A portable generator is a good power solution if you don't want to invest in a standby generator or if you need electricity for activities away from the home. Learn how to calculate your power requirements and find the best portable generator for your needs.
Portable generators can supply power to vital devices around the home when you're facing a blackout. Outside the home, a small portable generator can provide power for TVs, small appliances, power tools and lights while camping. You can put medium to larger portable generators to work at construction sites to operate power tools such as drills, saws, paint sprayers and air compressors.
Always follow the generator manufacturer's operating, maintenance and safety instructions.
Portable generators run on gasoline or liquid propane (LP) to back up important devices and appliances (such as lights, a refrigerator or a sump pump) during an outage. Add a manual transfer switch and you can deliver the full output of your portable generator to your home's electrical system, letting you back up hardwired appliances.
You should regularly maintain and test backup portable generators for readiness. Have a safe outdoor location to operate the generator, and be familiar with the manufacturer's operation recommendations.
The wattage a portable generator produces will determine the items it can power. Deciding how much power you need is an important part of selecting a portable generator size. Use this worksheet to estimate the power requirements of the items you want to run and determine how much power you need from a generator.
Portable generators are available in a wide range of sizes and features:
Before reading these tips, always read the owner's manual and instructions for your portable generator, which also provide safety tips. Carefully follow all instructions and warnings to safely start and operate the generator. Do not cut corners when it comes to safety. These tips are merely supplemental and are not intended to substitute reading the owner's manual.
Carbon Monoxide and Ventilation
Gasoline, Fueling and Preventing Burns
Electrocution Hazard and Electrical Shock Hazards
Generator Placement and Operation
What is the difference between rated watts and maximum (surge) watts?
Rated watts describe the amount of power the portable generator can produce continuously. Maximum wattage is the power that the generator can produce for short periods of time. The power a motor needs when starting up is a good example of maximum wattage requirements.
Can I use a portable generator for backup during a power outage?
Yes. You can plug household appliances and devices into a portable generator, but not all simultaneously.
Never plug your generator into an outlet in your home or business. If you would like to connect a portable generator to your home's wiring system, have a certified electrician install an approved manual power transfer switch in compliance with electrical codes.
What is a transfer switch?
A transfer switch allows you to connect a portable generator to your home's electrical system, while safely disconnecting you from the utility grid. This will eliminate any chance of a dangerous back-feed.
What is a back-feed?
A back-feed occurs when a generator is plugged into an electrical outlet, feeding power back onto utility lines. This creates a life-threatening hazard for any utility employees working to restore power to these lines.
Does the portable generator need to be grounded?
Yes. For safety, the generator must be properly grounded. If the generator is not grounded, you risk electrocution. Check and adhere to all applicable federal, state and local regulations relating to grounding.
Can I vent the exhaust out of an enclosed area?
No. Never run the generator in the home or an enclosed area. Portable generators are designed to run outside where there is plenty of ventilation. Generator exhaust, like that of all gasoline engines, contains poisonous carbon monoxide. For more information, refer to Portable Generator Safety Tips above.
Can I use the generator during inclement weather?
You can use a generator during a wide variety of weather and temperatures, but you should protect it from the elements when it is not in use to prevent shorting and rusting. Never run a generator indoors.
How often should I perform routine maintenance?
Check your owner's manual for the recommended maintenance schedule.
Where can I purchase parts?
You can purchase parts through any authorized dealer. Refer to the dealer locator section on the manufacturer's web site to find a dealer near you.
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A fuel stabilizer can prevent gum, varnish, rust and corrosion from forming in a portable generator engine and can keep gasoline fresh for more dependable starts. See the generator manual for instructions on using fuel additives.