Portable Generator Safety Tips

 “Regardless of the numerous published warnings, consumers continue to operate portable generators in unsafe manners which prove to result in serious injuries and deaths every year,” said Mark Carpenter, CEO, Founder, GenTent Safety Canopies.


“GenTent’s Top 10 Portable Generator Safety Tips list is a playbook for the proper use of portable generators, and it enables owners to experience safe generator use year round.”


Portable Generator Safety becomes a hot topic each year as we enter storm season. Here are our Top 10 list on how to safely operate a portable generator.

Tip #1

Never run a generator in wet weather without a generator tent to avoid electrocution and generator damage.

Water and electricity create both an electrocution and generator damage hazard. Water seeping into the electrical outlets or electrical panel area can create a short circuit to the frame (and many generators are self grounded to the frame), thereby creating a static charge on the metallic areas. Further, plugging into or out of a wet generator can cause an electrical arc that can cause serious injury or death.

Tip #2

Never operate a generator indoors or in a garage, even with the door open, due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Always run it outdoors at least 20 feet from any buildings.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) kills and kills quickly. CO is odorless and colorless and weighs more than oxygen. Therefore, it collects and builds up in any structure. Having the garage door open does not guarantee that the CO will be taken out of the garage. Shifting winds can blow CO inward and enter your home through any opening in door or window seals. Even in a detached garage or shed, CO can linger for hours and be present in a strong enough density that you can be overcome when simply refueling your generator. According to CPSC research, CO levels from portable generators are 450-1500 times higher than modern automobile engines! Don't chance it, keep those portable generators outdoors and well away from structures.

Tip #3

To prevent overheating, never fully enclose the generator.

Portable generators produce significant heat ~600 degrees Fahrenheit at the exhaust is not uncommon. Open framed generators dissipate heat on all four sides. In our tests in 20 degree Fahrenheit outdoor temperatures with snow on the ground, it took less than 30 minutes to melt the snow in a six-foot radius around the generator. Enclosing a generator decreases the life of the generator because the generator runs too hot! Further, if it is enclosed with heat sensitive or flash-flammable materials, fire and serious injury can result.

Tip #4

Avoid creating a closed circuit through your body; use only one hand when touching your generator and always wear rubber-soled shoes.

Follow best practices when handling a portable generator. When you approach a running generator, touch the metallic surfaces with only one hand. Also be sure to wear rubber soled shoes - no open sandals, slippers, etc., especially if the ground is wet. Electricity flows through the least resistant path possible - don't let it be your body!

Tip #5

Avoid running your generator in Hurricane Force Winds (>70 MPH).

Being safe is often the same as being practical. Hurricane, Tornado and Cyclone force winds cause heavy objects to move. Portable generators are no exception. Although the GenTent has been tested above 70 MPH forecast winds and proved to stay attached, do not risk a running portable generator moving around or being lifted during the height of the storm. Wait until the winds subside.

Tip #6

Avoid the hot muffler area while refueling.

The most common source of gasoline igniting are the small droplets of gasoline that are mixed with air. The safest approach for portable generators is to give the generator muffler a chance to cool for 10 minutes before refueling. You can greatly reduce the risk of fuel dangers by not standing over the hot muffler side of your generator while refueling.

Tip #7

Avoid fuel clogging by shutting off the fuel valve and running the generator dry. Use fresh fuel and a fuel stabilizer if storing the generator for long periods of time.

You need your generator to be ready to go at a moments notice. The most common reason it won't start is fuel related. Gasoline breaks down and can gum up the carburetors or fuel lines when it sits too long. The best practice is to run the generator completely dry of gasoline before storing it, but this isn't always practical. The next best thing is to turn the fuel supply valve off and let the carburetor (or fuel injectors) run dry. The generator will stall and this way you'll know its dry. Add a fuel stabilizer to the rest of the gasoline in the tank. Additionally, running the generator every 3 months will minimize start up issues when you need the portable generator the most.

Tip #8

Turn off the generator main switch before plugging in your generator or starting it. Once started and the generator is idling, turn the main switch on.

Most portable generators manufactured since 2010 have a main on and off switch. Be sure the switch is off when starting the generator and before stopping the generator. The switch should always be off whenever plugging in or unplugging cords at the generator's electrical panel. These steps not only ensure your safety but also ensure the generator is ready to take the wattage and amp load. During start up or shut down the electricity the generator can create can have amperage and voltage spikes, which can damage any appliances or electronics that are connected.

Tip #9

Never operate a generator on saturated ground or in flood waters.

Quite simply, water and electricity do not mix.  Greatly reduce the risk and follow common safety best practices; keep your generator on dry even ground, and do not put it in an area that can flood.  As the possibility of moisture and flood waters rise, the risk of damage to your generator or injury greatly increase.

Tip #10

For emergency backup power to a home or building, always use a transfer switch.

A properly installed transfer switch isolates the circuits that will get electricity passed from the portable generator. This is important for two reasons: First, it ensures that electricity doesn't back feed onto the power lines. Back fed electricity can instantly kill line workers! Second, it helps keep the generator from being overloaded. Create a sequence of which circuits get turned on in which order, and which circuits are necessary. Give each circuit some time to settle in before turning the next up (5-10 seconds typically). This is because many devices, like the motors that run pumps in your water, heating, cooling and refrigeration, require a peak in wattage to get started.