Filed Under:Risk Management, Loss Control

Have a backup generator? Make sure you do these 13 things

While valuable during power outages following natural disasters, backup generators come with their own host of risks. (Photo: iStock)
While valuable during power outages following natural disasters, backup generators come with their own host of risks. (Photo: iStock)

Power outages are common following a natural disaster, and generators are a good investment for those living and working in areas prone to these kinds of events.

However, while backup generators are incredibly useful, they do come with their own risks.

Generator risks include fire, damage to electrical equipment, injuries and death. It’s important to understand the risks related to generators and take the necessary precautions for safe operation.

Related: 5 ways businesses can prepare for hurricane season

The Tampa, Florida-based Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety offers the following tips for the safe operation of backup generators.

Backup generator outside

Backup generators should never be used indoors or outside near windows. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a common risk associated with using generators in areas that are not well ventilated. (Photo: iStock)

1. Use proper care

Proper ventilation is critical to reducing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator’s engine exhaust. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a common, serious danger that can cause death if generators are used improperly; this is particularly true when the fuel is not burned completely.

2. Placement is key

Never use generators indoors or outside near windows, vents, or air intakes that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.

3. Keep other items clear

Maintain plenty of air flow space around the generator.

Carbon monoxide alarm

A battery-operated carbon monoxide detector can save lives when backup generators are in use. (Photo: iStock)

4. Pay attention

Get fresh air immediately if you begin to feel sick, dizzy or light-headed or experience flu-like symptoms while the generator is running.

5. Buy a carbon monoxide detector

Because carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless, it makes sense to buy a CO detector (similar to or sometimes combined in a smoke detector) to warn of rising CO levels.

Related: The invisible killer: Carbon monoxide safety tips for your home and car


Generators are usually needed in storms. Wet conditions can cause fires. Make sure to keep them dry. (Photo: iStock)

6. 'Ground' your generator

Carefully follow all instructions on properly “grounding” the generator.

7. Keep the generator dry

Short circuits may occur in wet conditions, which can cause a generator fire. If needed, place the generator under an open canopy-type structure.

Related: 7 tips to protect your family against thunderstorms

Power generator

Leave fixing generators to professionals who know how to avoid electric shock and electrocution. (Photo: iStock)

8. Be prepared

Always keep a fully charged fire extinguisher nearby.

9. Leave it to the professionals

To avoid electric shock or electrocution, do not try to fix or otherwise work on a generator.

Electricity generator

Keep generator cords out of the way but visible. (Photo: iStock)

10. Organize your cords

Keep cords out of the way to avoid injury, but keep them in plain view to keep track of cord damage (such as fraying or cuts) that could cause a fire.

11. Do not 'back feed' power

Do not plug the generator into a wall outlet. Back feeding will put you and others, including utility line workers, at serious risk because the utility transformer can increase low voltage from the generator to thousands of volts.

Portable generator

Don’t touch generators — they can get hot. (Photo: iStock)

12. Know local laws

Some states have laws making the generator owner responsible for taking steps to make sure that the generator’s electricity cannot feed back into power lines; additionally, owners of commercial, industrial, or residential generators must notify the local utility of their locations.

13. Don’t touch — it’s hot

The exterior portions of a generator, even if operated for only a short period of time, can become hot. Avoid touching the generator without protective gear and keep debris clear to avoid a fire.

Related: 7 steps seniors can take to protect themselves during a disaster

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