7 Backup Power Generator Safety Tips

Power outages are an occasional fact of life in Southern California. When fire, accidents, high winds or other events temporarily shut down the electrical grid, many of our customers turn to backup generators to keep the power going. But with its massive voltage, top-loaded fuel tank, and potential volatility, you must take extra caution to run a power generator as safely as possible.

Rowland Air offers these seven tips for careful and safe use of your backup generator in an emergency.

  1. Keep it outside.Never operate a power generator inside your home, including your basement or garage—there’s a great risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and burns in an enclosed space. Run it at least 20 feet away from your house, away from windows and doors, in a well-ventilated spot.
  2. Keep it dry.Most power generator makers strongly advise against operating their equipment during rain or snowstorms. Moisture and high voltage never mix well together, often resulting in explosions or permanent damage to your generator. If you must use a backup power generator in a wet-weather emergency, keep it completely shielded from the elements underneath a large canopy (which is a good idea in usually dry Southern California weather, too).
  3. Refuel it only when it’s turned off and cooled down.Spillage commonly happens when gassing up the generator. But when you spill fuel on a still-hot engine, you risk igniting a fire—directly next to your generator’s tank and whatever fuel’s still in it, which will add up to a massive, likely deadly explosion. Turn the power off, walk away for a few, and refill the tank only after it’s cooled down.
  4. Use the right extension cord.Typical household extension cords aren’t suitable for use with portable generators. High-gauge cords with sufficient wattage and thickness are manufactured specifically for power generators. Be prepared to spend the extra money and ask your hardware store’s electrical expert for guidance.
  5. Use a manual transfer switch for use with inside appliances.It’s both unsafe and impractical to plug inside appliances directly into a power generator. For emergencies in which you must use indoor appliances, install a transfer switch that hooks your generator directly with your electrical circuit panel. Make sure the switch can handle the amp capacity of your home outlets and refer to the manufacturer’s manual for instructions.
  6. Never plug it directly into wall outlets.This is called “backfeeding,” it’s hugely dangerous and illegal in most communities—and if it isn’t, it should be. Sending power through an unbalanced load could spread to outside utility lines, cause massive electric shocks, and be potentially fatal to humans and animals.
  7. Stagger its use if its power is low. Overloading your generator with equipment that takes too much power can damage its fuse, possibly the equipment itself. If your generator can’t handle the power needed to run all the appliances or tools at once, use only one or two at a time in multiple shifts.