How to Install, Use and Maintain a Portable Generator Like a Pro

Power outages can put your life on hold, and you need to be ready to keep the power on when disaster hits. You may not be able to access an automatic standby generator during a power outage. A portable generator comes in handy at these dark times and can help you power back up until the power output is repaired.

Portable power generators are not only easy to use, but also conveniently lightweight and easy to convey. Nevertheless, they must be handled and installed with the recommended safety precautions in mind. This article will provide you with an elaborate account of what a portable generator is, electrical system requirements, safety checklist, steps to follow when using a portable generator, and maintaining your portable generator.


What is a Portable Generator?

Portable generators are a device that can turn mechanical energy into usable power and have the benefit of being portable to use in remote areas that don’t have a access to power. Portable generators are also commonly used as an emergency home backup solution. There are different types of portable generators from different manufacturers, and you should review their wattage before investing in one. 


Electrical Requirements

It is essential to calculate the wattage you need to power up different appliances and devices in your home before moving to buy a generator. There are three types of wattage:


  1. Starting wattage: The starting wattage of an appliance is the amount of power required to start it. Starting wattage is typically two or three times the value of running wattage (amount of power required to keep the device running). With more appliances, your generator will be required to produce much more power to start them. Starting wattage is the largest amount of electric power that a generator can produce. Starting wattage is also listed on the generator to help you determine whether it can meet your starting and running power requirements
  2. Running wattage: Running wattage/rated wattage is the amount of electric power required to keep a device or appliance running after start. Running wattage is typically listed on electronic devices and appliances, making it easy to calculate your total wattage requirement.


To make sense of electric current measurements, it is critical to know the difference between running watts, amps, and volts. These units measure electric current differently and knowing how they are measured will help you make more informed decisions. 


  • Voltage: Electricity flows along a wire much like water in a river. Voltage is measured as the electric potential between two points of the wire. Volts, therefore are the representation of the difference of a charge between two points on the same circuit. Just like water in a river, voltage always travels from high voltage (often power storage devices like batteries or power generators) to low voltage (often devices consuming the power).
  • Amperage: Amperage is the strength of current measured in Amps (or amperes). One ampere is equal to one coulomb per second. Amps or amperes are often used along volts in a measurement referred to as volt-amperes (VA).
  • Wattage: Watts are a measure of the amount of power devices and appliances used when starting and when running. You can simply calculate wattage by multiplying the device's amperage with its voltage requirement. 


To effectively determine the appropriate portable generator for your home or workstation, you need to know the total wattage of the devices and appliances that will be powered by the generator. List the most important appliances and devices to be running during power outages and write their starting and running wattage requirements alongside respectively. All safety precautions considered; it is often best to hire the services of a qualified electrician to calculate the wattage for you. 

Portable generators often have power limitations and can easily be overloaded. It is advisable to unplug certain devices and appliances from your home's grid to avoid overloading your generator. Do not rely on approximated running wattage requirements –the owner's manual has detailed wattage requirements for the device or appliance. 


Safety Checklist

Whether or not you have used a generator before, there are a few safety precautions that you need to keep in mind when operating it. The best way to make sure you use your generator safely is to plan every aspect before you actually need to use it. After you have the total wattage well calculated, here are some of the most important safety measures you should observe during installation:


  1. Use a Transfer Switch

Using a portable generator in conjunction with a quality transfer switch is one of the best safety measures to implement. Connect the transfer switch to the generator using a thick genset cord, which runs from the generator and into the house via a power inlet box. A transfer switch has the relevant circuit breakers to keep your appliances safe during surges.


A quality manual transfer switch also: 


  • Disconnects utility-supplied power from the house grid while the generator is running to prevent electrical fires in the house as well as the generator. 
  • Isolates the generator and house circuit from the electric grid, which prevents the generator from back feeding power into the grid and causing fires or injury to electricians who may be working to restore power.
  • Isolates the home circuits and, hence, appliances that you want to power and leaves all other circuits without power to prevent overloading the generator.


  2. Understand How and When to Use Grounding Rods

Ground rods are used to avoid the risk of electrocution to operators and people in the household. Generators are often already grounded at sale, but it is essential to check whether or not yours is.

