Before Using a Generator

During power interruptions, properly sized and installed emergency generators can safely power electrical equipment such as portable heating units, computers, water pumps, milking machines, home freezers, refrigerators and lighting. If you use an emergency generator, it is essential that you take precautions for your safety and for the safety of those working to restore power.

  • Select a proper generator by evaluating what appliances you really need to power in an emergency.
  • Read, understand and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Be sure that you fully understand the proper installation and operating procedures for your unit.  If possible, have your generator installed by a qualified electrician.
  • Before installing a generator, be sure to disconnect properly from your utility electrical service.

Terms to Know

  • Transfer Switch: An electrical switch that switches a load between two sources; some transfer switches are manual (operator effects transfer by throwing switch) while others are automatic and trigger when they sense one of the sources has lost or gained power.
  • Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI): A safety device on electrical outlets to shut off electricity if the outlet becomes ungrounded, which would create an unsafe condition and could produce an electrical shock.
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO): A poisonous gas that is formed when carbon is not burned completely, especially when gasoline is burned in engines, e.g., automobiles and generators.


Operating a Generator

Keep these key points in mind when operating an emergency generator:

  • Keep children away from generators at all times.
  • Operate outdoors in a clean, dry area.
  • Generator must be grounded properly.
  • After losing power, turn off main breaker or pull main fuse block.
  • Generators that are directly connected to existing wiring systems must use double-pole, double-throw (DPDT) transfer switch.
  • All electrical connections must comply with New York State Fire and Building Codes.
  • Do not overload generator with too many appliances.
  • Use properly sized extension cords in good condition.
  • Be aware that you may be liable for damage or injury to people and property resulting from an improperly installed or operated emergency generator.

Generator Hazards

Shock and Electrocution

The electricity created by generators has the same hazards as normal utility-supplied electricity. It also has some additional hazards because generator users often bypass the safety devices, such as circuit breakers that are built into electrical systems.

  • Never attach a generator directly to the electrical system of a structure (home, office, trailer) unless a qualified electrician has properly installed the generator with a transfer switch. Attaching a generator directly to a building electrical system without properly installed transfer switch can energize wiring systems for great distances. This creates a risk of electrocution for utility workers and others in the area.

  • Always plug electrical appliances directly into the generator using the manufacturer’s supplied cords or extension cords that are grounded (3 pronged). Inspect the cords to make sure they are fully intact and not damaged, cut or abraded. Never use frayed or damaged extension cords. Ensure the cords are appropriately rated in watts or amps for the intended use. Do not use underrated cords---replace them with appropriately rated cords that use heavier gauge wires. Do not overload a generator; this can lead to overheating which can create a fire hazard.

  • Use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), especially where electrical equipment is used in or around wet or damp locations. GFCIs shut off power when an electrical current is detected outside normal paths. GFCIs and extension cords with built-in GFCI protection can be purchased at hardware stores, do-it-yourself centers, and other locations that sell electrical equipment. Regardless of GFCI use, electrical equipment used in wet and damp locations must be listed and approved for those conditions.

  • Make sure a generator is properly grounded and the grounding connections are tight. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions for proper grounding methods.Keep a generator dry; do not use it in the rain or wet conditions. If needed, protect a generator with a canopy. Never manipulate a generator’s electric components if you are wet or standing in water.

  • Do not use electrical equipment that has been submerged in water. Equipment must be thoroughly dried out and properly evaluated before using. Power off and do not use any electrical equipment that has strange odors or begins smoking.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas. Many people have died from CO poisoning because their generator was not adequately ventilated.

  • Never use a generator indoors or in enclosed spaces such as garages, crawl spaces, and basements. NOTE: Open windows and doors may NOT prevent CO from building up when a generator is located in an enclosed space.
  • Make sure a generator has 3 to 4 feet of clear space on all sides and above it to ensure adequate ventilation.
  • Do not use a generator outdoors if its placement near doors, windows, and vents could allow CO to enter and build up in occupied spaces.
  • If you or others show symptoms of CO poisoning—dizziness, headaches, nausea, tiredness—get to fresh air immediately and seek medical attention. Do not re-enter the area until it is determined to be safe by trained and properly equipped personnel.

Fire Hazard

  • Generators become hot while running and remain hot for long periods after they are stopped.  Generator fuels (gasoline, kerosene, etc.) can ignite when spilled on hot engine parts.
  • Before refueling, shut down the generator and allow it to cool.
  • Gasoline and other generator fuels should be stored and transported in approved containers that are properly designed and marked for their contents, and vented.
  • Keep fuel containers away from flame producing and heat generating devices (such as the generator itself, water heaters, cigarettes, lighters, and matches).  Do not smoke around fuel containers.  Escaping vapors or vapors from spilled materials can travel long distances to ignition sources.
  • Do not store generator fuels in your home.  Store fuels away from living areas.

Noise and Vibration

  • Generator engines vibrate and create noise. Excessive noise and vibration could cause hearing loss and fatigue that may affect job performance.
  • Keep portable generators as far away as possible from work areas and gathering spaces.  Wear hearing protection if this is not possible.