Home Generator Safety Facts

— Written By Trudy Pickett and last updated by Adrian Gaskins

This is the first in a two part series on home generators. Next week: How To Select A Generator

Portable generators can provide a good, temporary source of power during electrical outages, but can become deadly if improperly installed or operated.  

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) urges consumers to become more knowledgeable about electrical safety. Understanding the dangers associated with the use of portable generators could save your life.


In the years from 1999-2008, 481 carbon monoxide deaths associated with portable generators were reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).  Over 80% of carbon monoxide deaths related to portable generators occur in the home, often resulting from operation of a portable generator within the living space of the home, including the basement, closets and doorways.

One third of all generator-related carbon monoxide deaths involved the use of generators during a temporary power outage stemming from a weather event. Nearly 50% of all portable generator-related carbon monoxide deaths occurred during the winter months (November – February).

Taking a few simple precautions can keep you and your family safe from the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and electric shock resulting from the improper use of portable generators: 

It is strongly recommended that a licensed electrician install home generators to ensure they meet all local electrical codes. Do not connect generators directly to the household wiring without an appropriate transfer switch installed. Power from generators connected directly to household wiring can backfeed along power lines and electrocute anyone coming in contact with them, including utility lineworkers making repairs.

Make sure your generator is properly grounded. Use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to prevent electrocutions and electrical shock injuries. 

Make sure your home is equipped with a battery-operated or battery back-up carbon monoxide alarm.

Never operate a generator inside your home or in other enclosed or partially-enclosed spaces. Generators can very quickly produce high levels of carbon monoxide (CO), which can be deadly.

Opening doors and windows or operating fans to attempt to ventilate a generator will not prevent carbon monoxide build-up in the home. Even with a working CO alarm, you should never use a gasoline-powered generator inside your home or in a garage.

Position the generator outside the home and away from doors, windows and vents that can allow CO to enter the home. Carbon Monoxide is the “silent killer.”  Don’t take chances. Get to fresh air right away if you feel dizzy or weak.

Do not overload the generator.

Plug appliances directly into the generator or use a heavy-duty, outdoor rated extension cord.

Make sure extension cords used with generators are rated for the load and have three-pronged plugs. They should be inspected for damage, such as cuts and/or worn insulation before use.

Turn off all appliances powered by the generator before shutting down the generator.

Make sure fuel for the generator is stored safely. Before re-fueling, always turn the generator off and let it cool down. Keep children away from portable generators at all times.

Resource: esfi.org

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