A generator turns energy into electrical power. You can use a generator to help power tools, lights, and other necessary items when you’re without power. From off-grid camping trips to construction sites, there are generators for almost any power needs. As a homeowner, you might be wondering how to use a generator to help power your home when the power goes out.
This ultimate guide to generators should help you get a better idea of which generator is right for your home, how to maintain it, and how to use it safely.
Types of Generators
Generators usually come in three main types:
- Home Standby Generators: Also called a whole home generator, this type is installed as a permanent solution to power loss at your home. They run on natural gas or propane and are installed outside of your home, much like an air conditioning unit. Standby generators automatically come on when power is lost.
- Inverter Generators: This type of generator uses an engine and alternator to create electricity through a three-step process. Inverter generators are portable and often smaller than other types. They’re commonly used for camping due to their low noise level, efficient energy production, and portability.
- Portable Generators: Although both are portable, a portable conventional generator is often much larger than an inverter generator. They use a combustion engine to create electricity. Portable generators are generally louder and less efficient than other options. They also produce inconsistent energy outputs, which makes them best suited for power tools rather than sensitive electronics like laptops, TVs, or cell phones.
The type of generator you should buy will depend on your needs for the generator. The cost, power output, and portability can affect the size and type of generator you should buy. For example, a permanent whole home generator is more expensive than a smaller portable inverter generator. The cost could be justified if you live in an area that’s prone to lengthy power outages, such as an area regularly affected by bad weather. It might also increase your property value.
How to Use a Generator
Learning how to use a generator differs depending on the type you choose. If you go with a home standby generator, you’ll probably need a professional to install it. After installation, the generator should run automatically when the power goes out.
Portable generators, on the other hand, do not automatically switch on during a power outage. Follow your normal steps to take during a power outage and make sure it’s safe to be outside. If the power outage is caused by a storm, be sure to inspect your home for damage and, if needed, file an insurance claim as soon as it’s safe to do so.
How to Use a Generator During a Power Outage
For portable generator types, you’ll need to follow a few steps to get it up and running:
- Place your generator at least 20 feet outside of your home, facing the exhaust away from other buildings and your house.
- Check your fuel levels and refill if needed.
- You can either run individual appliances directly from your generator or hook up the generator to your house. If you’re connecting to your home’s electric system, you’ll need to contact your local government to find out what’s legal in your area. You might need to install a transfer switch on your home’s circuit breaker, which is best done by an electrician.
- Start your machine. Be sure to check your owner’s manual for instructions on starting your specific generator.
- Use heavy-duty extension cords rated for outdoor or generator use to plug in appliances one at a time.
- When it’s time to shut off the generator, unplug your appliances first. Then follow your owner’s manual for instructions on powering down your generator model.
Keeping your generator in good working order helps ensure it’s safe to use when you need it most. Follow these tips for generator storage and maintenance:
- Empty the fuel tank before storing the machine if you have a gasoline generator.
- Store your generator in a cool, dry place where it won’t be exposed to the elements.
- Consider a special generator storage shed or a garage for storing a generator.
- Check the oil and fuel levels of your generator before each use.
- Regularly clean the engine using compressed air and a soft rag to wipe away debris.
- Watch for fuel or oil leaks before turning on your generator.
Generator Safety Tips
Using a generator can help you stay connected after losing power, but it’s not without risks. Generators can produce dangerous carbon monoxide gas. They also produce large amounts of electrical energy, which could cause burns or electrical shocks.
Use these tips to help keep you safe when using a generator:
- Never use a generator in an enclosed space, like indoors or inside the garage.
- Keep your generator dry and out of standing water.
- Calculate how much wattage your devices and appliances need and make sure your generator can handle your energy needs.
- Store generator fuels properly.
- Never plug a generator into a wall outlet. This could electrocute utility works and damage your power grid.
Protecting Your Home from Power Outages
Investing in a generator could help protect your home in the event of a power outage. Generators aren’t your only defense against power outages, however. Your homeowners insurance could help cover the cost of damages to your home, like spoiled food in the refrigerator, in certain situations when the power goes out.
Be sure to check that your current homeowners insurance policy has the coverage you need to protect your home from natural disasters and potential power loss.