Generator Safety: Is a Portable Generator a Good Idea?
Considering a Portable Generator
While a properly sized portable home generator may work fine for for your home, make sure the method that you use for powering up your home will be done safely by considering the following information.
Some customers prepare for the possibility of power outages by buying an electric generator as a standby system to keep lights and appliances running until service is restored.
Home generators may be able to save food in your refrigerator or freezer during a prolonged outage, let you keep your home office running, or power other essential equipment.
Generators can be expensive and noisy. They can also pose serious safety hazards to you and to others, so please follow all safety instructions provided by the manufacturer.
The law requires that customers with a permanently installed or portable generator do not connect it to another power source, such as your Electric Utility Company's power lines. If you own and operate a generator, you are responsible for making sure that electricity from your unit cannot "back feed," or flow into the utility power lines. For safety's sake, be sure to use your generator correctly. If you don't, you risk damaging your property and endangering your life and the lives of electrical utility line workers who may be working on power lines some distance from your home.
- Only a qualified professional, such as a licensed electric contractor, should install a permanent standby generator.
- A double-pole, double-throw transfer switch (see diagram) is the recommended device to keep your generator from back feeding into the electric utility provider's system. The switch also keeps the electrical utility company's power from re-energizing your house wiring while your generator is running, protecting your generator, wiring and appliances from damage when your service is restored.
- Have all additions to your house wiring inspected by your city or county building department.
- When installation is complete, call your electric utility provider to let them know about your back-up system. They will make a note in their records to remind their workers of your generator if they are working on an outage in your area. In some cases, electric utility line workers may ask to check your electric generator transfer switch for safety.
- If you already have a permanently installed standby generator but you don't know if it's installed properly, call your local building inspector or a licensed contractor for help.
You are responsible for any injuries or damage to your property, your neighbors' or the electric utility company, from an improperly installed or operated generator.
Portable Home Generators
Portable home generators are designed to be connected only to selected appliances or lamps. These generators never should be connected directly to a building's wiring system.
- Before starting your generator, carefully read and follow all of the manufacturer's instructions.
- Be sure that the total electric load on your generator won't exceed the manufacturer's rating.
- Always locate your generator where its exhaust will vent safely.
- Prioritize your needs. Use the lowest wattage light bulbs that provide a safe level of light, reserving power for additional lighting elsewhere or a small appliance. Remember that the greater the load on your home generator, the more fuel it will use.
- Keep cords out of the way so they don't present a tripping hazard—especially in dimly lit doorways or halls. Never run cords under rugs or carpets where heat might build up or damage to a cord may go unnoticed.
- Extension cords must be properly sized to carry the electric load. Overloaded cords can overheat and cause fires or damage to equipment.