If you’re looking to use a portable generator as a backup in a power outage, there are a few things you need to consider and prepare for if the case arises.
A standby or emergency generator is a popular choice for those who suffer from frequent power outages or the loss of power causes a risk to health or life.
Connected to the house wiring these generators work via a transfer switch that automatically turns on the generator to supply emergency power should mains power fail.
They can however be costly to buy and install, so if power outages are less frequent you may be considering a portable generator instead.
Throughout this article, we look at how you can prepare for a power outage using a portable generator, how to ensure it’s running safely, and how much power you can expect it to generate.
How much electricity can a portable generator provide for your home?
If you want to use a portable generator to power your home, you’ll first need to ensure you have a generator that will provide enough power so you can avoid overloading it.
The amount of electricity it can provide depends on the size of the generator, and how much electricity you need depends on the number of appliances, devices, and other electrics such as lights, you want to power at one time.
To work out what you need, you’ll need to work out the starting wattage and the running wattage of the connected appliance loads. The starting wattage is what’s needed to get an appliance started, and is usually around 2-3 times more than its running wattage.
You also need to account for surge wattage. This is the maximum amount the generator can produce. You’ll want 1-2,000 additional watts on top of your total wattage to account for the initial surge, on start-up.
What appliances can be powered by a portable generator?
In short, if it has a plug you can power any appliance with a portable generator as long as you’re generating enough power.
A 5,000-7,500 watt portable generator will run most household items, such as fridges, heaters, and televisions.
Using extension cords
In most cases, you can use a heavy-duty outdoor rated extension cord to connect your appliances to your portable generator. You can’t just use any extension cords, you must get a proper generator extension cord that meets approved safety for generator use.
It’s important to get an extension cord that’s suitable for use with a generator. These extension cords are more heavy-duty making them more durable for indoor and outdoor use.
Generator extension cords tend to be longer and more flexible, and resistant to hot and cold temperatures so less likely the lead will get damaged and risk electric shock or electrocution.
Using a transfer switch
If you want to be able to power-house wiring so you can use a wall outlet and electric switches, you can connect the generator to the mains supply using a power transfer switch.
This is how an emergency generator is connected to ensure it powers up as soon as there’s a power outage. If you’re relying on power for items such as medical equipment this may be the best solution for you.
If you want to connect your portable generator to your main electricity feed, we recommend a qualified electrician install this for you.
Can you use multiple portable generators at the same time?
If you need more power than your current portable generator can handle, you can run another portable generator alongside it.
Running two generators at once is called paralleling. When you parallel generators you synchronise them to work together. You would usually do this with two generators of the same brand and size to create double the wattage output.
This is a great way to increase power to your home without the cost of a much larger generator.
How to prepare for a power outage with a portable generator
There are certain measures you need to take to ensure your portable generator is ready to run in the event power is lost. The generator owner’s manual should outline generator instructions for use, maintenance, and storage.
1. Let’s start with fuel.
Make sure you have a good supply of the fuel recommended for your generator and that it’s stored correctly. Store fuel in a locked shed, in a metal or plastic container properly sealed to prevent invisible vapours escaping, and in a protected area to prevent damage or risk of fire.
Always check your fuel levels and never let your generator run empty. Make sure you have enough generator fuel to run your generator for the time you need.
If you are unlikely to use the generator for more than a month, empty out the fuel as unstabilised fuel left to sit can damage generators. Make sure you also have something on hand to help clean up in case you spill fuel.
Check your local laws on storing fuel, in the UK you can store up to 30 litres at home, above this and up to 275 litres you need to inform your local Petroleum Enforcement Authority (most likely your local fire department) in writing.
2. General maintenance
Use the directions supplied in your owner’s manual to perform regular checks and maintenance on your generator.
Keep your generator clean, topped up with fresh fuel, and check the spark plugs, filters, and oil level. If you’ve had your generator running allow it to cool first so you don’t risk harm from hot engine parts.
For generators that are battery operated, test batteries frequently. Keep the battery charged and make sure you have a battery backup.
3. Where should you place it?
One of the biggest risks of using a portable generator is carbon monoxide poisoning. You must never use a portable generator indoors.
To avoid the risk of carbon monoxide exposure, you need to place your generator at least 20 feet away from your property in a well-ventilated area.
We recommend keeping it under an open canopy-like structure which will not only help keep the generator dry, it will allow fresh air to circulate around the generator.
Make sure the generator’s exhaust is facing away from the property to blow carbon monoxide away. Keep any doors and windows near the generator closed, and make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector and CO alarms to alert you in the case of carbon monoxide getting into the property.
If you have the right portable generator for your power needs and keep the generator well looked after and maintained, it can be a great comfort should you unexpectedly lose power.
If you would like to find out more about which generator is right for you or how to best prepare your generator for use, get in touch with us here at Solent Power. We’d be happy to help!