How-To Videos

How to Use a Portable Generator Safely

By: Danny Lipford

Portable backup generators are less expensive that whole house generators but require set up and fueling by the homeowner each time they are used. They also raise safety concerns, including carbon monoxide poisoning, electrocution, fire, and damage to appliances and other electrical equipment.

Here are some important safety guidelines for operating a portable generator:

  • Only operate a generator in the open and at a safe distance from your home.
  • Don’t use a generator in an enclosed storage building, garage, carport, basement, crawlspace, or near an open window or door.
  • Never attach a portable generator directly to the wiring in your home.
  • Instead, plug electrical devices into a heavy duty extension cord that is attached to the generator.
  • Be sure the combined wattage of all the devices that are plugged into the generator does not exceed the rated capacity of either the generator or extension cord.
  • Turn the generator off and allow it to cool before filling it with fuel.

Watch this video to find out more.


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9 Comments on “How to Use a Portable Generator Safely”

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  • GB Says:
    November 17th, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    Yes, I’ve decided against the dryer backfeed method that everyone seems to be applying. Illegal, unprotected wiring, nullifies home insurance if it causes and electrical fire, potential for feeding the grid, etc.
    Powering the furnace is a quandary. I’ve read that frequency output deviations could possible blow the furnace control board…VERY expensive.
    So, I’ll use ceramic heaters, woodstove, and indoor-safe Mr.Heater propane units for heating during a winter outage. I just cannot afford an electrician installed transfer switch. Extension cords to critical loads is the only solution.

  • Roy Finley Says:
    October 6th, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    We have a patio covered by an awning. The patio is a V shape the whole front is open air can we run the generator on this awning covered patio? There are two windows and a sliding glass door, but they are shut and have been shuttered

  • Theresa Says:
    October 5th, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    How far out on my screened- in patio should I run my generator away from the house and windows so that it is safe from carbon dioxide?

  • joe Says:
    January 13th, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    my generator is seven feet from house .how do i try it out with power still on.

  • Rob Says:
    January 23rd, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    For covering during use, you might try a waterproof canopy with adjustable height – found at Walmart or sporting goods store in the tent and screenhouse section. I picked up an inexpensive 10’x10′ nylon canopy on ebay for $20. Not as nice as nice as the $100 ones at Sports Authority, and bigger than I needed, but it does the trick. Be sure to tie down the canopy during use!

  • laq Says:
    December 26th, 2009 at 10:22 am

    how do i cover my generator during use?

  • Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    September 8th, 2009 at 8:12 am

    Hi Anita,
    The general recommendation for preventing carbon monoxide poisoning when using a portable generator is that they be positioned in an open area outside your home that is away from windows and doors. That means not to put them in a shed, carport, or garage while running. As far as a specific distance from your home, I don’t know of a specific government safety guideline, but Consumer Reports recommends generators be located at least 15’ away from your home when running.

  • Anita Says:
    September 5th, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    I am having trouble finding out about what is a safe distance from the house to operate a portable electric generator. All the information I find is how to hook one up to the house. Could you also tell me the best way to protect the generator from the weather. Information you could give me would be nice. Thank you

    Anita Mcgrew

  • Kapua Says:
    June 20th, 2009 at 1:06 am

    Mahalo for sharing your experience and wisdom.

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How to Use a Portable Generator Safely