How to keep your generator ready for an emergency

Keep your family safe when running portable generator

We are keeping a close eye on the tropics as Hurricane Lee continues moving towards the United States and once again, we find ourselves going through the checklist of things we need -- including a plan if the power goes out.

As you may have experienced firsthand from Idalia — or maybe other hurricanes that have affected Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia — storms mean power outages. News4JAX has been working with Consumer Reports for years, and its expert Paul Hope has said time and time again that a portable generator is great to have for emergencies. But he reminds us that there’s some prep work to be done to be sure it works when we need it.

CONSUMER REPORTS: Best Portable Generators of 2023

There are three main steps you can take to keep your family safe when running a generator. (All Consumer Reports material Copyright 2023 Consumer Reports, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

“Generators can go months or even years without being used. But keep in mind the fuel in them can go bad over time. That can clog the engine’s carburetor or fuel lines and it may not start when you actually need it,” Hope explained.

To prevent those clogged fuel lines, keep the generator’s fuel tank empty and have at least 10 gallons of fresh gasoline on hand.

“Always add a fuel stabilizer to your stored gas to help it last as long as possible,” he recommended.

As far as storing your generator, make sure you are keeping it in a clean, dry, and ventilated spot that’s NOT attached to the house. This will prevent odors and toxic fumes from entering your home.

“Storing a generator in your home or too close to it is dangerous because not only can vapors escape from gasoline but gasoline is flammable and that could start a fire,” Hope said.

Something else to consider if you’re willing to invest a little money: a transfer switch. Hope says it’s the safest and easiest way to use your portable generator.

An electrician installs a transfer switch alongside your main circuit breaker.

“A transfer switch lets you power whole circuits on your home’s panel without running individual extension cords to each appliance. They also let you power things that may not have a plug like a furnace or a water heater,” Hope explained.

There’s a similar but cheaper option that Hope installed in his own home — called an interlock — which he says makes facing a power outage a little less stressful.

CONSUMER REPORTS: Transfer Switches & Interlock Devices

When running your generator, remember these three things to keep your family safe:

  1. Never run it in an enclosed space.
  2. Always run it at least 20 feet from your home.
  3. Always direct exhaust away from your home.