Many families prepare for the possibility of power outages by purchasing portable electric generators. Here are some things to consider before and after you purchase your generator.

How Do I Use My Generator Safely?

The portable generator, while in operation, should be located outside in an unheated, covered, well-ventilated area. Do not operate the generator in a house, basement, attached garage, or any enclosed area. Exhaust gases contain carbon monoxide, which is an odorless, invisible, poisonous gas.

Portable generators have traditionally been used to run plug-in appliances like refrigerators, freezers, and lights. Any appliance that is not permanently wired into the home’s electrical system can be operated with polarized extension cords from the generator. Generally, #10 and #12 wire size extension cords are needed for 1,200- to 1,800-watt loads. Be careful! Overloading extension cords may cause a fire.

A double-throw transfer switch must be used for 240-volt appliances, as well as for hard-wired appliances like furnaces or water pumps. A polarized outdoor-rated extension cord connects the generator to a fused outlet that feeds the transfer switch. The switch prevents your generator from feeding electricity back into SMECO’s lines and causing injury or possibly killing linemen working to restore your power. The transfer switch must be installed by a licensed electrician and inspected by an electrical inspector to prevent house fires and ensure that the generator is not overloaded.

How Do I Choose a Generator?

Before you buy an emergency generator, calculate how much power you need to run essential appliances during a power outage. You should know both the running wattage and the starting wattage needed to run appliances.

Running wattage, also called rated watts, can be found on the appliance nameplate. Starting wattage is an important rating for compressors, motors, and pumps, and is usually two to seven times the running wattage. The starting wattage for the smallest heat pumps and central air conditioning unit will be greater than 10,000 watts, which is beyond the capacity of most portable generators.

To determine generator size, first decide what essential equipment needs to be operated, and which large appliances can be cycled on and off. It may be practical to rotate equipment use to reduce the size and cost of the generator you need.

Buying a generator can be a lot like buying an automobile. The body and engine are included in the base price, but the many desirable features you want cause the price to go up. Practical options to look for include the following:

  • Overhead valve engine for longer engine life and quieter operation;
  • Pressurized lubrication for longer engine life;
  • Auto idle control to reduce noise level and fuel consumption;
  • Large gas tank (larger than 5 gallons);
  • Low oil shutdown feature to prevent engine damage; and
  • Wheel kit for easy transport

How Can I Get More Information?

For more information about selecting and sizing a portable generator, contact your local generator dealer.