How to Safely Use a Generator During a Power Outage

How to Safely Use a Generator During a Power Outage

During power outages, a generator is one of the best things you can have on hand. It can be the difference between having food or not, having access to lifesaving medical devices, and simply keeping the lights on. However, generators can be unsafe unless operated properly, so it's wise to familiarize yourself with safe generator operation before an emergency strikes.

Here, we explain how to safely use a generator during a power outage so you can be confident and prepared no matter what Mother Nature throws your way.


Safe Generator Operation

home generator

While a properly operated generator can be lifesaving, an improperly operated generator can have the opposite effect. Several risks are associated with using a generator, including carbon monoxide, fire, and electric shock. Here are things to remember when using a generator:

Keep the Generator Dry

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Water and electricity should never mix. When determining the best location for a generator, always choose a dry place. Consider flood risk as well; power outages are often the result of heavy rain and flooding. A wet generator doesn't just pose a direct safety risk through shock. It can also short circuit, posing a fire risk.


Just because the generator is dry doesn't mean you are. If you are standing in water or are wet, move from the water and dry off before operating the generator.


Place Generators in Areas with Ample Ventilation

How to Store a Generator | DuroMax – DuroMax Power Equipment

Generators use a combustion engine to convert energy from a fuel source into electricity. Like any other combustion engine, a generator releases exhaust as it runs. Without proper ventilation, this exhaust can saturate the air with carbon monoxide, posing a major safety risk for anyone nearby.

To ensure your generator is properly ventilated, never operate it within a confined space. Place the generator in an open, covered space as far from the house as possible. Place a pop-up shelter over the generator to keep it dry, if necessary.

Install battery-powered carbon monoxide detectors anywhere that you plan to use a generator. American Red Cross recommends getting to fresh air immediately if you feel sick, dizzy, or weak while operating a generator.


How to Set Up Your Generator

When starting your portable generator, move it a safe distance from your home and unplug any cords. Then, follow these steps:

  1. Fill the gas tank with new gas.
  2. Open the fuel valve.
  3. Move the choke lever to the "choke" position.
  4. Push the "start" button until the engine starts. If the engine turns over without starting, make sure you've correctly followed the prior steps and consult the manufacturer's instructions.
  5. After the engine starts, slowly move the choke lever into the "run" position until the generator begins to idle smoothly.
  6. Allow the generator to warm up before plugging things in.

When it is time to turn off a generator, disconnect the main breaker to stop the power flow and allow the generator to idle for a few minutes to cool before turning off the engine. When it comes time to refuel, power the generator off and let it cool. Hot generators can ignite spilled gas.


How to Safely Use Extension Cords with Generators

The Best Way to Safely Power a Home with a Portable Generator

When using a generator, you can rarely plug in everything directly, as you can't place the generator inside your house. This leads users to opt for extension cords, but you must know how to use extension cords with generators safely and correctly.

Not all extension cords are the same. Lower-gauged extension cords can handle more power than higher-gauge cords, as they're thicker and heavier-duty. If you plug something with a high power draw into a light-duty extension cord, the cord could fail, leading to fire and shock risks. Always opt for extension cords that can handle the electrical load required to run your devices and are rated for outdoor use.

Never plug extension cords into one another, as extension cords are designed to carry electricity across their length safely. Instead, purchase an extension cord long enough to carry power where you need it.

To avoid scrambling once the power is out, make a list of each item you plan for your generator to power ahead of time. This will identify which power cords you need and help determine the generator's size if you haven't already purchased one.


Generator Troubleshooting and Maintenance Tips

To ensure your generator is ready to go when you need it, set it up for success with these generator troubleshooting and maintenance tips.

  • Make a habit of starting the generator throughout the year.
  • Store the generator with an empty tank of fuel.
  • Drain any fuel that has been in the tank for an extended period.
  • If you plan to leave fuel in the tank, use a fuel stabilizer.
  • Always check the oil level before starting.
  • If your electric-start generator won't turn over, it likely has a dead battery. Charge the battery or swap it for a new one.
  • If your generator is running roughly or not idling, check the carburetor and air filter to ensure they are clean.

When in doubt, consult the manufacturer's instructions for properly operating, storing, and maintaining your generator.




  • All photos used in this blogpost are sourced from the internet, and the rights belong to their respective owners
  • Sanders, K. (2024, February 21). How to Safely Use a Generator During a Power Outage. Better Homes & Gardens.
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