Portable Generator Guide

Thinking of buying your own power plant? Check these tips for safe and efficient use.

Choosing a Generator

Check your generator's output regularly to make sure it's within a few percent of 120 volts. A simple electric multi-meter is what you need to perform this test.
Check your generator's output regularly to make sure it's within a few percent of 120 volts. A simple electric multi-meter is what you need to perform this test.
  • Sizing
    Total the wattage of the devices you want to power and compare to the generator's output. Rotating devices will cut generator size. If in doubt, choose a larger generator rather than risk an overload.
  • Noise
    Generator sound levels are rated in dBA, with an average generator measuring about 75 dBA. The way you position the unit can increase or decrease noise.
  • Starting
    Pull cord or electric start. Electric starting is easier, but adds cost.
  • Mobility
    Can you easily move the unit? Good wheels, balanced weight and decent handles help.
  • Fuel
    Choose between gasoline, diesel or propane. Gas may be easier to find in emergencies. Diesel or propane generators are more expensive. The average gasoline generator will use from 12 to 20 gallons running all day.

Using a Generator

  • Exercise
    Don't wait until you need it to see if your generator works. Crank and run the unit under load every two to four weeks.
  • Power Quality
    Use a surge protector with sensitive electronics. Use an uninterruptible power supply with computers. Buy a meter and check the output voltage of your generator. It should stay within two or three percent of 120 volts.

Generator Safety

Have a licensed electrician install a transfer switch if you want to connect a generator directly to your home's electrical system. The switch prevents electricity from flowing back onto Walton EMC's electric system. An improperly connected generator can kill unsuspecting line technicians or anyone else who comes in contact with a downed line.
Have a licensed electrician install a transfer switch if you want to connect a generator directly to your home's electrical system. The switch prevents electricity from flowing back onto Walton EMC's electric system. An improperly connected generator can kill unsuspecting line technicians or anyone else who comes in contact with a downed line.
  • Connecting Devices
    Use a transfer switch connected to your home's electrical system by a licensed electrician or directly plug devices into the generator. Jury-rigging the generator's connection is illegal and deadly.
  • Extension Cords
    Don't skimp by buying cheap cords. Get adequate wire size for the load you plan to power. Long cords should be oversized to account for voltage drop.
  • Fuel
    Let the unit cool before refueling. Store fuel safely.
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO)
    Never run a generator in an enclosed space. Place the unit outside at least 15 feet from the structure. Install CO detectors in your home.