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Safety First for Standby Generators

National Public Radio reported shortly after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that manufacturers and retailers were experiencing a “boom” in residential sales of standby power generators. Last May, The New York Times reported that — notwithstanding the surge in sales — leading manufacturer Generac estimated that fewer than 6% of U.S. households have standby generators.

The growing popularity of backup power generators in a market with lots of untapped potential makes it all the more important that purchasers adhere to strong safety practices in the installation and use of this machine. National Public Radio noted in its reporting that, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 70 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators. Carbon monoxide emitted from generators is an odorless, colorless, toxic gas, and exposure to it can be fatal.

“Backup generators offer a tremendous benefit to residences and small businesses in our modern age,” says Community Electric Cooperative Manager of Operations Glen Presson. “At the same time, we can’t emphasize enough that purchasers understand the responsibilities that come with standby power generation. Keep safety as your top priority, and backup generators can see you through all kinds of difficult situations if and when the power supply is interrupted.”


Properly connecting the generator into the electrical system is a critical step for safe and effective use. A licensed professional should install a permanent, standby electric generator and can help with proper equipment for safely using a portable generator. All standby generators require a permanently (and professionally) installed transfer switch. (High-end generators permanently installed to power some or all rooms of the home typically have the switch built into the system. Other generators require you to manually throw the switch.)

The transfer switch has an important job, and that is to break the path of electricity between the power lines and your main electrical panel. This is the best way to protect you, your neighbors and electric utility repair crews from “backfeed,” which occurs when an improperly connected generator begins feeding electricity “back” through the power lines. This can seriously injure anyone near lines, especially crews working to restore power. For more information on permanent generators and to receive a free quote, please visit comelec.coop/standby-power or contact Glen Presson at 757-242-9259, option 1.


Many homeowners choose smaller, portable generators to power essential electrical equipment during outages. Safe Electricity (safeelectricity.org) offers these tips for the safe operation and use of portable generators:

  • Read and follow all manufacturer operating instructions to properly ground the generator. Be sure you understand them before hooking up the generator.
  • Maintain adequate ventilation. Generators emit carbon monoxide. NEVER operate a generator in your home, garage or other enclosed building. Place it in a dry, outside location.
  • Never plug a portable electric generator into a wall outlet or connect directly to a home’s wiring. This can energize utility power lines and injure you or others working nearby. Electrical backfeed also can damage the generator and home electrical equipment.
  • Turn off the generator and allow cooling before refueling. Gasoline and its vapors may ignite if they come in contact with hot components or an electrical spark. Store fuel in a properly designed container in a secure location.
  • Protect your appliances. Turn off or disconnect all appliances and lights before you begin operating the portable generator. Once the generator is running, turn your appliances and lights on one at a time to avoid overloading the unit.
  • Use proper extension cords. Use only safety-tested, shop-type electrical cords designed and rated for heavier, outdoor use to connect appliances.
  • Shut down the generator properly. Before shutting down a generator, turn off and unplug all appliances and equipment being powered by the generator.
  • Remember maintenance between uses. It is important to drain the gasoline from the generator before storing it away. It’s also a good idea to inspect the fuel and oil filters, spark plug, oil level and fuel quality, and start the generator on a regular basis before an emergency situation happens.

Community Electric suggests that these safety guidelines and basic operating instructions be posted in the home and with the generator.