How To Use A Generator – 4 Steps you NEED to Know – Ultimate Helpful Guide

Last Updated
How to use a generator

Knowing how to use a generator is a valuable skill. And knowing the precautions you need to take is even more important. That is why today’s article will be an in-depth look at how to use a generator.

I have used generators for years, typically when I go camping. Or when I need to power my tools where there is no power source, and as a backup for my home. Through years of experience, I have learned the best ways to use a generator while staying safe.

Generators have a wide range of uses. And having one as a backup power source for your home or with you on camping trips is a great idea. But it is useless if you have no idea how to use it.

That said, I want to focus primarily on home backup generators, which are in common use. Unfortunately, figuring out what to do can be a challenge. unless you have a handbook and a lot of patience. So, let’s look at what you can expect to learn by reading this article.

  • Are generators dangerous?
  • What fuel do backup generators use?
  • Setting Up A Generator And Precautions.
  • How to start a generator?
  • How to power your home with a generator?
  • Switching the generator off.

This article will contain a lot of information. Therefore, I recommend bookmarking the page, so you always have it handy. That said, let’s jump into it.

Are Generators Dangerous?

Generators are dangerous. They are powerful machines that you need to use correctly because if they are not, a few things can go wrong.

However, it is essential to remember that most of the dangers come from not using a generator properly. So, reading through this article is a significant first step in limiting your risks.

As someone who uses generators a lot, I understand the risks involved. That is a significant inspiration for this article. When people get injured by a generator, there are three leading causes. These include:

  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: CO poisoning is very dangerous. A generator should never run indoors. Keep it outside safely away. You do not want any exhaust fumes leaking into the house. According to an article by the CPSC, a portable generator can produce more CO than hundreds of vehicles combined.
  • Generators can catch alight: If a generator is not serviced, it can start to cause real problems. Catching fire is a possibility, and once a spark catches with any fuel it can be a massive problem.
  • Electric Shock: If the generator is set up right and well maintained, the chances of getting a shock are low. However, you can get shocked by a generator if it is not used correctly. For example, if it is not earthed, you could get a shock.

Even if your generator is earthed and cannot shock you, handling any plugs is still a risk. So remember to exercise caution when plugging anything in or out of the generator.

What Fuel Do Backup Generators Use?

Not all generators run off the same type of gas. In fact, some generators use technology that allows the user to choose which gas they prefer. That said, here are the most popular gases used by generators:

  • Gasoline
  • Diesel
  • Propane
  • Solar (not a gas, but I had to include the option because we will see more of this in the future.)

You must know what type of gas your generator runs on. Using the wrong type can cause real damage to the generator.

How To Put Fuel In A Generator: 9 Steps

When filling the generator, you want to avoid spillages, particularly on any electronics. Remember, spending five more minutes making sure that you put the gas in right can prevent a lot of damage to the generator as well as harm to yourself

So, here are my tips and tricks for putting fuel in the generator safely:

  1. Use a Jerry can to store the fuel.
  2. Unscrew the fuel cap on the top of your generator.
  3. You want the filter to stay in the generator when you pour the gas in. However, you can remove it to give it a quick clean.
  4. I recommend using a funnel regardless of whether you have a Jerry can nozzle. Place the funnel in the fuel receiver of the generator.
  5. If your Jerry can has a nozzle, you can use it. However, as long as you have a funnel in the generator, it does not really matter.
  6. Most Jerry Cans have a breather. It is typically a little cap at the back of the handle. You should open it slightly as it is there to help you avoid spillages.
  7. Get ready to pour the gas into the generator. Hold the Jerry can with two hands.
  8. Ideally, you would like to tilt it on its side.
  9. Slowly pour the fuel into the generator, carefully watching the fuel gauge.

Please note it is always essential to have a steady hand. If you pour too much too quickly, it could spit back, and you never want that.

Setting Up A Generator And Precautions

Being prepared before starting a generator is important. It can save you a lot of hassle and protect you from shocks or CO poisoning. So here are seven crucial precautions for you to take before even trying to start your generator.

Use The Right Generator

You do not want to use an underpowered generator, especially if you are using a transfer switch. Remember, overloading the generator can cause it to trip, leading to other problems.

The only problem with underloading a generator is you may be using more fuel than necessary. You might only need a small generator. Try and work out how much power you need to run whatever appliances you want. Then get a generator that is only a little bigger.

The Fuel

When it comes to fuel, it is best to ensure that you have enough to run it for the duration you need. Now, that is not always possible, as you might not know how long a power failure will last.

If your generator does run out of fuel, you mustn’t refuel it while it is on. This is dangerous and, in some cases, can lead to an explosion.

Also, the generator must be off for around 20 minutes before refueling it. Remember, the generator will be extremely hot and needs to cool before you refuel it.

Keep The Generator Outdoors

Earlier I discussed the dangers and risks that come with the generator. It would be best if you kept it outdoors. The fumes and gas that come off of it are called carbon monoxide and are deadly.

Many people have a little generator cage designed to keep it dry. At the same time, however, it must be a safe distance from the property and have enough ventilation.

Keep The Generator Dry

By keeping the generator dry, you are preventing so many risks. For example, if the electronics on the generator get wet, they could trip and short. A slight risk is involved when a generator shorts, especially for the appliances it runs.

Enclosures are available for generators. Some of them resemble mini sheds. Remember that a generator must have a few feet of clear space on either side. And you should ensure that the enclosure is well-ventilated and there is a flow of air in and out.

Run on a level surface

If your generator is not on a flat surface, parts of the engines could start to fail. They could seize because they can become completely dry. Once this happens, the generator will short and will be rendered almost useless, or it could cause a fire.

