How to Use a Portable Generator when Power Goes Out?

By Alex McGill

Navigating the realm of portable generators can be a transformative experience, unlocking a world of convenience and power at your fingertips. Picture this: a compact powerhouse ready to breathe life into your outdoor adventures, power up impromptu backyard gatherings, or serve as a reliable backup during unexpected outages.

Discovering how to use a portable generator isn’t just about mechanics; it’s about empowering individuals to take control of their energy needs effortlessly. In this guide, we embark on a journey together, demystifying the steps and sharing insights to ensure your seamless integration with this versatile source of power.

Main Highlights

  • Safety precautions are essential before using a portable generator, including proper ventilation and placement at least 20 feet away from any structure.
  • Estimate your power needs and use the appropriate cords and adjust the throttle accordingly to prevent overloading the generator.
  • Proper maintenance and fuel storage are necessary for safe and efficient operation of a portable generator.
  • Never connect a generator directly to the electrical system of a structure without using a transfer switch, and never use a generator indoors or in enclosed spaces to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

How to Use a Portable Generator?

Using a portable generator is a practical solution during power outages or when you need power in remote locations. Understanding how to use it safely and effectively is crucial for a seamless experience.

  • Preparation:
    • Read the Manual: Before anything else, familiarize yourself with the portable generator’s manual. It contains essential information on setup, operation, and safety precautions.
    • Choose a Suitable Location: Place the generator outdoors in a well-ventilated area, away from doors, windows, and vents to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.
  • Fueling:
    • Use the Right Fuel: Check the generator’s fuel requirements and use the recommended type, whether it’s gasoline, propane, or diesel.
    • Fill the Tank: Ensure the fuel tank is filled to the recommended level. Avoid overfilling to prevent spills and allow for proper expansion.
  • Starting the Generator:
    • Switch Off Appliances: Before starting the generator, turn off all connected appliances to prevent electrical overload.
    • Follow Starting Procedure: Use the provided instructions to start the generator safely. This may involve using a pull cord, push-button start, or key ignition, depending on the model.
  • Powering Appliances:
    • Connect Using Extension Cords: Use heavy-duty extension cords to connect appliances directly to the generator’s outlets.
    • Prioritize Essential Appliances: If the generator has limited capacity, prioritize powering essential appliances to prolong runtime.
  • Monitoring:
    • Check Fuel Levels: Regularly monitor the fuel levels and add more as needed to ensure uninterrupted power.
    • Monitor Generator Load: Be aware of the generator’s load capacity and avoid exceeding it to prevent damage.
  • Shutting Down:
    • Turn Off Appliances: Before shutting down the generator, disconnect all appliances to prevent electrical surges.
    • Follow Shut Down Procedure: Turn off the generator following the recommended procedure in the manual.
  • Maintenance:
    • Regular Checks: Perform routine maintenance checks as outlined in the manual, including oil changes, air filter inspections, and spark plug replacements.

Using a portable generator efficiently involves careful preparation, adherence to safety guidelines, and regular maintenance. Always prioritize safety and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for optimal performance.

How To Use A Portable Generator

Now let’s discuss all these steps in more detail to better understand how to use a portable generator.

Assemble the Generator

Assembling your generator is a breeze – just follow the manufacturer’s instructions and you’re good to go! Portable generators are usually delivered in two boxes: one containing the generator body and the other with all of its accessories. When unpacking, make sure to check that all pieces have been included.

  1. Start by attaching the handles, then secure them by using the bolts provided in the package. 
  2. Next, attach any additional accessories such as wheels or mounting brackets before connecting it to an external fuel source like gasoline or propane. 
  3. Make sure that all connections are tight and secure. 
  4. Finally, turn on the switch located on top of the machine and test run it for a few minutes.
  5. Once everything is assembled correctly, you’ll be ready to place your portable generator in its desired location. 

You’ll also want to take precautionary measures such as setting up safety barriers around it in order to protect yourself from potential dangers such as carbon monoxide emissions or electric shock hazards.

How To Use A Portable Generator

Place the Portable Generator

Once it’s ready, you can easily place the generator in its desired location – just lift it up and set it down! Make sure to keep the generator at least 20 feet away from your home and ensure it is on a flat surface. This will ensure that the generator runs smoothly and will not pose a safety hazard. 

Additionally, make sure that you install a carbon monoxide detector near the area where the generator is operating, as an extra precaution. With the portable generator safely placed, you can now estimate your home’s power needs.

