Step-by-Step Guide on How to Use a Generator during a Power Outage

By Alex McGill

In the unexpected dance with darkness during a power outage, a generator emerges as the unsung hero, casting a reassuring glow on the uncertainty that envelopes us. Picture this: your home, bathed in the gentle hum of a generator, becomes a sanctuary against the blackouts that disrupt our lives.

Understanding how to use a generator during a power outage isn’t just a skill; it’s an empowering grasp on resilience. As the heartbeat of preparedness, a generator provides more than just electricity—it offers a lifeline, a connection to normalcy when everything else flickers in the dark. Let’s unravel the simplicity and strength behind this modern-day beacon.

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Core Insights

  • Choosing the right generator for your needs is crucial for safe use.
  • Reading the manufacturer’s instructions and checking for damage or wear and tear is necessary before starting the generator.
  • Using proper extension cords, turning on appliances one at a time, and only using generators for shorter periods of time are important safety measures.
  • Regular maintenance is necessary for proper and safe operation, and can extend the life of a generator up to 20 years.

How To Use A Generator During A Power Outage?

When the power goes out, having a generator on hand can be a lifesaver. Preparing to use the generator in advance is key; read through the manual and become familiar with its operation, assemble it according to the instructions, and make sure you have fuel available.

Operating your generator safely is also important; always connect it outside so exhaust fumes don’t build up indoors, never overload it, and keep children away from it.

How to Use a Generator During a Power Outage

How to Connect a Portable Generator to Your House?

  • Transfer Switch Installation:
    • Install a transfer switch to safely connect your portable generator to your house electrical panel.
    • Hire a licensed electrician for proper installation and compliance with local electrical codes.
  • Select a Suitable Location:
    • Place the generator outdoors in a well-ventilated area.
    • Choose a flat, dry surface away from windows, doors, and vents to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.
  • Connect the Generator:
    • Use a heavy-duty power cord to connect the generator to the transfer switch or inlet box.
    • Ensure the cord is in good condition and suitable for outdoor use.
  • Switching Power Sources:
    • In the event of a power outage, switch the transfer switch to the generator position.
    • This isolates your house from the main power grid and allows the generator to supply electricity.
  • Start the Generator:
    • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to start the generator.
    • Allow the generator to run for a few minutes to stabilize before connecting appliances.
  • Prioritize Essential Appliances:
    • Identify and connect essential appliances to the transfer switch.
    • Focus on critical items such as refrigerators, freezers, medical equipment, and heating or cooling devices.
  • Avoid Overloading:
    • Be mindful of the generator’s wattage capacity.
    • Rotate the use of appliances if necessary to avoid overloading the generator.
  • Regular Maintenance:
    • Perform regular maintenance checks on the generator, including monitoring fuel levels, changing oil, and cleaning or replacing filters.
  • Shutdown Procedure:
    • When power is restored or when the generator is no longer needed, follow the proper shutdown procedure outlined in the generator manual.
    • Allow the generator to cool down before storing it.
  • Compliance with Safety Guidelines:
    • Adhere to safety guidelines and local regulations when connecting a generator to your house.
    • Keep the generator and fuel stored in a safe location away from children and pets.
  • Professional Assistance:
    • If unsure about any step, seek assistance from a licensed electrician or a professional familiar with generator installations.
    • Proper installation and adherence to safety guidelines are crucial for a seamless and safe connection.
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How to Use a Generator During a Power Outage

What Size Generator Do You Need?

Selecting the right size generator is crucial to ensure it meets your power requirements without being underpowered or oversized. The size of the generator you need depends on various factors. Let’s break down the process step by step:

1. Identify Your Power Needs:

Start by making a list of the appliances and devices you intend to power during an outage. Consider both essential items like refrigerators, lights, and medical equipment, as well as additional items like computers, air conditioners, or power tools.

2. Calculate Starting and Running Watts:

Every electrical device has two power ratings: starting watts and running watts. Starting watts represent the extra power a device needs to start up, while running watts are the continuous power required to keep it running. Check the user manuals or labels on your appliances to find these values.

3. Sum Up the Power Requirements:

Add up the running watts of all the devices you plan to power simultaneously. If you have devices with high starting watts, ensure your generator can handle the combined starting wattage of these items.

