Generator Buyer’s Guide + How to Use a Generator (Safely!)

How to Use a Generator

Here’s what you need to know about operating a generator safely.

Generators can be your salvation during a power outage or in locations without electricity but figuring out which generator its best for you can be an intimidating process. Here’s our buying guide on how get a generator that suits your needs and some important tips for safe operation.

Determine Your Power Priorities

Generator sizes are measured in watts. It’s helpful to start by making a list of all the things you want to keep running during an outage. Often this list will include:

  • Refrigerator
  • Window AC Unit
  • Lights
  • Portable Heater
  • Personal Electronics

Typically, a 5000-watt generator is recommended to cover the basics. Manufacturers often have wattage estimate guides online to help you determine precisely your energy needs. Honda has a great one here:

Determine Which Kind of Generator You Need

There are three main kinds of generators. Portable generators are a great value for your money. They run on gasoline and typically range in power from 3000 to 8000 watts.

Inverter generators are a bit more complex than portable generators and so are typically more expensive for similar amounts of power. They match their power output to the amount of power being used by your devices rather than running at full blast all the time. This allows them to use fuel more efficiently and run at lower volumes.

Home standby generators are permanently installed, can run on natural gas or propane, and turn on automatically when your power goes out. They also typically supply larger amounts of power than portable or inverter generators. These will generally require an electrician’s knowledge and skill to install.

You can also look into a portable power station. These devices use neither gas or propane to power your house. Instead, they use a battery that is charged by plugging it into an electrical outlet or in some cases hooking it up to a solar panel.

5 Tips for Safely Operating Your Generator

  1. Always Run Your Generator Outdoors

Your generator needs a dry place out of the rain and snow. The best place is outside, under a canopy for protection. Indoors is not a good place for a generator since it produces harmful carbon monoxide and can be noisy. A distance of 15 feet is the minimum recommended distance to prevent harmful fumes from coming inside.

  1. Don’t Connect the Generator to a Power Outlet in the House

Always follow the safety instructions in the manual and do not connect the generator to a power outlet in your house. This causes what is called ‘back feeding’ and can result in someone getting electrocuted. An electrician can give you advice on powering your whole house and can install a “transfer switch” for you. This allows your home wiring to accept power from the generator.

  1. Make Sure to Use the Right Cord

Often people will invest $100’s if not $1000’s a quality generator only to skimp out on the cord used to run electricity. It is crucial that you use a heavy-duty extension cord designed for outdoor use when powering your devices.

  1. Never Fuel Your Generator While it’s Hot

Remember to “only fuel when it’s cool”. A small fuel spill on a hot generator can cause a fire. Generators cool down relatively fast once you shut them off so make sure to wait a   few minutes before fueling. It’s also important that you store reserve fuel away from the generator in case of an accident.

  1. Don’t Use Bad Fuel

Some of the most common issues associated with small engine equipment stem from using faulty fuel. Keep reserve fuel stored safely and check the manufacturer’s recommendation for using a fuel stabilizer.

Ongoing care is needed for your generator so always keep it on level ground and away from dust, moisture and dirt. Run the generator at least once a month and have it serviced regularly (oil change, spark plugs, filter, etc.)

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