How to operate a portable generator safely

A gasoline-powered generator emits carbon monoxide and should never be run in the house or in an enclosed space. And don't turn it on until the rain stops.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Oct 29, 2012 2:14PM

© Lynnette Peizer / AlamyAs the lights go out along the East Coast as Hurricane Sandy moves in, many homeowners are trying to remember how to operate those gas-powered generators that have been sitting down in the basement.


While you’re waiting for the storm to pass, dig out the owner's manual and refresh your memory about how to operate your generator safely. Deaths from carbon monoxide from generators used improperly happen too often after a hurricane.


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Never, never, operate a generator inside a house, garage or other enclosed area. While your power may already be off, the time to use the generator does not arrive until after the rain has stopped. This means that unless you have a whole-house generator that is already hooked up to your electrical system and is outside your home, you will not be able to use it to run the sump pump during the storm.


A portable generator should be placed as far from the house as possible and away from doors and windows to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. A generator can produce 100 times the carbon monoxide created by a car exhaust.

"Where you run a generator can make the difference between life and death," Inez Tenenbaum, head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said in a news release in August, after Hurricane Isaac. "The only safe place to operate a generator is outside in open air, placed far from your home, not in a garage or any enclosed space."

Be considerate of your neighbors. A gasoline-powered generator can be incredibly noisy. If your neighbors can hear your generator, it’s only common courtesy to offer them an industrial-strength extension cord to their house or an invitation to watch TV at your house. Your neighbors will also appreciate it if you turn your generator off at night. If you live near me, please don’t even buy one.

Here are some other tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the CSPC about operating a portable generator safely:

  • Make sure you have a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector operating inside your house.
  • Place the generator on a dry surface, preferably with a roof over it, so no water can get to the device. If it rains, turn the generator off. Don’t touch a generator with wet hands.
  • Don’t plug your generator into an outlet in your house. This endangers utility workers and neighbors served by the same transformer. It could also damage your electrical system.
  • Don’t try to connect your generator to your entire electrical system. This should be done only by an electrician or your utility company. In most cases, a portable gas-powered generator is not adequate for this purpose.
  • Use a heavy-duty extension cord rated for outdoor use from your generator to your home appliances.
  • Remember that a gasoline-powered generator is not enough to power up all the appliances in your home. Before connecting your refrigerator, check the owner’s manuals of both to make sure the generator is up to the task.
  • Store your gasoline away from electrical appliances.
  • Let the engine cool for at least two minutes before refueling.
  • Don’t run the generator when you’re not home.
  • Check your manual to see if your generator is safe for computers and other sensitive electronic equipment. Many less expensive generators don’t produce “clean” enough power for electronics.

If you’re lucky enough to have a standby generator that can power your whole house, remember that it’s expensive to run. One colleague used $900 worth of propane powering her house for just five days after Hurricane Wilma in 2005.


A portable generator can also go through a lot of fuel quickly, as much as 34 gallons of gas in just two days.


If you want more storm safety tips, you can follow the CPSC on Twitter @onsafety.

Oct 30, 2012 6:02AM

When I lose power I don't expect to live normal life. I run my Gen 1hr on, 2hrs off  it keeps the refrigerators cold and my battery charged for my 12volt lights and radio. If you are so spoiled that you need to have full power no matter what you deserve a $900.00 bill for 5 days. I come from old yankee stock and my grandfather had a 2500watt gen and never lost any food and that was in the sticks of vermont where you accumulate at least a couple weeks of power loss every winter

Oct 30, 2012 5:48AM
If you need a generator then you have no power if you have no power how are you reading this?

Maybe you should look at the operators manual that comes with the generator.

General Electric aka MSNBC at it again no wonder they own and operate Obamadamdindong