Estimate Your Home’s Power Needs

To determine your home’s power needs, consider the total wattage required to run all of your appliances and devices simultaneously. This means adding up the wattage requirements for each device that you plan to use at the same time. To make this process easier, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure you know what type of plug each appliance or device has.
  • Check how many watts each appliance or device requires.
  • If an appliance has multiple settings, add up the watts for each setting.
  • Add together all the appliances and devices that will be running at the same time.
  • Keep in mind any additional items such as fans, lights, TVs etc., that you may need to run at the same time. Once you have accurately estimated your home’s power needs, it’s important to check fuel and oil levels before starting up a portable generator.
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Check the Fuel and Oil Level

Before powering up, make sure you check both your fuel and oil levels to ensure the generator is in optimal condition. Checking these components will help prevent any potential damage to the engine due to lack of either component. Make sure the fuel tank is full and there are no leaks.

You’ll also want to check the oil level, ensuring it’s not too high or low. If necessary, top off or add oil in order for the generator to be operating properly. Now that you’ve checked all components, it’s time to start the generator!

Start the Generator

To start a generator, first you’ll need to turn on the fuel valve and choke. Then pull the starter cord or press the button to get it going. Once it’s running, adjust the throttle as needed. That’s all there is to it!

Turn on fuel valve and choke

Before using your generator, make sure you turn on the fuel valve and choke for optimal performance. This will ensure that the engine is supplied with fuel and air in the correct proportions, allowing it to start as quickly and efficiently as possible. Next, you’ll need to pull the starter cord or press the button to get your portable generator up and running.

Pull starter cord or press button to start

Once you’ve flipped the fuel valve and choke, it’s time to get your generator up and running: give the starter cord a yank or press the button to get it going. Once the generator is running, adjust the throttle as needed for your power needs.

Adjust throttle as needed

Once you have started your generator, you will need to adjust the throttle. This will determine how much power your generator is producing. The throttle should be adjusted according to the wattage requirements of the device or appliance being powered. If the wattage requirement is too high for the output of the generator, it could result in damage to both your generator and the connected devices. 

For best results, ensure that your generator’s maximum output does not exceed that of any connected devices or appliances. Now that you have adjusted your throttle as needed, it’s time to connect up those devices and appliances!

Connecting Your Devices and Appliances

Connecting your devices and appliances to a portable generator is easy, but there are several options available to you. From extension cords and convenience cords to generator cords and through-the-wall kits, you’ll be able to find the right setup for your needs. For more permanent solutions, consider investing in either a power cord or transfer switch.

Extension Cords

Extend the reach of your generator with extension cords, quickly and easily! Extension cords are an essential part of operating a portable generator. They come in different lengths, wattages, and ratings to ensure that you have the right cord for your device or appliance. Always use a cord rated at least as high as the wattage output of your generator to avoid any issues.

Knowing which extension cord is right for your needs will help keep your appliances safe while powering them with a generator. For added convenience, consider using convenience cords which offer multiple outlets on one cord!

Convenience cords

Gain the ultimate convenience of powering multiple appliances at once with a convenience cord! These cords are designed with multiple outlets so you can plug in several items and power them all from one generator. Convenience cords come in various lengths, ranging from 10-50 feet, so you can be sure to find one that meets your needs. They also feature a twist-lock design for added safety and peace of mind. 

With a convenience cord, it’s never been easier to get the power you need when away from home or without electricity during an emergency. With these helpful tools, you’ll be able to keep your essentials running smoothly no matter where life takes you. Moving on to generator cords…

Generator Cords

Once you have the proper convenience cords, it’s time to move on to generator cords. Generator cords are thicker than regular extension cords and come in a variety of lengths. They typically have four-prong plugs and are designed specifically for use with portable generators; they’re also rated at higher wattage levels than standard extension cords. 

To ensure safe operation, make sure your generator cord is compatible with your generator model and has the appropriate wattage rating for your device.

When using a generator cord, be certain to keep it away from water or any other wet surface, as this can cause serious injury or even death if water contacts an energized part of the cord. Additionally, store the cord properly when not in use to prevent trips and falls that could cause harm. 

Finally, always double-check that all connections are secure before turning on your generator; loose wires can create sparks that can start fires or cause electrocution. With these tips in mind, you’ll be ready to safely attach your portable generator using a properly-rated generator cord – then you’ll be ready to install a through-the-wall kit for permanent use!

Through-the-wall kit

Installing a through-the-wall kit is the next step after connecting your generator with a proper cord, allowing you to safely power up and access electricity without having to plug in each time. The through-the-wall kit includes:

  • An inlet box
  • Which houses the connection from your house’s wiring to the generator
  • And helps protect against moisture and rodents
  • An exterior cover
  • That helps protect against weather elements
  • And can be mounted on an exterior wall or siding From here, you’ll need to set up a power cord & transfer switch for complete protection.
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Power Cord & Transfer Switch

Completing your generator setup with a power cord & transfer switch will ensure you have safe, reliable access to electricity without having to plug in every time. To make sure you don’t damage any of your appliances, it is important to turn off and unplug them before turning off the generator.