Additionally, suppose a generator is sitting on a slope. In that case, it will typically waste a lot of fuel, or you will think it’s running out of gas when it is just backed up on the other side of the fuel tank.

Ensure That The Generator Has Room To Breathe

This step is pretty short and sweet. Most generators are elevated by their legs so that even the bottom of the generator has space to breathe. It would be best if you didn’t block any air vents, especially the exhaust, as the fumes need to go somewhere.

Blocking any vents can cause severe damage to your generator and even cause a fire.

Ground the Generator

Remember, there are two types of ways that you can use a generator. I will discuss this in more detail further down. That said, this is what you need to know about grounding your generator:

  • The generator must be grounded if you use a transfer switch.
  • When using cords plugged into the generator, it does not have to be grounded. However, the generator needs to be bonded and neutral. Please check to make sure whether yours is or not.
  • Even when using cords, people like to ground their generators. Personally, I think it is better to be safe than sorry.

Grounding rods can be found all over campsites; you should also have one on your property. Your generator will have a little nut typically on the front, showing you that this is where you must earth the generator.

Connect your generator to the grounding rod using copper cable or jumper cables. This has to be done correctly. Again, I recommend getting a professional to take a look for you.

How To Start A Generator

Now that all the hard (boring) stuff is over, you are ready to start the generator. But you still have to take a few precautions, and the generator needs to start correctly.

Open the Fuel Valve

Every generator has a fuel valve that needs to be opened. Otherwise, the generator won’t start. The fuel valve can be found near the front of a generator. However, it looks different and is in a different place depending on your generator. Typically, the fuel valve would be a little metal dial or lever with open and closed settings.

***Remember to switch the fuel valve off when you switch the generator off.

Switch on Choke

The choke on a generator is also typically in the front, and again it looks different on every generator. It could resemble the one you would find in a car: a little black cap that you pull towards you.

Alternatively, it could just be a small steel switch. Regardless, once the fuel valve is open, you want to put the choke on, especially if it’s cold.

When the choke is open, more air is allowed to enter the engine, which can help the engine to start more easily.

Turn on ignition

Now for the fun part, at least in my experience – turning on the generator. If you have a key or a button starter, this is like starting a vehicle. Put the key in the ignition, and start it up. You might have to try and start the generator a few times before it works. However, if it doesn’t work, you’ll have to use some elbow grease.

Your generator should have a pull cord either on the left or right-hand side. If your generator is not starting and you are sure the choke is on, and the fuel valve is open, give the pull cord a few good tugs. The trick is to pull it slowly until you feel resistance. Then give it a sharp pull and it should start up.

Set choke to “run.”

If your generator is running, well done. I’m sure you are feeling pretty satisfied if it is your first time operating this type of machinery. However, you aren’t done yet. There is one more thing, and that is setting the choke to “run” or basically switching it off.

If you do not set the choke to run after starting the generator you might damage the engine, not to mention waste a lot of fuel.

How To Power Your Home With A Generator

There are two ways of delivering power from the generator to your home. More often than not, people will plug cords direct into the generator. But we will look at both of these methods in depth so that you know which is best for you. Let’s take a look.

Generator Cords

The simplest way to power your appliances is with the generator cord. There are cords explicitly designed for different types of generators. Look at your generator plugs and determine whether they are 20 or 30 Amps. Then buy an appropriate generator cord.

Generator cords can only power a few appliances at a time. So it is important to not switch too many on at once. This especially applies to anything with an element such as a kettle, toaster or stove.

If you have ever heard about using a “generator back feed cable,” it may sound tempting. However, it is also called a suicide cable because it is very dangerous and can lead to death.

Using A Transfer Switch

A generator transfer switch is an easy and more convenient method. It is like an emergency backup system. That said, it should be installed by somebody who knows what they are doing, like an electrician.

Explaining how the transfer switch works would take a lot of time. So, here is a quick breakdown.

The transfer switch allows you to select which circuit is on from your main power board. So, for example, you can choose to run the furnace, air-con, and decide which plugs and lights are on, and more.

You get manual and automatic transfer switches. An automatic one detects when the mains power is down and switches to your generator. However, it keeps the two separate.

Manual transfer switches require you to select whether you want to use the mains or generator power.

How To Switch Off And Disconnect A Generator

Hopefully, your power doesn’t stay off for too long. When it does come back on, you will need to switch off and disconnect the generator.

  • If you have a transfer switch, switch all the circuits off before switching off the generator.
  • Even if you use generator cords, you want to switch off the appliances and plug them out.
  • Next, you want to go to the generator and plug the cord out.
  • Most generators don’t turn off at the ignition. Instead, they have a kill switch that you need to flip or press.
  • Shut off the fuel valve. Do not ever let this stay open.
  • If your generator uses cords, please don’t leave them plugged in.
  • Once a generator cools down, come outside to inspect it to ensure it is covered and not going to get wet by the rain.

Wrap Up – How To Use A Generator

Using a generator can be dangerous, but if you follow the steps in this article, it doesn’t have to be. I guess I spent a lot of time talking about precautions, and that’s because that is the primary concern when using a generator. Always stay safe.

Like How to Use a Generator? Check out our related posts.

Related Articles


Steve Brown


Steve is a gadget enthusiast who's always been intrigued by batteries. The founder and editor of Battery Chargers Info, he's assembled a group of like-minded experts to cover every facet of portable power His aim is to help you learn more about your favorite gadgets and their batteries so you can maximize both their performance and their life. Follow him on Twitter: @batterycharinfo