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How to safely use a generator during an outage

Posted: 6:46 PM, Sep 15, 2017
Updated: 2019-08-28 09:15:57-04

Powering Up Your Generator

  • Check fuel level.
  • If you must add fuel, be sure generator is cooled down.
  • Do not over fill.
  • Check oil level.
  • Check filter.
  • Check voltage selector to make sure it matches the type of application you are connecting to (CHOOSE BETWEEN '120-VOLTS AND 120-VOLT/240').
  • Move generator outside to well-ventilated area.
  • Place on a firm, level surface.
  • Connect a heavy duty, outdoor-rated power cord to generated, or connect appliances directly to generator to generator.
  • Turn generator's circuit breaker off.
  • Turn power switch on.
  • Pull cord.
  • Let generator warm up before turning circuit breaker back on.


Some generators operate on unleaded gasoline. Others use diesel fuel. Five gallons of gas will power a 5,600 watt generator for about eight hours. One gallon of gas will power a 3,000 watt generator for about 3 1/2 hours.

Additional supplies

You will also need multi-gallon, vented containers for storing gasoline (fill before storm comes), engine oil, an outdoors-rated extension cord and a carbon-monoxide detector.

Caring for your generator

  • Never over fill gas.
  • Don't use stale or contaminated gas.
  • Avoid getting dirt or water in the fuel tank.
  • Turn fuel valve off when transporting or storing generator. This keeps fuel from diluting engine oil and damaging engine.
  • Run generator at least once a month. This lubricates the engine, recharges the battery and lets fresh gas through the carburetor.
  • When storing a generator for more than two months, drain fuel and add fuel conditioner to top it off, following directions on the label.
  • Change oil regularly, according to your model's manual.
  • Change filter regularly. according to your model's manual.

Safety Tips

The risks (if you don't do it right): carbon-monoxide poisoning, electrocution, fire and explosion.

  • Never use wet hands to operate the generator. Never let water come in contact with the generator.
  • Never run your generator in a garage because the carbon-moxide exhaust is toxic. Find a well-ventilated space with some cover, but be sure the generator isn't positioned outside an open window. Use a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector. Always turn the engine off before refueling and let the generator cool.
  • Don't spill fuel. It can ignite.
  • Store fuel and generator in a ventilated area and away from natural gas water heaters. Vapors can escape from closed cans and tanks, then travel to the pilot light and ignite.
  • Never feed power from a portable generator into a wall outlet. This can kill linemen working to restore power. It also can damage your generator.
  • Don't use power cords that are frayed. This can cause a fire. Be sure all prongs are intact and that the cord is outdoor-rated. The cord's wattage or amps must not be smaller than the sum of the connected appliance loads.

Shopping Tips

  • Ask the dealer how many watts it will put out and for how long and how big a load it can handle.
  • You could spend around $350 for a 2,400 watts model, $600 for an industrial-strength model. A television uses 300 watts; a freezer, 330; a water heater 3,000.
  • Compare brands and models. Get manufacturer's toll-free numbers for technical questions.
  • Make sure you have the right cords and connectors or the generator will be useless. Consider an auxiliary fuel tank.
  • Don't fill fuel tanks until right before the storm. Stored fuel will grow stale and is unsafe in a hot garage.
  • Most starters use rope pulls. If your use a battery, make sure it's kept charged.
  • Buy now, not after the storm. You'll pay a lot less.


With nearly 90,000 without power in Palm Beach County generators are still running to help people stay cool in this heat.

But it can be deadly with several poisonings reported in South Florida this week. In Loxahatchee, one woman is dead and three more people were in the hospital after a carbon monoxide poisoning late Thursday night.

Those who have generators are urging others to be careful to prevent another tragedy.

If you're running a generator, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector and keep the machine outside of your garage.

Palm Beach Gardens residents Dennis McCarty is worked hard during the power outages to make sure his wife is comfortable.

"Gotta keep mama cool or just forget it!" he joked.

During the power outages this week, the retired Pratt-Whitney mechanical engineer needed to keep the house cool for Sondra, who's disabled and requires a breathing machine.

"I have some breathing issues and it's very important that I have my oxygen and the air conditioner," she said.

He hooked up a generator to their home but made sure to be safe and smart about it.

"Keep it outside because it's carbon monoxide and you can't smell it."

In the Loxahatchee case, a garage door was open, allowing exhaust from the generator to get inside.

"I don't even run it in the garage with the door up," he said. "I don't understand it... You should know better, and everybody has been saying on TV -- don't run it inside, don't run it inside."

Dennis closes the garage door to keep the fumes out. It's also suggested to point the exhaust pipe away from the house.

"All I have to do is just pull the generator out about three to four feet, start it up and close the garage door," he said.

Inside the home, he even uses foam paneling to trap the air in certain rooms.

"I made it... I survived. I'm a survivor!" joked Sondra.  "He's very creative!"

With power outages still high across the county, McCarty hopes others will take his advice.

"You're not breathing oxygen so you pass out and you die. The carbon monoxide replaces the normal breathing air and you die from it," he said.

We spoke to St. Mary's hospital the only one in the county that has a bariatric machine to treat people suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. We were told they've treated dozens of people this week.

Symptoms include dizziness, nausea and vomiting.

Click here to read more about what you can do to safely use your generator.