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Six Things You Didn’t Know About Generators

Using a backup source of power can keep you up and running during an outage, but generators can be dangerous if connected or used improperly. Consult an electrician before you bring a generator home to determine the proper equipment and set you up safely.

1. Equipment Options: Choose a generator rated for more power than you think you will need, depending on what lighting, appliances, and equipment you plan to connect to the generator. Again, this is best determined by an electrician.

2. Safety Hazards: Every year people die in portable generator-related incidents. The primary hazards to avoid when using a generator are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, electric shock, electrocution and fire. Follow the directions supplied with the generator.

3. Getting Hooked up: Connect electrical equipment to a portable generator using a heavy duty, outdoor extension cord that is rated more than the sum of the connected appliance loads. Make sure the entire cord has no cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin. Do not run portable generators indoors, and don’t connect a portable generator to your home’s electrical wiring or electrical panel as this can lead to serious injury or electrocution.

4. Beware of Backfeeding: Never try to power the house wiring by plugging a generator into a wall outlet, otherwise known as “backfeeding”. This is extremely dangerous and can electrocute utility workers and even neighbors. Electrocution is the fifth leading cause of all reported occupational deaths.

5. Connect with an Electrician: If you decide to wire a generator directly to your home, California state law mandates that you notify Southern California Edison. The only recommended method to connect a generator to house wiring is by having a qualified electrician install a power transfer switch, in compliance with national, state and local electrical codes. Find a licensed electrician to see if you can install the appropriate equipment.

6. Portable vs. Permanent: Even a properly connected portable generator can become overloaded, become overheated and stress the generator components, which can lead to generator failure. For power outages, permanently installed, stationary generators are better suited for providing backup power to a home or business.

For more information, see the Understanding Backup Generation fact sheet.