There are two types of generators: portable or permanent standby. During long-term outages, many rely on portable generators for emergency power. Without taking the proper precautions, using a generator could endanger you and others; in fact, it could cost you your life or the lives of others, including your family, friends, neighbors and electric utility crews trying to restore service.
Properly connecting the generator into the system is a critical step for safe and effective use. A licensed professional should install a permanent, standby electric generator and can help with proper equipment for safely using a portable generator.
All standby generators require a permanently (and professionally) installed transfer switch. (High-end generators permanently installed to power some or all rooms of the home typically have the switch built into the system. Other generators require you to manually throw the switch.)
The transfer switch has an important job, which is to break the path of electricity between the power lines and your main electrical panel. This is the best way to protect you, your neighbors and electric utility repair crews from ‘backfeed,’ which occurs when an improperly connected generator begins feeding electricity “back” through the power lines. This can seriously injure anyone near lines, especially crews working to restore power.
Safety for those who use generators and for those who work to restore power cannot be over-emphasized. Consult a qualified electrician to ensure proper installation and electrical grounding, as well as to prevent circuit overloads and to meet local electrical code.
Many homeowners choose smaller, portable generators to power essential electrical equipment during outages. Safe Electricity offers these tips for the safe operation and use of portable generators:
- Read and follow all manufacturer operating instructions to properly ground the generator. Be sure you understand them before hooking up the generator.
- Maintain adequate ventilation. Generators emit carbon monoxide. NEVER operate a generator in your home, garage, or other enclosed building. Place it in a dry, outside location.
- Never plug a portable electric generator into a wall outlet or connect directly to a home’s wiring. This can energize utility power lines and injure you or others working nearby. Electrical back feed also can damage the generator and home electrical equipment.
- Turn off generator and allow cooling before refueling. Gasoline and its vapors may ignite if they come in contact with hot components or an electrical spark. Store fuel in a properly designed container in a secure location.
- Protect your appliances. Turn off or disconnect all appliances and lights before you begin operating the portable generator. Once the generator is running, turn your appliances and lights on one at a time to avoid overloading the unit.
- Use proper extension cords. Use only safety-tested, shop-type electrical cords designed and rated for heavier, outdoor use to connect appliances. Many generators are equipped with twist-lock connects to reduce the chance of accidental disconnections due to vibrations.
- Shut down generator properly. Before shutting down a generator, turn off and unplug all appliances and equipment being powered by the generator.
- Remember maintenance between uses. It’s important to drain the gasoline from the generator while it is being stored. It’s also a good idea to inspect the fuel and oil filters, spark plug, oil level and fuel quality and start the generator on a regular basis before an emergency situation happens.