed to operate the equipment.

Typically, you can tell the amount of power needed by the wattage of the bulbs and the labels on the appliances you plan to connect to the generator. If you cannot determine the amount of power that will be needed, ask an electrician to determine it for you.

Using a Generator

The primary hazards to avoid when using a generator are carbon monoxide, electric shock, and fire. You must follow the directions supplied with the generator. People die in incidents related to portable generator use every year.

Under no circumstances should portable generators be used indoors, including inside a garage, carport, basement, crawlspace, or other enclosed or partially enclosed area, even with ventilation. Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent carbon monoxide buildup. The Carbon monoxide from generators can rapidly lead to full incapacitation and death. Even if you cannot smell exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed to carbon monoxide because if cannot be seen nor smelled. If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air RIGHT AWAY - DO NOT DELAY.

Because you may have windows open to get fresh air while the power is out, be sure to place the generator away from windows, doors, and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come inside. To avoid electrocution, keep the generator dry and do not use in rain or wet conditions. To protect the generator from moisture, operate it on a dry surface under an open canopy-like structure, such as under a tarp held up on poles. Dry your hands if wet before touching the generator.

It is advised to purchase and properly install a carbon monoxide detector. Keep the batteries up to date and change when necessary.

Be sure to turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite. Use the type of fuel recommended in the instructions or on the label on the generator and store fuel in an approved container in a safe place away from flame. Local laws may restrict the amount of fuel you may store, or the storage location. Ask your local fire department for additional information about local regulations.

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. 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 protection devices.

Future Considerations

The only recommended method to connect a generator to home wiring is by having a qualified electrician install a power transfer switch. This switch must be installed in accordance with the National Electrical Code® and all applicable state and local electrical codes. Call a qualified electrician or check with your utility company to have the appropriate equipment installed.

Permanently installed generators are better suited for providing backup power to the home. Even when properly installed, portable generators can still become overloaded. This may result in overheating or stressing the generator components, possibly leading to a generator failure. Be sure to read instructions that come with the generator to make sure you operate it within its limitations for power output.