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How to Safely Use a Portable Generator During a Power Outage

By NOPEC on June 7, 2022

No matter where you live, it’s important to be prepared when a power outage strikes. It’s a good idea to have a three-day supply of drinking water and non-perishable food items as well as flashlights on hand when riding out a power outage. Since it’s impossible to know how long you will be without electricity, some people turn to a portable or backup generator for peace of mind.

If you’re considering purchasing a generator for your home, we can help you determine the best one for your needs and how to operate it safely.

Backup Generator vs. Portable Generator

A backup generator, also known as a whole-house generator, cannot be moved around. It’s connected to your home’s natural gas source and offers backup power for your entire home during a power outage. This type of generator may be appealing for households with residents who rely on life-sustaining medical equipment or those who live in extreme climates where power is often disrupted. Expect to pay between $10,000 to $20,000 for a backup generator.

Portable generators, on the other hand, are a less expensive alternative ($500-$1,500 based on their features and output) and are intended purely as emergency backup for critical appliances and electronics. Portable generators rely on gasoline for fuel and must be kept outside in a dry area. Incorrectly using one can be extremely dangerous and lead to carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust, fire, burns, electric shock or electrocution.

How to Safely use a Portable Generator

By following these tips, as well the instructions in the owner’s manual, you should feel confident safely operating a portable generator during your next power outage.

  1. Never use a generator inside your home or in a partially enclosed space like a garage or carport. Generators should be placed outside, in a dry location at least 20 feet away from windows, vents and doors to prevent toxic gases from blowing into your home.
  2. Have a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector inside your home on each floor. Be aware of the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning which include headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. If you start to experience any of these signs, seek fresh air immediately.
  3. Before operating a portable generator, turn off or unplug all appliances and lights. Plug appliances directly into the generator via a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cord that can handle the equipment’s electrical output. To avoid overloading a generator, prioritize what needs to be plugged into it (for example, refrigerators, medical equipment, laptops, cell phone and heating or cooling devices). Never plug extension cords into one another.
  4. Portable generators need a continuous fuel supply to run. Remember, fuel expands so don’t overfill the tank. Fuel is also highly flammable so completely cooling the generator before refueling is a must. Fuel begins to degrade when stored for long periods of time. Fuel stabilizers (which can be purchased from home improvement stores) will help fuel last longer (between 18 months to two years). Fuel should be stored in approved containers in a cool, dry place.
  5. When you are ready to shut down the generator, turn off and unplug all appliances from it first. Once it has cooled, drain all fuel before you store it.
  6. Conduct maintenance between uses. Regularly inspect your generator’s oil and fuel filters, spark plugs, oil level and check for cracks or leaks to ensure it’s ready to go before the next power outage strikes.

Interested in more home safety and energy savings tips? Sign up for NOPEC’s Energy Savings Center to receive information about home maintenance and chances to win smart home technology.

Tags: Energy Tips, Generator, Power Outage
Categories: Consumer Questions

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