How to Survive a Blackout: Generator Safety Tips

HomeHow to Survive a Blackout: Generator Safety Tips

By

Rebecca Edwards

Mar 22, 2024

4 min read

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The 2024 hurricane season is primed to be a big one, with the expected formation of La Niña this summer. Having a backup generator can be a lifesaver during unexpected power outages caused by storms, grid failures, or downed power lines.
Kyle Raabe, President of Consumer Power at Generac, sat down with us to discuss the dos and don’ts of using generators during blackouts. Read on for his essential tips for proper generator usage and safety.

When should you use your generator? Alternately, when should you NOT use a generator?
Having a generator on hand for backup power during outages caused by storms, downed power lines, or a failing grid can provide homeowners with peace of mind to keep their families safe and secure. Generators are designed for short-term use and should never be used as the main source of everyday power for a home.

How do you make sure your generator is ready to go if needed?
Regular maintenance is crucial for ensuring your generator operates at its best when needed. This includes oil and filter changes, air filter inspections, and periodic spark plug checks. Additionally, running the generator for short periods every month keeps it in good condition.
When you’re not using the portable generator consistently, it is recommended you start and run it for a half hour every thirty days as a way of “exercising” the generator. If you are storing your generator between uses, make sure it’s in a dry, safe place to prevent moisture, which can cause rust to accumulate in the fuel tank. Here are just a few more guidelines to follow:

Add fuel stabilizer if your portable generator is stored for over 30 days.
If fuel stabilizer is added, prepare and run the engine for long-term storage:

Run the engine for 10-15 minutes to circulate the stabilizer
Do NOT store fuel from one season to the next unless properly treated with a fuel stabilizer

If fuel stabilizer is not used, drain the fuel tank before storage.

What precautions should be taken when using a generator?
There are many safety precautions to consider when using a generator. A generator should only be operated in dry weather conditions, not when it rains or snows. It’s also essential to keep children away from generators at all times.
Generators emit carbon dioxide when running, so be sure to follow all guidelines on placing the unit 25 feet from your home, away from openings, windows and vents.
Do not connect a generator system directly into your home’s wiring or a regular household outlet, and always use the correctly rated extension cord.

Where is it safe to run a generator? Is it safe to put a generator on a porch or deck—what about a garage?
It is only safe to run a generator outdoors, at least 25 feet away from your home. Do not install a generator indoors or in a partly enclosed area like a garage. There are significant safety risks because the generator’s exhaust contains carbon monoxide. Place your generator far away from windows, doors, vents and crawl spaces.

How far away should a generator be from your house?
Portable generators should be placed at least 25 feet away from the home, far away from windows, doors, vents and crawl spaces. Generac recommends five feet of clearance from any debris on all sides of the generator to allow for proper ventilation.

Is it okay to leave a generator running all night?
Portable generators are able to run overnight for emergency power, assuming the user is able to ensure the unit can remain fueled for use safely. Generators have different run cycles depending on the size of the fuel tank and power load.
Before adding more fuel to a generator, you have to allow the generator time to cool off. It is important to remember that generators should not be used as an alternative to regular electrical power. They require necessary maintenance that would disallow a homeowner to strictly power their home with a generator and no other energy sources.

What is the biggest mistake people make with generators?
Some of the biggest mistakes first-time generator users make include not gaining the proper knowledge to safely operate a generator. You need to know where to store it, when to use it and how to maintain it.
Always remember that a safe location is outdoors, on a flat surface and away from the home. You cannot operate a generator in wet weather conditions like snow or rain. You also need to remember to utilize an outdoor-rated extension cord. Utilizing an indoor extension cord could risk electrocution.

What is the most important thing you’d want everyone to know about using a generator?
Knowledge is key when learning how to use a generator. You need to be able to not only safely operate a generator but also learn how to properly maintain it so that it lasts. Generators are powerful pieces of equipment that can help keep people safe and secure in disastrous situations like hurricanes and tornadoes, but they also have their own safety features that need to be considered.
It is crucial to consider the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and follow guidelines for generator placement far away from the home and have functioning carbon monoxide detectors indoors. For more safety tips and information, visit www.generac.com.

How can people choose the best backup power source?
Consumers have several options for backup power sources to consider. Identifying specific power needs, fuel options and budget will help narrow down to the best choice.

Compact portable power stations are battery backup options suitable for people living in condominiums or apartments, as they have no emissions and can be used indoors. They can power specific devices like kitchen appliances or a laptop and are small and light enough to be carried by hand.
Portable generators offer the flexibility of on-the-go power. Usually gas or diesel powered, these generators can be used for emergency power during outages, or while camping, tailgating or working on a job site.
Home standby generators have the capacity to power an entire home. These generators are permanently connected to a home’s electrical system and have the technology to automatically start when power is lost, regardless of if the person is at home or not.

Related articles on SafeWise

Best Portable Home Generators Buyers Guide
Best Solar Generators
The Best Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Deaths Are on the Rise
Surprising Ways to Protect Your Home from Hurricanes

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Written by

Rebecca Edwards

Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more.
You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader’s Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.

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