A generator can help restore life to normal during emergencies, but its safe use requires care and planning. Our essential guide to generator safety and use, along with the careful reading of the generator manufacturer's instructions will help you stay safe.

General tips for safe generator use

Don't trust your senses for protection from carbon monoxide; this deadly gas is invisible and odourless. When you buy a generator, also buy a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm. It works like a smoke alarm, sounding an alert if carbon monoxide levels become dangerous.

Be a good neighbour. If the power is out, your neighbours are probably sleeping with their windows open so try to locate it where it will cause the least disturbance to everyone.

Getting started

  • Never refuel a hot generator or one that is running. Hot engine parts or exhaust can ignite petrol.
  • Turn off all connected appliances before starting your generator.
  • Turn connected appliances on one at a time, never exceeding the generator's rated wattage.

Portable generators

  • Don't plug a generator directly into your home's wiring. Power from a generator connected to a home's wiring will 'back feed' into power lines, potentially severely injuring or killing a neighbour or a repair crew working to restore service.
  • Appliances can be plugged directly into the generator, but always read the manufacturer's instructions carefully.
  • Use a heavy-duty extension cord rated for outdoor use to keep the generator safely outdoors.
  • Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for earthing the generator.
  • Petrol and diesel-powered generators produce deadly carbon monoxide fumes. Run portable generators outside the house - never inside or in a garage. Keep generators well away from open windows, including your neighbours' windows, so deadly exhaust doesn’t enter the home.

Small generators

  • Each generator has a rated wattage which provides a limit on the appliances it will safely power.
  • Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for proper use and capacity and don't try to connect a lot of appliances at once.
  • Rotate the use of larger items. This way, you can continue to use your smaller generator which costs less to buy and is easier to move.
  • Overloading the generator can result in damage to appliances.

Get the most from your generator

  • Save fuel and money by using appliances only as needed. If no devices are running, shut the generator off.
  • If you're only running a few lights, using other sources may cost less than running a generator.
  • Refrigerators may only need to run a few hours a day to preserve food.
  • Don't leave a running generator unattended. Turn it off at night and when you're away from home.

Getting ready for the wet season

Before the wet season remove your generator from storage, drain the fuel from the tank and dispose of it properly. Inspect the fuel line for cracks and replace if necessary. Refill the tank with fresh fuel and run the generator. Plug in some appliances, i.e. a light, hair dryer, etc. to make sure the generator is working correctly.

If you have any trouble with the generator during this test, take it to a repairer so they can ensure it's in good running order and ready for when you need it.

After the wet season

When the wet season is over, store your generator properly so it will be ready to go next season when you need it.