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10 Tips for Using a Generator

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Generators can be a real lifesaver. But used improperly, they can be a killer, too. Carbon monoxide and electrocution hazards are real dangers if you don't know what you're doing. Here are a few of the most important things to keep in mind.

 

Rung a generator away from the house
Never run a generator inside your home or an enclosed area. It's safest to operate a generator in an open outdoor space with plenty of ventilation.

Tip 1: Never operate a generator in or too close to your house

Generator manufacturers warn you over and over about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. Yet every year, people die from running their generators in their garage or too close to their house. The manufacturers aren't kidding. You can't run your generator in your garage, even with the door open. And you can't run it under your eaves either. Yes, it's a pain to move it away from the house and run longer extension cords. And yes, you'll have to stand in the rain to refill the unit. But it's better than burying your family.

 

Tip 2: Never "backfeed" power into your home

The Internet is filled with articles explaining how to "backfeed" power into your house with a "dual male-ended" extension cord. But that's horrible advice and you shouldn't follow it. Backfeeding is illegal—and for good reason. It can (and does) kill family members, neighbors and power company linemen every year. If you really want to get rid of all those extension cords, pony up the few hundred bucks for a transfer switch. Then pay an electrician to install it. That's the only safe alternative to multiple extension cords. Period.

 

Tip 3: Let the generator cool down before refilling

Generator fuel tanks are always on top of the engine so they can "gravity-feed" gas to the carburetor. But that setup can quickly turn into a disaster if you spill gas when refueling a hot generator. Think about it—if you spill fresh gas onto a hot engine and it ignites, you've got about 8 more gallons of gas sitting right above the fire. Talk about an inferno! It's no wonder generators (and owners) go up in flames every year from that little mistake. Spilling is especially easy if you refill at night without a flashlight. We know you can go without power for a measly 15 minutes, so cool your heels while the sucker cools down.

 

Tip 4: Store and pour safely

Most local residential fire codes limit how much gasoline you can store in your home or attached garage (usually 10 gallons or less). So you may be tempted to buy one large gas can to cut down on refill runs. Don't. Because, at 6 lbs. per gallon, there's no way you can safely hold and pour 60 lbs. of gas without spilling. Plus, most generator tanks don't hold that much, so you increase your chances of overfilling. Instead, buy two high-quality 5-gallon cans. While you're at it, consider spending more for a high-quality steel gas can with a trigger control valve (Justrite No. 7250130 is one example). 

 

Tip 5: Run it on a level surface

Many small generators have "splash" lubrication systems with crankshaft "dippers" that scoop up oil and splash it onto moving parts. That system works well if the unit is on level ground. But if you park the generator on a slope (usually more than 10 degrees), the dippers can't reach all the oil, and some engine parts run dry. That's a recipe for catastrophic failure. So heed the manufacturer's warnings and place your generator on a level surface. If you don't have a level spot, make one. That advice holds true even if you have a pressurized lubrication system.

 

Tip 6: Keep enough motor oil and filters on hand to get you through an extended outage

Most new generators need their first oil change after just 25 hours. After that, you'll have to dump the old stuff and refill every 50 or 60 hours. During extended outages, you can easily run your generator long enough to need an oil change. Don't count on finding the right oil filter for your particular generator after a major storm. Instead, buy extra filters and oil before the storm hits.

 

Tip 7: Limit cord length to prevent appliance damage

Generators are loud, so most users park them as far away from the house as possible. That's OK as long as you use a heavy-duty, 12-gauge, outdoor-rated extension cord. But even a 12-gauge cord has its limits. Never exceed a total length of 100 ft. from the generator to the appliance. The voltage drop on longer runs can cause premature appliance motor and compressor burnout.

 

Tip 8: Prevent theft

The only thing worse than the rumbling sound of a gasoline engine outside your bedroom window is the sound of silence after someone steals your expensive generator. Combine security and electrical safety by digging a hole and sinking a grounding rod and an eye hook in cement. Encase the whole thing in 4-in. ABS or PVC drainpipe, with a screw-on cleanout fitting. Then chain and lock your generator to the anchor. If you don't want to sink a permanent concrete pier, at least screw in ground anchors to secure the chain. Ground anchors are available in the hardware department at home centers.

 

Tip 9: Running out of gas can cost you

Some low-cost generators with economy voltage regulators will keep putting out power as the generator runs out of gas. As the generator comes to a stop, the electrical load in your house can drain the residual magnetic "field" from the generator coils. Sure, it'll start up once you refill it, but it won't generate power. You'll have to haul it into a repair shop and pay a pro to rezap the "field." That will cost you about $40. But good luck getting it serviced in the aftermath of a big storm. Instead, turn off the electrical load and shut down the generator before it runs out of fuel. Let it cool. Then refill it, restart it and connect the load.

 

Tip 10: Bad fuel can stop you in your tracks

Stale fuel is the No. 1 cause of starting problems on all gas-powered small engines. Every generator manufacturer recommends adding fuel stabilizer to the gas to minimize fuel breakdown and varnish and gum buildup. But they stressed that it's still no guarantee against future problems. So, many of the manufacturers and most repair shops recommend emptying the fuel tank and running the carburetor dry (run the engine until it stalls) once you're past the storm season. If your unit has a carburetor drain petcock, wait for the engine to cool and drain it manually. Dump the gas in your vehicle or take it to a recycling center. Always use fresh stabilized gas in your generator.

 

The Editors of The Family Handyman

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Comments
    • by posted on

      I don't see any mention of properly grounding the generator. This is very important. Grounding kits are manufactured just for this purpose as well as grounding connections on the generator. Sink a grounding rod 3-6 feet where you usually place your generator and make the connection. Dane

    • by posted on

      Great tips of how to use your generator! It is crucial to locate your generator in a well ventilated area, and like you mentioned never run it inside, including your garage.  Also, you should only use the generator when is necessary, and turn it off while you sleep or you are away from your home to avoid fire.  In addition, do not overload it; limit the number of appliances you use to the recommended wattage.

      www.delairelectrical.com

    • by posted on

      No more extension cord jungle for us. We spent the money to modify the existing electrical box to accept two additional circuit breakers to accommodate an outdoor receptacle. The receptacle accepts a special extension cord from the generator. A special aluminum plate ensures the mains power switch is always in the OFF position when the two new circuit breakers are active; allowing the generator to power the house. We have a 7.5 KvA generator and surprised it runs the necessary appliances and the well pump, too.

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