Portable Generator Safety Hazards and Tips

Posted by Nicole L. on Feb 7th 2023

Portable Generator Safety Hazards and Tips

Portable generators can provide a great way to power your home in an emergency or during power outages. However, like with anything else, there are some associated risks. Portable generator safety hazards can branch into three categories — fire, carbon monoxide and electrical hazards. 

Portable Generator Fire Hazards

It's important to know that a portable generator can catch fire. Improper use of portable generators, spilled fuels, inadequate maintenance, or parts such as armatures, brushes and commutators that begin to spark are all hazards. Those sparks have the potential to ignite any gasoline fumes or spills, causing the generator to catch fire and the gas tank to explode. 

Portable generators produce a lot of heat when operating and stay hot for a long time after turning them off. Generators also run on flammable fuels, such as gasoline or kerosene, which, when spilled on hot parts, may cause a fire. The combination of heat, flammable fuels and electrical lines can lead to a fire started by a generator if the operator is not cautious. 

Portable generator fires can also occur when used too near the home. The surrounding area of the portable generator might easily enhance the fire risk. If the generator catches fire, the fire can spread to combustible items on the premises. These risks are greater when people leave generators unattended overnight or keep fuel supplies near the generator. 

Preventing Fire Hazards

Fires caused by portable generators can stem from different factors, from overheating and combustion to excessive carbon monoxide levels and faulty wires. Follow these three fundamental tips to prevent fire hazards: 

  • Choose safe locations: An essential method of preventing portable generator fire hazards is not to keep them in your home or enclosed spaces. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has a  set of generator standards and requirements for reference when choosing where to keep your portable generator. Run it outdoors at least 20 feet away from any buildings
  • Turn off when refueling: Never put gas in a generator when it is still operating or hot. Spilled fuel over a hot engine can ignite, resulting in a fire. Before refilling a portable generator, switch it off and allow it to cool down fully — which may take around 15 minutes. 
  • Store fuel safely: Portable generator fuel is combustible and should not be kept in your house. Store fuel, such as gasoline, kerosene, propane and other flammable liquids and gases, in non-glass safety containers with labels outside and away from open flames, pilot lights, sparks and smoking areas. 

Portable Generator Carbon Monoxide Hazards

Portable generators provide vital power during emergencies but can also create dangerous carbon monoxide (CO) levels. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) studies show that CO emissions from portable generators are hundreds of times greater than an automotive engine. CO is a colorless and odorless gas produced during the combustion of fuel, like gasoline, wood, coal, kerosene or other natural gases. 

Breathing in CO gases  prevents the effective use of oxygen, which can harm the brain, heart and other organs. People with health issues, such as heart or lung illness, are more vulnerable to CO poisoning. Infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly are also at higher risk. 

If you or others exhibit  CO poisoning symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, headaches or exhaustion, go outside to breathe in fresh air immediately and seek medical assistance. Only re-enter the area once skilled and appropriately equipped professionals have verified it to be safe.

Because CO is odorless and colorless, so it can easily accumulate in an enclosed space and quickly reach high levels without the inhabitants' knowledge. This poisonous gas accumulation causes problems, such as carbon monoxide poisoning. As a result, portable generators shouldn't be kept indoors or in enclosed spaces, such as garages, basements or crawl spaces. Open windows and doors are not sufficient enough to prevent CO buildup. 

Additionally, CO is a highly flammable gas, adding the degree of portable generators posing a fire hazard. Do not expose CO to open flames or sparks, and do not smoke near this flammable gas. 

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Hazards

Consider the following tips on how to prevent carbon monoxide hazards, such as CO poisoning or explosions and fires: 

  • Ensure adequate ventilation: Don't use a generator inside a home, shed, garage, crawlspace or other confined structures, even if fans or open doors and windows provide ventilation. Carbon monoxide levels may quickly rise in certain places and linger for hours after the generator is off.
  • Consider location distance: Keep your portable generator outside to prevent an accumulation of CO. Additionally, consider the distance between your portable generator and your home or other enclosed spaces. Generators may enable CO to enter and build up in occupied places with open doors, windows and vents. Remember to keep generators about 20 feet away from your home. 
  • Install CO alarms: Carbon monoxide alarms, either battery-powered or plug-ins with battery backups, should be installed in your house according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Frequently test your CO alarms and replace their batteries as needed. 

Portable Generator Electrical Hazards

Generators can cause shock and electrocution, primarily when used in rainy or wet conditions. If you use a generator when it's raining, place it in a dry area where water cannot reach, pool or drain beneath it. Generator power has the same risks as utility-supplied electricity. In other words, portable generators also pose additional risks if users bypass safety mechanisms, such as circuit breakers, fitted into electrical systems. 

Furthermore, overheating may occur when a portable generator's wire or electrical gadget becomes hot. When objects become too heated, they may begin to melt, exposing wires. It can ignite an electrical fire if it becomes hot enough. 

Preventing Electrical Hazards

To prevent the chance of experiencing an electrical hazard, such as electrocution or electrical fires, follow these three tips: 

  • Keep it dry: Keep your portable generator dry when operating it, and use a generator cover to further protect it. If your hands are wet, dry them before operating the generator. 
  • Avoid backfeeding it: Do not connect the generator to your home's electrical panel without a transfer switch. This technique, known as backfeeding, can put utility personnel and those served by the same power transformer in danger of electrocution. 
  • Use heavy-duty cords: Because your generator will run outside, you'll require extension cables to deliver electricity into your home. Heavy-duty cables with thick wires can carry more electricity than lighter-gauge wire cords. An undersized cable can cause it to overheat, melt the insulation or plugs, and cause an electric or fire hazard. Also, utilize grounded or three-prong extension cables. In the case of a short circuit or other electrical risks, grounded cables provide a prepared path for electricity to follow. 

Contact GenTent to Keep Your Portable Generator Safe

Continue learning about portable generator safety tips to keep your home safe. GenTent is a weather protection solution for portable generators. Because your portable generator must operate safely in rain, wind and snow, it requires a solution to keep out wet weather without posing problems such as overheating — that's where a GenTent cover comes in. 

Every GenTent on the market has been independently lab tested and rated for effectiveness. Contact us online or call us at 781-334-8368 for more information.