Portable Generator Safety Tips

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A portable generator is a great alternative power source for your RV or for powering some of your household appliances in emergency situations. Because we’re dealing with gas and electricity here, you’ll need to follow these portable generator safety tips for safe operation.

Test Your Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector 

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Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that can lead to full incapacitation and, in the worst case, death. You can be exposed to it even if you don’t smell exhaust fumes and the early warning signs are feelings of dizziness, weakness, and sickness. 

If you feel any of these signs, get outside and into fresh air IMMEDIATELY. 

It should also be noted that CO poisoning can affect your neighbors, whether you’re using a generator at home or in a campground. Ensure your generator isn’t expelling fumes into anyone else’s home or RV and notify neighbors of its use to be as safe as possible. 

To protect yourself from carbon monoxide exposure, make sure your CO detectors are plugged in and operating properly. Test the batteries frequently and replace them when needed. If your CO alarm goes off, move outside into fresh air or next to an open door or window. 

Install CO detectors according to the listing in your home to provide an early warning system in the event of a carbon monoxide accumulation. In RVs, only use CO detectors made for RV use and install them according to their listing.

Place Your Generator Outside 

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Generators produce carbon monoxide (CO). If they are placed inside and without proper ventilation, this poses a serious health risk. Your generator should always be positioned outside and at least 20-25 feet from any open doors, windows, or vents that could allow carbon monoxide to filter inside. 

In an RV park, place the generator a full power cord length away from all coaches in the vicinity. 

Never operate a generator inside your home, garage, recreational vehicle, or any other enclosed area.

Keep It Protected From The Elements 

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You also need to make sure your generator is protected from the elements. While keeping your generator a safe distance from your home, RV, and other RVs, utilize a generator cover to protect it from rains and moisture. 

Just know you must remove the cover before starting your generator.

Place it in a dry area, ideally underneath some sort of canopy that will protect it from rainfall. The canopy should not be enclosed and should still provide plenty of airflow around your generator. 

Operate your generator in a dry, well-ventilated, but covered space. Never leave a generator out in wet or rainy conditions and never touch a generator with wet hands.

Never operate a generator underneath an RV awning, 5th wheel alcove, or under the coach itself.

Disconnect From Regular Utilities 

Before using your generator to power RV or household appliances, disconnect from your normal power source. You can do this by shutting off power from the main breaker behind your home’s electrical panel or unplugging your RV from an electrical stand. 

Disconnect from your normal source of power before powering household or RV appliances with your generator. This protects appliances from damage when power returns and eliminates the possibility of your generator sending power down utility lines, affecting workers attempting to repair an outage.

Plug Appliances Directly into the Generator

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When powering an individual appliance from a stand-alone portable generator, unplug it from the wall outlet and connect it directly to the generator. This requires running heavy-duty extension cords from your refrigerator, heater, and other appliances to the outdoor location where you’re safely running your generator.

Never attempt to connect a stand-alone generator to the main 120-volt AC service by plugging it into a wall outlet or by wiring it directly into an electrical service panel. 

Connection directly to a home’s 120-volt AC service must be performed by a licensed professional and requires specialized equipment. Unplugging an RV from the park pedestal and plugging it into an appropriately-sized portable generator will power the entire coach.

Use The Right Extension Cords 

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Heavy-duty extension cords designed for outdoor use should always be used when plugging into your generator. This is the case even if the majority of the cord is lying inside or in a protected area. 

Here are a few criteria to look for: 

  • Weatherproof housing
  • Minimum 20-25 foot cord length
  • Minimum 10AWG/3C copper wire
    • AWG = American wire gauge
    • C = Conductor count
  • Rated up to a minimum of 600-volts
  • ETL (Electrical Testing Labs) certified

Make sure your extension cords are in good condition and contain a wire gauge rated for the electrical loads of all connected appliances. Also, consider using a surge protector to protect your RV/home appliances from electrical surges.

Maintain Ample Fuel Supply 

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Photo by Tonographer via Shutterstock

Your generator is only as effective as the amount of fuel you have to keep it running. Whether your generator runs on propane, diesel, or gasoline (or it gives you the option of using multiple fuel types), you need to keep enough on hand to refill as needed. 

Always keep a backup supply of fuel so you can refill your generator without making a supply run!

Always use the type of fuel recommended by the generator’s manufacturer and store it in a dry, well-ventilated location away from heat sources.

Most generators require ethanol-free fuel, as fuels with ethanol can go bad more quickly. If your generator will be sitting with fuel in it for more than 30 days, you may need to use a fuel stabilizer to prevent it from going bad.

Operate Your Generator Regularly

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Most generators should be operated at least once a month. This ensures proper lubrication of internal parts, proper function of the carburetor, and keeps the battery charged. 

For example, Generac and Cummins I series portable generators call for operating them for a minimum of 20 minutes each month. Onan built-in generators, in comparison, call for two hours per month at 50% load. 

Consult your generator’s owner’s manual for recommended guidelines on fuel management, regular operation, and short and long-term generator storage.

Turn It Off Before Refueling 

Make sure your generator is powered down before refueling. You should also give it plenty of time to cool off before adding more fuel. 

Never attempt to refuel a generator while it is running or immediately after it has been shut off. 

Follow The Manufacturer’s Operation and Maintenance Instructions

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Photo by Feng Yu via Shutterstock

In summary, read your owner’s manual and follow all instructions for safe generator operation and maintenance! 

Generators must be maintained properly just like any household or RV appliance. Your owner’s manual contains all the recommended information you will need to operate your generator safely and efficiently. 

Tucker Ballister is a Technical Content Writer for Camping World and a lover of the open road. You can check out more of his adventures and outdoor advice at thebackpackguide.com.

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