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Setting Up a Portable Generator

Most portable emergency generators require a modest amount of assembly, including installing wheels. You will also need to add oil of the type recommended by the manufacturer. In general, if you expect to use the generator in cold weather, add 5W-30 oil; for running in moderate to hot weather, use 10W-30. Also be sure to use the recommended type of fuel—for instance, many models call for unleaded gasoline with an octane rating of 85 or higher and no more than 10% ethanol.

Be sure to have high-quality extension cords on hand. This one is a 100-foot 10/3-gauge with a power block. Photo: Coleman

Also, plan ahead. Remember that It will be much easier to do all the gathering of equipment and set-up when you have power—especially if an outage should occur after dark. Before you need to run the generator, plan where you will place it in the event of an outage, and determine where you will run the extension cords.

Never run a gas motor inside the home—it produces noxious carbon monoxide fumes that can be deadly. It can be run outside on a patio or driveway, in a shed or other outbuilding, or in a well-ventilated garage (with windows or the garage door open).

Also be aware that the generator’s noise can be irritating so, if possible, place the appliance out of earshot. Don’t plan to put the generator where it might be vulnerable to rain. Though generators can run for a short while in light mist, a downpour may render them inoperable.

Make a list of the appliances and lights you want to power in case of a power outage, and add up their wattages to make sure you will not overload the generator. Test the lengths of extension cords to be sure they will reach where you need them to and store them near the generator. Store plenty of gasoline or other fuels in safe containers that are easy to access.

Be sure to use heavy-duty extension cords, not lightweight household cords. Cords should, at a minimum, have 12-gauge wire; 10 gauge or thicker is preferable. Make sure all the cords are in sound condition, with no nicks in the insulation or exposed bare wire.

Do not attempt to hook up a portable generator to your home’s service panel. This type of generator is designed to supply a limited amount of power via extension cords. If you want a system that automatically supplies power during an outage, hire a professional to install a standby generator (see Alternatives to a Portable Emergency Generator).

If you want your generator to supply power to certain receptacles and appliances in your home without the need for multiple extension cords, have an electrician install a transfer switch in the home’s main service panel. After this transfer switch is installed, you just plug the generator into it to supply power to designated electrical circuits. Be aware that the generator will feed power to everything that is connected to those circuits, so you may have power delivered to certain appliances or lights that you don’t need to use.

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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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