Portable Generator Do's and Don'ts

a yellow and black portable generator

Don Nichols / Getty Images

Portable generators are a Godsend when the power suddenly goes out in your home. It may be from an ice storm, tornado, or hurricane that causes the power in your home to go out. The trouble is, you have no idea how long it could be out. If the power goes out during the day in the summer, it may not seem so bad, but have it go out at night on a cold winter's night and it is quite another thing.

Choosing the Right Generator

There are many choices to consider when selecting the right generator for your home. You may choose a portable generator that runs on gasoline. This choice requires you maintaining fuel through its use and starting it manually or with an electric start. You'll also have to connect it to the power disconnect when you're ready to use it in some cases.

Another choice is installing a whole house backup generator. These units vary in wattage and can be large enough to power your entire home. Some of these handy generators run on natural gas while others run on propane gas, often referred to as LP. These generators are connected the electrical service via an automatic transfer switch. 

The switch monitors incoming power from the utility company and senses when the power goes out. At this point, a relay sends power to the generator to start. Once started, the switch flips to send power to your home, acting as the new power source. The generator will remain in this state until power returns from the utility company, causing the transfer switch to switch back to regular power. The best thing for you is you have to do nothing!

I have a propane whole house generator connected to my house and am so happy I added it to supply backup power. Since installing it, power has been out at least seven times, one of which the power was out for about seven hours, I can't tell you how nice it was to sit back and let the transfer switch and generator do all the work! The hardest thing I have to do is change the oil once a year, well that and the oil filter. Trust me when I say that you won't be sorry for choosing to install a backup generator.

If you are prepared for these severe storms, you'll likely have the lights back on in no time at all. Portable generators can safely power all or part of your home's power needs if you simply follow a few safety dos and don'ts.

A List of Do's

  • Always store your portable generator in a dry, clean area that is easy to get to. When the lights go out, you don't want to trip over things to get the power going.
  • Set the generator outside or vent the exhaust outside to prevent carbon monoxide from entering the home.
  • Attach a ground wire to the generator to assure proper grounding. Without proper grounding, the ungrounded system may use you for the ground rod and you could be electrocuted.
  • Use fresh gasoline when possible. If the generator is likely to sit long periods of time before being run again, use a gasoline stabilizer.
  • Start your generator at least once a month and let it run for a few minutes. If yours has a battery, trickle charge the battery from time to time to ensure it is ready to go.
  • Check cords that are to be plugged into the generator for frays and exposed wires.
  • Use a transfer switch to connect the generator to your home's electrical panel.

A List of Don'ts

  • Run the generator in an attached garage. It will still allow fumes to penetrate the home. Keep it away from the home's windows and doors also.
  • Use frayed or defective extension cords.
  • Run the generator in the rain or snow. Keep it in a shed, under an overhang, or a portable shelter if possible.
  • Add gasoline to a generator that is running. Always shut off the generator and let it cool down before refilling it.