4. Consider Surge Power:

Certain appliances, especially those with motors (e.g., refrigerators, air conditioners), may require additional power for a few seconds when starting up. Factor in this surge power to avoid overloading your generator.

5. Choose the Right Generator Size:

Generators are typically categorized by their power output in watts. Common sizes include 3,000W, 5,000W, 7,000W, and more. Here’s a rough guideline:

  • 3,000W-4,000W: Basic power needs for essential appliances and lights.
  • 5,000W-7,000W: Power for additional items like refrigerators and power tools.
  • 8,000W and above: Can handle larger loads and more extensive power needs, including some high-demand appliances.

6. Account for Fuel Efficiency:

Consider the fuel efficiency of the generator. Some models are designed to provide more power with less fuel consumption, making them cost-effective in the long run.

7. Think About Portability:

If you need a generator for various purposes, such as camping or job sites, consider a portable generator. They are generally smaller and easier to transport but may have lower power output.

8. Factor in Environmental Conditions:

If you live in an area with extreme temperatures, consider how the climate might affect your generator’s performance. Some generators are designed to operate more efficiently in specific temperature ranges.

9. Consult a Professional:

If the calculations and considerations seem overwhelming, or if you have specific power needs, consult with a professional electrician or generator specialist. They can provide tailored advice based on your situation.

By carefully evaluating your power needs and considering these factors, you can confidently determine the right size generator for your requirements, ensuring a reliable power source during outages or outdoor activities.

How to Set Up a Generator During a Power Outage?

Step 1: Safety First

Before setting up your generator, prioritize safety measures to avoid accidents. Read the generator’s manual thoroughly, and ensure you understand its operational guidelines. Place the generator outdoors in a well-ventilated area to prevent carbon monoxide buildup. Keep it away from windows, doors, and vents.

Step 2: Choose the Right Location

Select a flat, dry surface for your generator. Avoid placing it on grass or other soft surfaces that may obstruct airflow or pose a fire hazard. Position the generator where exhaust fumes won’t be drawn into your home.

Step 3: Connect the Generator to Appliances

a) Use a Transfer Switch:

For a seamless connection, install a transfer switch. This device allows you to connect your generator directly to your home’s electrical panel, safely distributing power to selected circuits.

b) Extension Cords for Selected Appliances:

If a transfer switch is not available, use heavy-duty extension cords to connect essential appliances directly to the generator. Ensure the cords are in good condition and rated for outdoor use.

Step 4: Fueling the Generator

a) Choose the Right Fuel:

Check the generator’s manual for the recommended fuel type and use it accordingly. Common options include gasoline, propane, or diesel. Store fuel in approved containers away from the generator.

b) Fill the Tank:

Prior to starting the generator, fill the fuel tank to the recommended level. Be cautious not to overfill to prevent spills and ensure smooth operation.

Step 5: Start the Generator

a) Follow the Manual:

Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for starting your generator. Typically, you’ll need to switch the fuel valve to the “on” position, set the choke (if applicable), and pull the starter cord or push the electric start button.

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b) Allow Warm-Up Time:

Let the generator run for a few minutes to warm up before connecting any appliances. This helps stabilize the voltage and ensures a consistent power output.

Step 6: Monitor and Manage Power Usage

a) Prioritize Essential Appliances:

During a power outage, focus on powering essential appliances like refrigerators, freezers, medical equipment, and heating or cooling devices.

b) Avoid Overloading:

Be mindful of the generator’s wattage capacity. Overloading can damage the generator and connected appliances. If needed, rotate the use of appliances to stay within the generator’s limits.

Step 7: Regular Maintenance Checks

To ensure your generator functions optimally during an outage, perform regular maintenance checks. This includes monitoring fuel levels, changing the oil as recommended, and cleaning or replacing air filters.

Step 8: Shutdown Safely

When power is restored, or you no longer need the generator, follow the proper shutdown procedure outlined in the manual. Allow the generator to cool down before storing it.

How to Safely Use a Generator during a Power Outage?

