Copyright © 2007 Will Gruver

Almost without fail, after the public gets word that a severe storm is heading their way, stores get a surge of people looking for the last remaining groceries and portable emergency power generators. For example, after dangerous ice storms recently wreaked havoc on parts of the Midwest, there was a huge spike in emergency generator sales. The only problem that arises from this increase of generators in people's homes has to do with the harms that could arise when well-meaning homeowners are not aware of the consequences of an improper installation. Suddenly a precarious situation arises when a wrongly installed generator back feeds the utility lines.

When customers do not take heed of the proper guidelines when using their newly purchased generators, this can cause serious dangers to the customer and to power-line construction workers. In the moments surrounding a disaster, the panicked situation always means that typical safety procedures are ignored as people rush to set up their power generators. The installation of emergency generators is a serious undertaking and the utmost care must be observed.

For example, connecting portable generators directly into a building's wiring system is strongly discouraged. The only safe solution would be to have a double throw transfer switch to prevent the generator from back feeding the utility lines, but even that method is not recommended. Customers need to be aware that a host of criminal charges could be filed and one would be liable for endangering the lives of electrical utility workers in the event that their backup power generators cause harm or threaten harm to utility employees.

The best way to avoid the last minute rush of installing a generator is to have the generator properly installed before an emergency, rather than in the hours prior to the snowstorm or hurricane's arrival.

If a customer must go against warnings and decide to connect a generator to the existing wiring system of their home or business, it is imperative that they use a double throw transfer switch. The Transfer switch will help protect of linemen in their efforts to restore power. You can be held liable for the loss of life or property damage caused by back feeding the utility lines. A transfer switch or relay is also required by municipal and building codes.

The following safety tips are crucial for the proper installing and use of portable emergency generators. The first step that people need to take is to fully read, understand and follow the manufacturers instructions about the intended use and installation procedures that are designated for the particular generator. Failure to follow the directions could result in major problems down the road.

As with many appliances that produce harmful fumes, power generators should never be used indoors or in a closed space, because of the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning and ignition of the fumes that are caused by fuel evaporation. People should maintain a well-vented environment to avoid any potential problems.

Since power generators are labeled with certain limitations, as far as generated power output, it is not wise to overload the generator. Overloading can cause damage to the generator as well as creating a fire hazard. Before purchasing a generator, you should be aware of your exact needs, and buy the generator that properly meets your power usage needs.

Portable generators with 4- to 5-kilowatt ratings are the minimum size needed for a typical three-bedroom home. Generators are rated in kilowatts, or KW. One kilowatt equals 1,000 watts. Electric motors draw three- to five-times more power when starting than when running under full load, so proper generator sizing is critical to avoid motor burnouts.

Electrical shock is another issue that could arise if the generator is not properly grounded. The best method to ground your generator is by using the grounding connection of your electrical utility service. Customers should seek the help of a qualified electrician when installing a power generator. All connections the electrical service panel should be handled by a professional electrician to prevent opening any existing ground connections.

All electric connections must comply with the National Electrical Code. Never feed power from your generator into a wall outlet, otherwise a fire could start if the branch circuit is not large enough to handle the entire load. Simply put, if the wiring of your home or building is not isolated, the generator will back feed the utility lines.

Furthermore, care should be taken during wet weather conditions to avoid the risk of shock or electrocution. Cords running from your electric generator should always be checked closely to make sure they remain in good condition. An overloaded electrical cord is a frequent cause of house fires, so safe operation will require the user to pay close attention to detail.

About The Author:

Written by: Will Gruver of US Power & Environment. USPE's Eden Prairie, MN headquarters, assisted by in-house product technical and operations specialists, has the experience gained from supplying, installing and maintaining on-site energy systems across the country and around the world. They buy, sell, rent and repair natural gas and diesel power generators. To learn more, visit their website at: or give them a call at: 877-772-6018