Oct 30, 2012 5:33AM
What a twat.  "If you live by me dont even buy one"  are you kidding me?  I would LOVE to live next to her. 
Oct 30, 2012 5:19AM
Introducing the Yamaha 1000i Generator.  (That's what I use).  Runs 12 hours on 0.8 gallons of gas, runs clean electricity that is safe to run a computer on, very little carbon monoxide gas, and is almost as quiet as a mouse.
Oct 30, 2012 5:13AM
"greenliving" should be a warning.  One of those, no doubt, who would love to see the human race back to living only in the tropics and eating leafy things.  This is so misleading it shouldn't be allowed on the net much less featured.  Give some real advice on sizing, locating, and using and it could save a lot of lives and a lot of money.  My 12Kw - sitting in its own shed outside the house and connected to the house and a transfer box/fuse box by a cerified electrician - pretty well powers my entire house if I use even a smidgen of common sense about not turning on everything I own and leaving it on. My five gallon gas tank runs 8-12 hours depending on circumstances and load and it has automatic shutoffs in case of low oil levels or overheating.  If you live in an area where loss of power is frequent and lack of power is a dangerous condition, by all means do your homework (but before the emergency if you don't want to get ripped off) and invest.
Oct 30, 2012 4:59AM
If she lives next to me she'll hear my generator or move. Wouldn't run it all night but it will run it all day to cool down the frig and freezer.
Oct 30, 2012 4:41AM
I would have to agree with most of the posters, her numbers are ridiculous, I install these things for a living, mostly in the 60kw range and larger and you can calculate the fuel requirements easily. I have a 10kw on my house and when the power goes out none of my neighbors complain, unless of course their cord is too short. A couple of things though, don't buy a cheap one unless you only want to run it for a few hours, they suck fuel, are noisy and can overheat, right now Honda and Yamaha are making some of the best portables, also if you are going to store gas for any length of time use an additive, due to modern regulations from the EPA most gas should be used in 3 mos. But using an additive like STA-BIL will keep it good for a year.
Oct 30, 2012 3:37AM

The writer makes a few, very few good pionts but missed the boat in how to run, when to run and whether to own one.  To be able to keep your fridge and freezer from losing all the valuabel prodcuts inside and to be able to provide power for basic needs like keeping your basement drained of damaging waters or making a warm meal are the reasons people should use them.  If the weather is horrible hot or cold running one at night may be the only way to get valuable sleep.

Have on hand some form of shelter for your generator like a tarp and stakes, a foldable crate or something to keep the weather out and allow you to keep it outside not only will it cut down on noise, it keeps you safe from carbon monoxide.  Mine can run our emergency needs for a week by alternating when you use it and only using for absolute neccessity for less than 5$ a day.  Common sense is what most people are lacking.

Oct 30, 2012 3:23AM
Ok I don't know what type of generator she is using but mine will run my fridge,TV / dish system  and a couple of lights on 2 gal of gas for about 8-10 hours. I love the part about if you live near me don't even buy one. Everyone around her should have to sit in the dark or cold or heat because she might be bothered by the noise. Of course her rights are more important than everyone else's. If I lived by her I would buy generators for the neighbors just so we could run them 27/7. As for not running it till after the rain stops that is stupid also. I agree safety is first but where I live snow can knock out power for a couple of days at a time,that is why we have them. Mine is out in my 14 by 20 work shed and I run it all day.
Oct 30, 2012 3:21AM
generators do work well if you have some basic skills! the problem is most people have skills that are attached to a chair! these people soon find themselfs as prey when the power grid goes down! in these cases handyman types survive well, and others have only hope! the wealthy will trade their riches they killed for and will give gold for a burger!  the system is broken and can not be fixed in many years of future greed.we value money more they life. 
Oct 30, 2012 2:54AM
I would love to know where she gets some of her "horror numbers". I have a 6500 watt generator that runs a freezer, my refridgerator, enough plug in lights to get around the house safely, a 10000BTU wall A/C unit, the TV and a Blueray player and it uses 5 gallons every 10-12 hours, or 20 gallons ini two days. As far as turning it off at night? Ms Mears lives in So Florida-she should just keep heading out to sea. South Louisiana in August with no A/C at night? What a nut case.
Oct 30, 2012 2:11AM

The people in the North East are not up to how you use a generaor. We have to have them in South Louisiana as we may go for weeks with out power after our storms that hit every year.

It does not have to be a hurricane,but a very heavy thunder storm will knock out power for days.

I have put my Generator in the middle of the street and ran two of my neighbors homes also. They had freezers full of meat.

We keep a minum of 40 gallons of fuel for the generator during the entire storm season because the stations can't pump fuel unless they have power. 

There is a devise called a transfer switch that everyone who has a large generator should install. It allows your generator to run slected things in your home so that it is not overloaded. It also stops the generator from backfeeding the power lines and keeps electrical workers safe.

Our mother in law advised they had a generator and one gallon of gas, are you kidding me?

Oct 29, 2012 11:47PM
No way I'm shutting my generator off at night-are you crazy?  Why do you think I bought the damn thing-while you pivved off your money on video games and big TV's.  Come monkey with it and you'll be treated as a thief in the night.  This is Florida, we have storms.  The last power outage lasted over 4 hours and I had a freezer full of meat,and my frig was full of easily spoiled perishables...and, I'm easily spoiled.   In 2005, my neighbors were out of elecric up to a week.  They sure didn't mind "borrowing" food to feed their kids and husbands.  Can you imagine, not the first husband came over, they sent their wives over to ask for food and water. 
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