Use Backup Generators Safely

backup generator
When selecting a backup generator, consider your needs and select the type that best works for you. If you want to power most of your home, choose a professionally installed permanent generator. If you only need to power a few devices, a portable generator, used correctly, will serve your needs.

Northern Lights, Inc. (NLI) aims to keep the power on for you, but extended power outages could happen. It may be helpful for you to have a backup generator, especially if you have a medical or business need to have power available. While a generator certainly makes it more comfortable to get through an outage, improper use can be deadly.

There are typically two types of generators you can buy for your home: portable or permanent (fixed). Typically, a permanent generator is mounted and installed with a transfer switch. This type of generator should be installed by a licensed electrician.

If you use a portable generator, you can plug in appliances, lights, and devices directly to the generator or have a transfer switch or sub-panel setup installed.

No matter what type you buy, set up and run your generator in a well-ventilated area outside your home. Make sure it is away from your garage, doors, windows, and vents. The carbon monoxide generated can be deadly.

It is necessary to isolate your generator from NLI’s power grid. If your generator was connected directly to your existing home electrical panel, it could cause backfeed onto NLI’s power lines. When an NLI power line is out, crews are likely working on it. Any electrical backfeed could be deadly to a lineman or others if a line was on the ground and assumed to be de-energized.

Permanent generators typically are fueled with propane or natural gas, and the transfer from NLI’s power to your generator is automatic during a power outage. These generators are more expensive, but easier to use and offer more output to keep more appliances and devices on in your home.

Tips for Portable Generators

  • Use an appropriately sized extension cord if plugging appliances and other items into a portable generator. You should use a 10-, 12- or 14-gauge extension cord. A long or undersized cord could damage the generator and appliances. The lower the number, the thicker the cord and the more electricity it can carry. Do not run the cord under a rug, as heat can build up and cause a fire or other issues.
  • For portable gas generators, make sure you have clean gasoline to fuel it.
  • Use the correct amount and type of oil, and check the oil level before starting.
  • Allow the generator to run about 2 minutes before plugging in extension cords, appliances, or equipment. This allows it to reach the proper operating temperature and a constant voltage. Do not start a generator with items already plugged in.
  • Start items from the largest power usage to the smallest. Keep in mind many items—especially ones with electric motors, such as sump pumps, furnace fans, and air conditioners—require additional power to get them started.
  • To avoid the possibility of a voltage surge when shutting down a generator, unplug all cords in the reverse order in which they were plugged in (smallest to largest power user), then wait about 2 minutes before you shut down the generator.
  • Portable generators should never be plugged into an outlet to backfeed your house. If you plug your generator directly into a wall outlet, the wiring in your house is no longer protected by a circuit breaker or fuse in your power panel. The wiring could become overloaded, overheat, and start a fire in your house.
  • Do not remove or tamper with safety devices; they are there to protect you and your property.
  • Many engine parts are hot during operation. Severe burns may result if touched.
  • Keep children away from running generators at all times.
  • Contact an electrician if you need assistance with proper connection and use of a generator.

Our crews will keep working hard to keep power on and outages short. We hope you have little need for a generator.

Kristin MettkeNorthern Lights Engineering & Operations Manager Kristin Mettke is an electrical engineer and has worked in the electric utility industry most of her career.