Safe Operation for Portable Generators
Portable generators are a dependable source of power whether there’s a weather emergency or you’re on the road with your camper. It’s one of our most convenient resources for maintaining comfort and peace of mind where there may not always an easy outlet to plug into. Rugged and sturdy, they spend from days to nights with us to keep our lives going just when we think we’re out of luck.
That’s why it’s important to understand and be aware of how to operate your generator safely—to ensure your friends and family can continue enjoying their time without worrying about the possible dangers if not taken care of properly.
From carbon monoxide poisoning to electrical hazards to proper fueling methods, we’ve got you covered. Here are all the things you need to know before ripping the start cord.
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading death in portable generator use. According to the Quantification of Variability & Uncertainty in Emissions Factors (99‐267), a study prepared by North Carolina State, the normal emissions of a 6000-watt generator are nearly 400 times that of a modern car. Data from Consumer Product Safety Commission show that from 2005 to 2017, more than 900 people have died from this odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas. With that in mind, it’s safe to say we’re might be a little nervous about where we’re putting it.
1. Run it outside. Always.
Never operate your generator indoors as it could produce fatal results in minutes. Your basement, garage, or shed is not the place as many might mistake it to be, and these enclosed spaces can fill with this deadly gas in as little as five minutes.
Even when you may be using it with your travel trailer or recreational vehicle, it is imperative to remember that gas can easily travel upwards through a vent despite it being outside. This may be a time where you are most susceptible to its effects because you may be asleep in bed already.
2. Point the exhaust in the opposite direction and run it at least 20 ft. away.
Doors, windows, vents, and airways can be easily forgotten about but thoughtfully placing your generator in the right location can save from death or injury.
3. Get a CO detector installed.
A method of early detection prevents toxic levels of CO from escalating before you feel the symptoms of CO poisoning (such as headache, dizziness, vomiting, chest pain, or confusion).
Generators produce enough power to keep whole homes lit from lights to refrigerators, sump pumps, and air conditioners. RVs rely on them entirely for boondocking or dry camping to run complicated air maintenance systems or necessities like microwaves, hot plates, or hair dryers while powering TVs and speakers for tailgates to hot fryers for food trucks.
Generators work tirelessly at a constant 120/240 voltage for the high demand we put them through, so famously said by Peter Parker's Uncle Ben in Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility.
4. Do not operate without shelter in inclement weather.
Never run your generator in the rain, snow, flood plains, or the apocalypse if it’s wet. Operating one in wet conditions, even with wet hands, can result in electrocution from the high currents running between the generator to appliances.
5. Do not plug your generator directly into your dryer outlet.
Doing so will backfeed your home which is extremely dangerous and illegal in accords to National Electric Code. By reversing the power flow, it allows unfiltered electricity flow through your utility line which may overload the circuits on your home or electrocute those working on your power lines.
6. Use the proper cords.
Using old or damaged cords easily exposes you to the dangers of electrical shock. It’s best practice to use properly rated cords that match the configuration of your generator with the right diameter and length to prevent unwanted voltage spikes that could harm you, your equipment, or your generator. Cords with exposed wiring or worn shielding should not be used at all and avoided. Always disconnect tools or appliances before starting your generator.
Fueling and Fire Safety
With electrical hazards in mind, we know that generators can deliver high currents loads causing it heat up to significantly hot temperatures of up to 600 °F. As you’re handling fuel and other electrical equipment, there are a few last things to ensure you’re on the way to the rest of your day worry-free.
7. Use a shelter or ventilated cover.
Building a breathable enclosure or purchasing a special cover will allow you to peacefully run your generator without worrying about damaging internal circuitry or ruining the attached appliances.
8. Turn off your generator before refueling.
Turn off your generator, and let it cool before refueling. Never refuel with the engine running as small droplets of gasoline in the fumes can ignite from the hot muffler and other volatile areas.
9. Handle your fuels with caution.
No matter if you’re running your generator on gasoline, propane, or diesel, always ensure to keep sparks, open flames, or other forms of ignition such as matches, cigarettes, or a static electric source away when refueling. Leave room for your fuel to expand, and never overfill your fuel tank as spillage can also easily ignite. Remember to close your propane tank after usage to not gas escape and cause a source of ignition.
Getting started on running your generator safely and properly is simple when you’re prepared with the right knowledge. However, the last but most important thing to reference if you’re ever unsure of how to operate your generator is to…
10. Always read your user’s manual.