How to Use a Portable Generator Safely

Portable backup generators are less expensive that whole house generators but require set up and fueling by the homeowner each time they are used. They also raise safety concerns, including carbon monoxide poisoning, electrocution, fire, and damage to appliances and other electrical equipment.

Here are some important safety guidelines for operating a portable generator:

    • Only operate a generator in the open and at a safe distance from your home.
    • Don’t use a generator in an enclosed storage building, garage, carport, basement, crawlspace, or near an open window or door.
    • Never attach a portable generator directly to the wiring in your home.
    • Instead, plug electrical devices into a heavy duty extension cord that is attached to the generator.
    • Be sure the combined wattage of all the devices that are plugged into the generator does not exceed the rated capacity of either the generator or extension cord.
  • Turn the generator off and allow it to cool before filling it with fuel.

Watch this video to find out more.


  1. I am having trouble finding out about what is a safe distance from the house to operate a portable electric generator. All the information I find is how to hook one up to the house. Could you also tell me the best way to protect the generator from the weather. Information you could give me would be nice. Thank you

    Anita Mcgrew

    • Hi Anita,
      The general recommendation for preventing carbon monoxide poisoning when using a portable generator is that they be positioned in an open area outside your home that is away from windows and doors. That means not to put them in a shed, carport, or garage while running. As far as a specific distance from your home, I don’t know of a specific government safety guideline, but Consumer Reports recommends generators be located at least 15’ away from your home when running.

  2. For covering during use, you might try a waterproof canopy with adjustable height – found at Walmart or sporting goods store in the tent and screenhouse section. I picked up an inexpensive 10’x10′ nylon canopy on ebay for $20. Not as nice as nice as the $100 ones at Sports Authority, and bigger than I needed, but it does the trick. Be sure to tie down the canopy during use!

  3. How far out on my screened- in patio should I run my generator away from the house and windows so that it is safe from carbon dioxide?

  4. We have a patio covered by an awning. The patio is a V shape the whole front is open air can we run the generator on this awning covered patio? There are two windows and a sliding glass door, but they are shut and have been shuttered

  5. Yes, I’ve decided against the dryer backfeed method that everyone seems to be applying. Illegal, unprotected wiring, nullifies home insurance if it causes and electrical fire, potential for feeding the grid, etc.
    Powering the furnace is a quandary. I’ve read that frequency output deviations could possible blow the furnace control board…VERY expensive.
    So, I’ll use ceramic heaters, woodstove, and indoor-safe Mr.Heater propane units for heating during a winter outage. I just cannot afford an electrician installed transfer switch. Extension cords to critical loads is the only solution.

  6. I built a wooden cart to keep my 5500 watt generator off the floor of my workshop to keep flood waters from getting to it…..once water recedes, I roll it out of my shop under my carport and run it there….Is it safe to run it while its sitting on the cart? I have it anchored down so there is no dancing….,, I tested it and it runs just fine up on the cart….my question ….is it safe to run long periods of time without the heat from the bottom causing a fire?……the bottom of the generator is 3 inches from the top of the table…Thanks


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