If you do have a transfer switch, you can read our detailed guide on how to connect a generator using a transfer switch. But if you do not have a transfer switch with you, do not worry, as you can find your answer on how to connect a generator without using a transfer switch here.

Turn Off and Unplug Appliances Before Turning Off the Generator

Before turning off the generator, unplug all appliances and turn them off to prevent any electrical overloads. It is important to make sure the generator has been allowed to cool down for a few minutes before disconnecting any equipment from it. Here are some tips that should be taken into consideration when powering down your generator:

  • Disconnect extension cords and power cords from the outlets as well as from the generator itself.
  • Turn off all switches and breakers on the transfer switch panel.
  • Shut down any gas-powered tools or appliances connected to your generator such as air compressors, pressure washers, etc.
  • Make sure all lights have been turned off and no other electronic devices remain powered up by the generator.
  • Close fuel valves in order to prevent fuel spillage during shutdown of your portable generator. These steps will ensure that you are safely shutting down your portable generator before refueling or storing it away for later use.

Let the Generator Cool Down Before Refueling

After powering down your generator, it’s important to let it cool down for a few minutes before refueling. This allows the engine to cool off and prevents fuel vapor from escaping when you open the fuel cap. It also helps ensure that any remaining fuel in the carburetor is consumed instead of evaporating into the atmosphere. Once your generator has cooled down, you’ll be ready to refuel safely and efficiently.

When using a portable generator, safety should always come first. Taking proactive steps such as turning off and unplugging appliances before turning off the generator, letting it cool down before refueling, and following all manufacturer instructions can help keep yourself and those around you safe from harm.

Safety Precautions When Using a Portable Generator

When using a portable generator, it is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and take necessary safety precautions. Make sure to keep your generator dry, on a flat surface, away from windows, doors, and vents. Never try to use the generator indoors or in enclosed spaces; instead, always use a carbon monoxide detector in order to avoid any potential hazards.

Follow Manufacturer’s Instructions

Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using a portable generator for your safety. This includes ensuring that the generator is in good working order, with all the necessary parts intact.

Additionally, when refueling, it’s important to remember to only use fuel specifically designed for generators; using other types of fuel can damage your unit. It’s also essential to carry out regular maintenance checks as outlined by the manual. Furthermore, it’s important to be aware of any specific warnings listed in the user guide and follow these strictly.

It is equally important to keep the generator dry and on a level surface; this will help protect against leaks or other malfunctions that could potentially put you at risk. Ensure that you have appropriate ventilation while running your generator in an enclosed area and avoid overloading it beyond its capacity as this could cause significant harm or even death due to electrocution. 

Following these steps will ensure safe operation of your portable generator and help prevent injuries or damage from occurring.

Keep Generator Dry and on a Level Surface

Maintaining a dry and level surface for your generator is essential to avoiding potential hazards, as an uneven or wet environment can lead to malfunctions. Here are some tips for setting up your portable generator:

  • Make sure the surface you set it on is smooth, flat, and dry.
  • If possible, elevate the generator off of the ground with blocks or stands.
  • Use a waterproof tarp beneath the generator if it’s raining or snowing.
  • Place a barrier such as gravel between your generator and any combustible material nearby.
  • Monitor the temperature around the unit regularly to ensure it doesn’t get too hot. Taking these steps will help keep your portable generator in good condition and running safely. By following these instructions you’ll be well prepared to move onto the next step of never using indoors or in enclosed spaces.

You can read whether or not you can use your generator in the rain here.

Never Use in Enclosed Spaces

It is important to keep the generator dry and on a level surface. However, it’s also crucial to never use a portable generator in an enclosed space.

Generators produce hazardous fumes, such as carbon monoxide, which can cause illness or even death if inhaled in large quantities. For this reason, generators should only be used outdoors in an open area with plenty of airflow and ventilation. 

Make sure to keep the generator away from windows, doors, and vents to prevent accidental buildup of toxic fumes inside your home or other buildings.

Keep Generator Away from Windows, Doors, and Vents

Keep your family safe and secure by making sure to place the generator far away from windows, doors, and vents. This is important as it will help prevent hazardous fumes from entering the home:

  • Make sure there is at least 20 feet of distance between the generator and any openable entryways in a structure
  • Make sure the generator is placed in an area that has plenty of air circulation so exhaust fumes can be dissipated quickly
  • Do not place generators near combustible materials or objects such as fuel cans, wood piles, paper or plastic bags
  • Keep children and pets away from the generator at all times to avoid accidental contact with hot surfaces or electrical shock By following these guidelines you will ensure that no hazardous fumes enter your living space. Furthermore, you should also use a carbon monoxide detector to monitor levels just in case.
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Use a Carbon Monoxide Detector

Make sure you’re protected from potentially fatal carbon monoxide poisoning by installing a carbon monoxide detector near your generator. Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that can be deadly in high concentrations. Having a detector will alert you if the levels of this poisonous gas become dangerous.