Safety MeasureDetails
1. Choose the Right LocationOutdoors is Best: Operate the generator outside in a well-ventilated area.
Distance Matters: Place the generator at least 20 feet away from your home for proper ventilation.
2. Read the ManualUnderstand Operation: Familiarize yourself with the generator’s manual. – Fuel Recommendations: Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for fuel type and correct fueling procedures.
3. Use a Transfer SwitchSafety First: Install a transfer switch to connect the generator directly to your home’s electrical system.
Professional Installation: Consult a licensed electrician for proper transfer switch installation to prevent back-feeding.
4. Ground the GeneratorStability is Key: Set the generator on a stable, level surface.
Grounding: Follow the manual for proper grounding procedures if required.
5. Fuel SafetyStore Fuel Safely: Store generator fuel in approved containers away from living spaces.
No Smoking: Never smoke near the generator or fuel containers.
6. Regular MaintenanceCheck Oil Levels: Regularly check and change the oil according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Inspect Filters: Clean or replace air filters for optimal performance.
7. Use Heavy-Duty Extension CordsQuality Matters: Use heavy-duty extension cords for outdoor use.
Avoid Overloading: Be mindful of the generator’s wattage capacity and avoid overloading it with too many appliances.
8. Protect Against MoistureCover when Not in Use: Cover the generator when not in use to protect it from the elements.
Dry Conditions: Never use the generator in wet conditions to prevent electrical hazards.
9. Monitor for Carbon MonoxideInstall Alarms: Install carbon monoxide detectors near sleeping areas. – Symptoms: Be aware of symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as dizziness, nausea, and headaches.
10. Turn Off Before RefuelingCool Down Period: Allow the generator to cool down before refueling to avoid fire hazards.
No Spills: Take care not to spill fuel during the refueling process.
11. Secure the AreaKeep Kids and Pets Away: Ensure a safe distance between the generator and children or pets.
Security Measures: If possible, secure the generator to prevent theft.
12. Follow Local RegulationsCheck Local Codes: Be aware of any local regulations or codes regarding generator use.
Adherence: Ensure compliance with local rules to avoid legal complications.

Safely using a generator during a power outage requires adherence to these safety measures. Prioritize well-being, follow guidelines, and seek professional advice when in doubt. Stay safe and prepared! You can also read whether or not you can use your generator in the rain here.

How Long can You Run a Generator During a Power Outage?

Running a generator during a power outage can be a lifesaver, providing you with electricity to keep essential appliances and devices operational. However, the duration you can run a generator continuously depends on several factors.

1. Fuel Capacity:

The most critical factor determining how long a generator can run is its fuel capacity. Generators typically run on gasoline, propane, diesel, or natural gas. The runtime is directly related to the generator’s fuel tank size. Larger fuel tanks allow for longer operation without the need for refueling.

2. Generator Type and Size:

Different types and sizes of generators have varying fuel consumption rates. Inverter generators are known for their fuel efficiency compared to conventional generators. The power output, measured in watts or kilowatts, also influences fuel consumption. Smaller generators consume less fuel but provide limited power, while larger generators can handle heavier loads but use more fuel.

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3. Load Capacity:

The amount of electrical load your generator is supporting affects its runtime. Running the generator at full capacity will deplete the fuel supply faster. Consider prioritizing essential appliances and devices to extend the generator’s runtime during an outage.

4. Fuel Type:

The type of fuel your generator uses influences its runtime. Diesel generators generally consume less fuel and are more fuel-efficient than gasoline generators. Propane and natural gas generators may have a continuous fuel supply if connected to a gas line but may have slightly reduced power output compared to gasoline or diesel.

5. Maintenance and Efficiency:

Regular maintenance, such as cleaning air filters and checking oil levels, contributes to the efficiency and longevity of a generator. Well-maintained generators operate more smoothly and use fuel more efficiently, extending their runtime.

6. Environmental Factors:

Temperature, altitude, and humidity can impact a generator’s performance. Extremely cold temperatures may affect fuel combustion, while high altitudes can reduce engine efficiency. Understanding your generator’s specifications in different environmental conditions will help you plan for extended outages.

7. Fuel Storage:

If you anticipate a prolonged power outage, having additional fuel stored safely is crucial. However, keep in mind that fuel has a shelf life, and proper storage conditions are essential to prevent degradation.