It’s a good practice to speak with a certified electrician for grounding requirements in your area and how to properly ground your generator while connecting to a home. The grounding rod should always be connected to the generator with a wire the same gauge as the heaviest wire in your circuit. For instance, you may need a 6 to 8-gauge ground wire if you are powering an appliance or device with a voltage requirement of 240 volts, such as an air conditioner or heating system. 


  3. Use Heavy-Duty Cords

Sometimes your budget may not allow you to purchase and install a transfer switch for your generator-produced power. It is inevitable to plug your appliances and devices directly to the generator to operate them. Nevertheless, it is essential to install heavy-duty cords with a thick-enough wire gauge to safely transfer the current flowing through them. 

Before buying a cord for exterior use, make sure its packaging has the ideal power-rating for your needs listed on it. The cords should also be rated for outdoor and heavy-duty use to survive harsh weather. Also make sure to use the cords in a manner that protects them from damage or coiling up to avoid the risk of overheating and short-circuiting. 


  4. Carbon Monoxide Safety

While they are not the largest producers, portable generators pose a big threat in carbon monoxide (CO) safety. To avoid build-up of carbon monoxide, never use a generator in an enclosed room such as a garage, shed, or basement. Point the exhaust fumes away from the house when the generator is running and make sure prevailing winds are not blowing them back to your house. The generator should be placed at least 20 ft from any windows or doors on the home.


  5. Fuel Safety

Fuel safety practices are aimed at preventing damage to the generator and injury of operators and people in the vicinity. Here are a few fuel safety rules you should always keep in mind. 


  • Never fuel a hot generator or one that is close to a hot or heat-generating object.
  • Never store fuel containers close to the generator, and particularly the muffler, which can melt plastic when hot.
  • Use fuel stabilizers to keep the fuel from chemical degradation, which can make it difficult to run the generator. 
  • Always store fuel in a well-ventilated area to avoid fumes produced by the fuel from gathering.


  6. Weather Safety

Modern solutions to keep generators safe from rain, strong winds, and snow are very ingenious. You can use manufactured covers to keep your generator safe when running it in harsh weather. Nevertheless, it is essential to maintain a five-foot space between the generator and the surfaces of its cover to avoid overheating and fires. 


  7. Operational Safety

There is only one way to make sure your generator operates efficiently; running a thorough test run after setting it up. There are a few things to check after a test run indicates problems.


  • Tripping transfer switch
  • Tripped circuit breakers
  • Devices that operate poorly on generator power or refuse to start up
  • Excessive heat buildup on the adapters or cords used


Steps to Follow When Using a Portable Generator

You should have a clear understanding of how to use your generator well before you actually need to use it. 


  1. Position the generator away from your house: Generators carry the risk of fires and should be kept as far away from your house as possible.
  2. Plug the generator to its hookup: Connect the generator's cord to your hookup and turn the plug connection to complete the circuit (typically 15 degrees).
  3. Plug the attachment cable to your generator and select the appropriate voltage if you can.
  4. Check the generator's engine: The throttle should be in the correct position to start the engine and the oil level should be sufficient for its run-time. 
  5. Start the engine
  6. Switch the systems: Flip off the utility main on your breaker and switch on the generator main.
  7. Flip the appropriate breakers: Flip on the circuit breaker to the circuits you intend to use on generator power and switch off those that you do not need.


Maintaining Your Portable Generator

It is essential to keep your generator operable even when you do not need to use it. If you rarely use it, it is advisable to cover it to protect it from debris and harsh weather. Here are a few recommendations that manufacturers typically advise.


  • Clean and change the spark plug periodically
  • Maintain a sufficient amount of oil
  • Clean the spark arrestor screen periodically
  • Clean and/or change the air filter periodically
  • Change the oil according to the manufacturer-specified maintenance schedule


Get The Right Portable Generator for Your Needs

The quality, reliability, and durability of your portable generator is not only dependent on your ability to handle and maintain it appropriately –it is also determined by the design, portability and versatility applied by the manufacturer. At DuroMax, our portable generators are designed to provide sufficient power whenever and wherever it is needed. Contact us to learn more on how to invest in a solid power generator for your needs today.