Preventing Electrocutions Associated with Portable Generators Plugged Into Household Circuits
When power lines are down, residents can restore energy to their homes or other structures by using another power source such as a portable generator. If water has been present anywhere near electrical circuits and electrical equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician.

If it is necessary to use a portable generator, manufacturer recommendations and specifications must be strictly followed. If there are any questions regarding the operation or installation of the portable generator, a qualified electrician should be immediately contacted to assist in installation and start-up activities. The generator should always be positioned outside the structure.

When using gasoline- and diesel-powered portable generators to supply power to a building, switch the main breaker or fuse on the service panel to the “off” position prior to starting the generator. This will prevent power lines from being inadvertently energized by backfeed electrical energy from the generators, and help protect utility line workers or other repair workers or people in neighboring buildings from possible electrocution. If the generator is plugged into a household circuit without turning the main breaker to the “off” position or removing the main fuse, the electrical current could reverse, go back through the circuit to the outside power grid, and energize power lines or electrical systems in other buildings to at or near their original voltage without the knowledge of utility or other workers.


Electricity, once a luxury, is now essential. To beat weather related electrical outages, many rural households and businesses are investigating back-up power generators for use in an emergency.

Generators are widely available in a range of sizes and configurations. Some come equipped with either gas or diesel engines. Others operate from the power take-off (PTO) attachment found on farm tractors. These devices all have one thing in common — they produce electricity at levels high enough to cause injury, death and property damage. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used. But, like any other electrical equipment, they must be correctly sized and properly installed.

If you plan to provide enough electricity to power your entire home during an outage, you will need a generator with a relatively large capacity. Generators are rated by the wattage they produce — usually expressed in kilowatts (KW)- and are sized according to the loads they need to serve. Also important is the kind of service you receive, either single-or three-phase power. Most homes and farms have single-phase power with 120/240 dual voltage


Poisoning from CO (carbon monoxide) is a very common and very serious accident that can happen if generators are used improperly. Every proper precaution should be taken as it is a very serious danger. Portable generators should never be used indoors. CO is odorless, and invisible. If while using a generator, you begin to feel sick, dizzy, or light headed, get to fresh air quickly. To add extra safety you may want to buy a CO detector to warn you of rising CO levels.

Be sure when running the generator that it is kept dry. If needed run under an open canopy type structure.


Generators come in two basic configurations — manual or automatic start. Manual start systems enable users to get by with smaller generators, provided that all equipment is not restarted at the same time.

After a power failure, disconnect all equipment. Once the standby generator is running, restart motors one at a time beginning with the largest motor. This procedure reduces needed power. Since the extra start-up power is not necessary while equipment is running, power for other equipment- such as lamps and appliances- is available.

Automatic standby systems, however, must be capable of starting and running all equipment connected to them. They must be large enough to provide both the start-up and continuous power needed by all motors, as well as that needed by the lights and appliances in the home, business or farm.


Sizing a Generator
To determine the size of the generator needed, total the rated watts of the appliances and fixtures you’ll want to operate during an outage. Some loads are easy to determine — a 100-watt light bulb, for example, uses 100 watts. Ten 100 bulbs would require 1,000 watts, or 1 kilowatt (KW). The power requirements for appliances are often provided in the operating manual. These specifications are also stamped on the “face plate” along with serial and model numbers.

While the power needs of individual appliances vary, those that produce heat or use large motors tend to require higher wattage input.