8. Intermittent Operation:

During a power outage, you may not need to run your generator continuously. Intermittent operation, with breaks to conserve fuel, can significantly extend the generator’s overall runtime.

9. Safety Considerations:

Always follow safety guidelines provided by the generator manufacturer. Running a generator continuously for extended periods without breaks for maintenance can lead to overheating and reduced efficiency.

You can read more about how long can you run a generator here.

Maintenance and Lifespan of the Generator

Proper maintenance is crucial for ensuring the longevity and reliable performance of your generator. Regularly check and change the oil according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Keep the air filter clean and replace it when necessary. Inspect spark plugs and wires for any signs of wear or damage, replacing them as needed.

Additionally, perform routine checks on fuel and coolant levels. Address any issues promptly to prevent more significant problems.

The lifespan of a generator depends on factors such as usage, maintenance, and the quality of the unit. Generally, well-maintained generators can last between 10 to 20 years. Routine checks and timely repairs contribute to a longer lifespan.

High-quality generators from reputable brands often come with better durability, but user diligence in maintenance significantly influences how long a generator remains in good working condition. Regularly following the manufacturer’s guidelines and addressing issues promptly can maximize the lifespan of your generator.

Tips for Using a Generator During a Power Outage

  • Read the Manual:
    • Familiarize yourself with the generator’s manual for proper operation and safety guidelines.
  • Outdoor Use Only:
    • Operate the generator in a well-ventilated outdoor area to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.
  • Proper Fuel Storage:
    • Store fuel in approved containers away from the generator and follow recommended storage guidelines.
  • Regular Maintenance:
    • Conduct routine maintenance checks, including oil changes and air filter inspections.
  • Safe Connection:
    • Use proper extension cords and ensure a safe connection to appliances, following the generator’s wattage capacity.
  • Prioritize Essentials:
    • Power essential appliances first, such as refrigerators and medical equipment.
  • Avoid Overloading:
    • Do not exceed the generator’s capacity; prioritize and stagger appliance usage.
  • Turn Off Before Refueling:
    • Turn off the generator and let it cool before refueling to prevent accidents.
  • Grounding:
  • Monitor Run Time:
    • Be mindful of the generator’s run time and allow for cooling breaks to prevent overheating.
  • Store Safely:
    • Store the generator in a dry, secure location when not in use.
  • Stay Informed:
    • Stay updated on weather conditions and power restoration estimates to plan generator usage effectively.


You now know how to use a generator during a power outage. You can keep your family safe and comfortable by taking the right safety precautions and following the recommended guidelines for running the generator.

Regular maintenance will help ensure that your generator runs smoothly and lasts for many years. So be sure to follow these tips and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with having a reliable power source in case of an emergency.


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Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to purchase a generator?

The cost of a generator depends on the type and size. Prices vary from a few hundred dollars for small, portable models to several thousand for larger, more powerful ones.

What type of generator should I buy?

You should buy a generator that fits your power needs and budget. Look at the wattage, fuel type, features, and price to determine the best option for you.

Are there any additional costs associated with running a generator?

Yes, there are additional costs associated with running a generator. Fuel and maintenance costs should be considered when budgeting for your generator.

What are the noise levels of a generator?

The noise levels of a generator vary depending on its size and model. They usually range from very quiet to quite loud, so be sure to check before purchasing one.

Are there any alternative sources of power during a power outage?

You can use alternative sources of power, like solar panels or batteries. Both are quiet and easy to install, so you won’t have to worry about noise levels during a power outage.

How do I hook up a generator to my house during a power outage?

Use a transfer switch. Employ an electrician to install a transfer switch and a robust cable linking the generator to your circuit panel. This method allows you to power appliances without resorting to extension cords, reducing the risk of electronic damage.

Do you have to turn off your main breaker when using a generator?

Yes, it’s crucial to turn off the main breaker or remove the main fuse when connecting a generator to a household circuit. Failure to do so can lead to electrical current reversal, posing risks to the power grid and other buildings.

What happens if the generator is running when power comes back on?

If the generator is backfeeding when power is restored, it can cause severe damage. To prevent backfeeding, always keep the generator power isolated from the electrical system, ensuring it stays separate.

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