During a power outage, you can connect a heavy-duty extension cord to a portable generator and run it to a few essential lights and perhaps a small appliance or two – or fire up a much larger generator to run several lights, a refrigerator and even a space heater. However, it may be more convenient – and safer – to connect the generator directly to your home’s electrical service panel through a professionally installed, permanent transfer switch that isolates individual circuits in your home from the co-op’s power lines.

The transfer switch prevents the generator’s power from back-feeding through the utility lines where it can injure or even electrocute co-op workers repairing damaged lines. The switch also stops electrical current produced by the generator from causing a short circuit in your normal house current when power is restored. 

Keep these things in mind when using a portable generator. 

  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions and learn how to operate and shut off your generator before you need to use it. 
  • Make sure the extension cord you use is in good shape and rated for a load greater than the total wattage of all connected appliances and other devices. The formula is: 125 volts x amps = watts. 
  • Keep the generator dry, and don’t operate it indoors or in an enclosed or partially enclosed area such as a garage or porch. Generators quickly can produce high levels of deadly carbon monoxide gas. 
  • Keep children and pets away from the generator when it’s running. 
  • Practice good power management. For example, when the power is out for several hours or longer, use the generator to run the refrigerator every few hours so food won’t spoil – instead of just powering lights in your home all day long. 
  • Give your generator several breaks during the day. Most portable generators aren’t designed to run 24/7, so shut down your unit several times a day to let it cool down. 
  • Always switch the engine off and allow it to cool before adding fuel in a well-ventilated area. Take care not to contaminate the fuel tank with dirt or water. Turn off the generator’s circuit breaker before starting, so the load doesn’t draw current until the generator is running smoothly.
  • Turn off the breaker before stopping the generator. 
  • Test the ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) on the generator every time you fire up the engine. 

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