Ask the Expert: The Dangers of Portable Generators



This post is provided by the A-Team at Abstract Electric, your licensed residential electrical contractors! 

With us being in the midst of fall, and winter close behind, now is a good time to think about purchasing a portable generator. Most of us who lived in Green Country back in 2007 remember the huge ice storm that crippled the Tulsa metro area and surrounding communities. Stories of being without power for 10-15 days were not uncommon. Many remember the shelves being bare, especially when it came to purchasing a generator. People were scrambling to locate one, prices suddenly skyrocketed and, in many instances, the stores could not get them in fast enough. Projections for the upcoming winter and all are predicting below average temperatures with above average snowfall. 

I suspect most have learned a lesson from the past and may have the intention of purchasing a generator to be prepared. With that in mind, there are a couple of real dangers of using portable generators in the event of a power outage.

First of all, configuring your home electrical system to connect a portable generator should only be done by a licensed electrical contractor. Now there are those who will attempt to install a receptacle on the outside of a house, known as a “suicide plug” and connect it to a circuit breaker in the house to “back feed” the electricity produced by the generator into the home. Hundreds of utility linemen are killed every year by this very thing. Many homeowners forget to turn off or don’t have a main breaker linking the power company service to the home electrical system. The result is, the power from a portable generator travels up the service wires to the transformer on the pole, which steps up the voltage from a couple hundred volts to several thousand. Then an unsuspecting and exhausted lineman shows up to repair the storm damage and ends up being electrocuted. Many utility companies who find this type of set up will pull your house meter and will not return it until the suicide plug is removed or properly installed and it could cost the homeowner a hefty fine. You should always have a licensed electrical contractor install a transfer switch. For most portable generators, the transfer switch will be a manual one. This takes the danger of electrocution away from the equation and will allow the load on the generator to be balanced evenly and will help prevent overloading and damaging the generator.

Another by-product of the generator shortage of 07 was theft. In trying to prevent theft, people were running their generators in the garage with the door propped open. This is a major No No. Having the door fully opened and running a generator in the garage can still lead to deadly buildup of carbon monoxide. Always run your generator outside of the home. Anchor it to a sidewalk with a long chain, put it in the backyard with a big dog or have a steel cage built to secure it in, but never position the generator where exhaust travels towards the home.

Finally, do not put fuel in a generator with the engine running. Always power down the generator and let it cool before adding fuel. Not only can a generator with a hot engine erupt in flames, but the brushes inside the generator can arc like the ignitor of a propane grill and cause serious injury from fire.

Portable generators can be a lifesaver in case of a power outage, but as with any electrical tool or piece of equipment, it should be used according to manufacturer instructions and connected to your home electrical systems safely. At Abstract Electric, we are always available to answer any questions you may have regarding generator operation and connection and we would be happy to provide an estimate for the installation of any equipment you purchase.

To keep up with Abstract Electric and the A-Team, follow them on Facebook or visit them on the web.  Or give them a call at 918-343-5483 (LITE)!


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