Learn how to safety install and operate a generator during power outages

If you choose to use a generator when power outages occur, make sure you follow the guidelines for properly installing and safely operating a back-up electrical system.

If you live in an area that experiences frequent, lengthy power outages, you may want to consider investing in a back-up electrical system. Automatic standby and portable generators are the two basic types of units that a home owner will find available for purchase. The automatic units will produce more power and are either air-cooled by fans or liquid cooled using an enclosed radiator system similar to an automobile. The liquid cooled system is generally found on larger wattage units. Michigan State University Extension urges consumers to be aware of and consider the variety of factors that help determine the correct type and size of unit for your home.

An automatic standby generator is one that operates whether you are at home or not. Within seconds of an outage, it automatically supplies power directly to your home’s electrical circuit breaker box. After utility power is restored, the generator shuts itself down until the next power outrage occurs. This type of unit is placed outside your home similarly to central air conditioning units and can operate on natural gas, diesel or liquid propane gas.

Smaller, portable generators are also useful in powering essential electrical equipment during a power outage, but do require someone be present to operate them as well as requiring the home to have an adequate supply on hand of unleaded gasoline to fuel the unit. With portable generators, one can use extension cords to power individual appliances or can have a manual transfer switch installed. This switch is a safer way to power items in your home as it blocks any power from “back feeding” in the power lines, avoids use of multiply extension cords, and can power items hardwired into your house such as a furnace fan. Back feeding occurs when an improperly connected generator begins feeding electricity back through the power lines. When this occurs, anyone near the lines, especially utility crews working to restore power, can be seriously injured and even electrocuted.

The Energy Education Council offers a wealth of useful information via their Safe Electricity.org program. Before purchasing a generator, they suggest you consult a qualified vendor or electrician to determine the best equipment for your situation. If you choose to install a permanent standby generator, they recommend having it installed by a licensed electrician. If you decide a portable generator is right for your needs, they suggest you may want to consult professionals to help with the proper equipment needed to safely use it.

The Energy Education Council’slist of tips for safe operation and use of portable generators states:

Power failures can be short term, long term, occur in summer and in winter. Safe Electricity offers further helpful tips for successfully dealing with each of these situations. Don’t wait until your power is out to learn what steps you can take in each of these situations.

Other useful information about a variety of disaster-related topics can be found online at extension.org and on the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) website.