NC State Extension Publications


Feeling the effects of hurricanes has made farmers consider the purchase of a gasoline-powered generator to run household appliances and perform farm-related tasks. Knowing how to use generators safely is important to protect life and property.

Safety Tips

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  • Generators should be operated in well-ventilated, covered, unheated areas. They should not be operated in a basement, attached garage or other closed area. Exhaust fumes contain carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that can cause drowsiness, headache, disorientation, and even death.
  • When purchasing a portable generator, understand that they come in different sizes and have different features. Have a licensed electrician determine your power needs and match those with the power output of the generator you select.
  • The following are some practical options to include:
    • An overhead valve engine for longer life and quieter operation
    • An automatic idle control to reduce noise and fuel consumption
    • A large gas tank (a 5-10 gallon tank may last only 5-10 hours)
    • A low oil shutdown feature to prevent engine damage
    • A wheel kit for easy transport. Generators larger than 3,000 watts can weigh more than 100 lbs.
  • It is also helpful to have a manual or automatic switch to disconnect the generator from the home’s main power lines. Without this, use the main switch on your electric service to cut the power to your home.

Other Important Information

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  • Generators are usually used to run plug-in appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, and lights. Any appliance not permanently wired to the electrical system can be operated with polarized extension cords from the generator. Be aware that overloaded extension cords can cause fire.
  • If a generator is wired into a service box for running 240 volt or hard-wire appliances like furnaces and air-conditioners, it is important to have a manual double through transfer switch on the service box or generator. The transfer switch prevents the generator from back feeding electricity into the power lines and possibly causing costly injury or death of unsuspecting utility workers trying to restore power. The switch also prevents costly damage to your generator when power is restored. A licensed electrician should install this switch.
  • Finally, remember fire safety in refueling and storing generators. Let the generator engine cool for at least two minutes before refueling to prevent fire. Fill tanks 1 inch from the top to prevent fuel from spilling. Store generators in a safe place to prevent large fuel tanks from catching fire. Gasoline for running generators should be stored where it will not get contaminated with water, resulting in poor performance.

For More Information

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For more information on disaster preparedness and recovery visit the NC Disaster Information Center.

Adapted by Dr. Grant Ellington, Extension Assistant Professor and Mitch Smith, County Extension Director.


Extension Assistant Professor
Biological & Agricultural Engineering

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Publication date: June 4, 2014

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