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Portable Generator Safety Tips

by Chantel Robillard | Oct 14, 2020
Yellow portable generator in residential yard

If you own a home in Florida, having a generator is critical. That's because the top causes of power outages in the Sunshine State include severe weather events like thunderstorms and lightning, floods, and hurricanes.

According to EATON's 2018 USA Blackout Annual Report , Florida left a collective 25.3 million customers without power between 2008 and 2017, with an average of around 51 to 100 outages per year. The average duration of a power outage in Florida, meanwhile, is 65.6 hours. That's a whole lot of time to be without electricity—especially during the brutally hot months of July and August.

If you're looking for a backup power source that's more affordable than a standby generator, a portable generator is an excellent option. Generators run on gasoline, diesel, or propane and can power tools and appliances. They typically include two electrical outlets that connect to extension cords to carry the power indoors.

While generators are easy to use, there are a few things to keep in mind from a safety standpoint. For example, generators produce carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and deadly gas. They must be handled cautiously and kept outdoors at all times.

To avoid any disasters, follow these portable generator safety tips:

Install Detectors

Before using your generator, install battery-operated carbon monoxide alarms throughout your home. Your CO alarm should be either a battery-operated or a plug-in CO detector with a battery backup, so they continue to work during a power outage. You can easily install CO detectors, ranging from $20-$50, on your own. We recommended placing them throughout your home, with one on each floor of your house and in a central location outside each sleeping area. For more information on the importance of carbon monoxide alarms, check out the National Fire Protection Association. If you already have CO detectors, make sure to check the batteries and replace them if necessary.

Placement

Never run your generator inside or in an enclosed space. Since portable generators produce carbon monoxide, your generator's placement is crucial to you and your household's safety. Always place your generator at least 20 feet away from your home and make sure to direct the exhaust facing away from your home, garage, and neighboring homes. It shouldn't be placed outside of an open window, even if it's only open a crack. Exhaust fumes can flow directly into your home through the open window. The generator shouldn't be in any enclosed spaces such as a garage, shed, or vehicle—even if the doors are open. You also should be aware of your neighbor's home and how the placement may affect them.

Protect Your Generator

Avoid using your generator in rainy weather conditions. Generators pose electrical risks, especially in wet conditions, since water can get into the outlets. If the rain is light and you decide you want to use it, place your generator under a canopy-like structure open on all sides. And always make sure your hands are dry when handling your generator. You should turn your portable generator off during a downpour and not use it until the rain eases. Remember, generators produce powerful voltage, and heavy rain could lead to electrocution or permanent damage to your generator.

Store Gas Properly

You should have gas on-hand for your generator before a hurricane hits in case the power goes out. Gas stations become overcrowded and low on supply before, during, and after hurricanes, so it's important to have enough gas to get you through a typical power outage. Most portable generators hold five gallons of gasoline. However, you want at least 25-30 gallons of gas on standby. Invest in a 25-30 gallon fuel tank to properly store your fuel in a secure location to keep it cool, fresh, and depressurized. Keep it somewhere separate from your home and away from any heat source, and out of direct sunlight. To ensure your fuel does not go bad after a couple of months, use a fuel stabilizer (a 10-ounce bottle of stabilizer will preserve 25 gallons of gasoline). Even with the fuel stabilizer, make sure to replace your fuel once a year.

Wire Safety

Since you will be using extension cords to connect power from your generator to your home, make sure not to use frayed or damaged extension cords. Scrutinize all wires to make sure they are fully intact and not damaged or cut. If cables are frayed or damaged, don't use them.

Generators Get Hot

Generators tend to get hot while running and often remain hot even after being turned off. Make sure children and pets stay away from your generator when in use.

Don’t Use a Wall Outlet

Do not plug your generator into a wall outlet, which could overload your wiring, overheat, and start a fire. It would also put utility workers and your neighbors served by the same utility transformer at risk.

If you don't own a generator but are thinking of buying one, check out our post for tips on choosing the right generator —and follow our portable generator safety tips. Meanwhile, Consumer Reports can help you decide whether to get a portable or a standby generator.