Invisible & OdorlessCan’t detect it without equipment
High Concentrations Are DangerousDetector alerts user when levels become too high
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Can Be FatalDetector helps protect user from potential death due to poisoning

Having a carbon monoxide detector is essential for safe generator use – it will give you peace of mind knowing that you won’t be exposed to dangerous toxic gases. With the right safety measures in place, you can move onto the next step: don’t overload the generator.

Don’t Overload the Generator

Overloading your generator can be a dangerous mistake as it can put you and those around you at risk. Be sure to check the wattage of your appliances before plugging them into the generator: aim for total wattage that is lower than the rated capacity of your generator, or else overloads may occur. When it comes to using a generator, consider these three key points:

  1. Make sure all plugs are secured tightly in order to prevent shorts and overloading.
  2. Be aware of how many electrical devices are plugged in at once; too many could cause an overload.
  3. Pay attention to any signs that the machine is overloaded, such as dimming lights or increased noise from the engine.

If an overload occurs, turn off your generator immediately and allow it to cool down before refueling; otherwise this could result in damage to both the generator and its components.

Turn Off and Let it Cool Before Refueling

Now that you know not to overload your generator, it’s crucial to remember one more important step: turn off and let cool before refueling. Generators contain a great deal of fuel, so if they are not handled properly, they can be dangerous. To avoid potential accidents or injury, always make sure to shut off the generator and wait for it to completely cool down before refueling it.

It’s also important to note that when refilling the tank, you should use extreme caution. Never try to open the cap while the engine is hot as this could result in a fire or explosion due to the heat and pressure build-up. Taking these few extra steps will help ensure your safety when using a portable generator. 

Now let’s move onto another essential topic—don’t connect directly to the electrical system of a structure without ‘step’.

Don’t Connect Directly to Electrical System of a Structure

Never directly connect your generator to the electrical system of a structure without taking all necessary precautions – it could be dangerous! Even if you plan on using a generator as an emergency power source, it should never be connected directly to the electrical system of any structure. Doing so can cause severe damage to the wiring and could put anyone working on or near the system in danger. 

To safely use a portable generator, you must always use a transfer switch between the two systems.

Using a transfer switch is beneficial because it prevents damage to wiring and ensures that workers are safe when operating in close proximity to the generator. However, installing one can be costly and not always possible for certain structures. Therefore, make sure that you take all safety precautions before connecting your generator directly to an electrical system.


We conclude How to use a portable generator on the note that it’s important to use a portable generator safely. Make sure to follow all safety precautions when using your generator. Before you use it, read the owner’s manual and understand how to operate it correctly. Inspect the cords and plugs for any signs of damage before connecting them to your equipment or appliances.

Ensure you’re in a well-ventilated area when running your generator, and never leave it running unattended. Finally, ensure that you turn off the generator and unplug everything connected to it before refueling. Following these steps will help keep you safe while using your portable generator.


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Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a portable generator cost?

Prices for portable generators vary depending on size and features. Expect to spend anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars.

What type of fuel do portable generators use?

Most portable generators use gasoline, diesel, or propane fuel. Some models may also run on natural gas. Depending on the model, you’ll need to refuel after a certain amount of time.

What is the noise level of a portable generator?

The noise level of a portable generator varies depending on the size and type. Most are quite loud, so use in well-ventilated areas and be sure to follow safety guidelines.

How long does a portable generator last?

The amount of time a portable generator lasts depends on the size and type. Generally, small generators can run for up to 12 hours while larger ones can last several days. Always check manufacturer guidelines to get maximum life out of your generator.

Is a portable generator difficult to transport?

No, transporting a portable generator isn’t difficult. Most are compact and lightweight, so you can carry them easily. They also have robust handles for easy carrying.

How do I power my house with a portable generator?

Estimate your home’s power needs by listing the items you want to power with the portable generator. Place the generator in a suitable location, plug it in, start it up, and then connect your devices and appliances. Remember to refuel the generator as needed.

How do you use a portable generator during a power outage?

To use a portable generator during a power outage, run cords safely, avoiding water and potential hazards. Plug the cords into the generator and connect your appliances to complete the circuits. Ensure cords follow the shortest route, avoiding pinching in doors or windows.

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

Yes, it’s crucial to turn off the main breaker when using a generator. If connected without doing so, there’s a risk of electrical current flowing back into the grid, potentially energizing power lines or electrical systems in other buildings. This step ensures safety and prevents electrical hazards.

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