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If you have an emergency generator in your house, great! Learn how to use it properly before disaster strikes. You should not try to hook it up to the power lines in the house unless you have had an electrician install the proper connections, you have a cord large and long enough to go from the generator outside to the inside connection, and you have large amounts of fuel. (If you have all this, you are probably very rich or you are a hospital.)
Every time we have a disaster that interrupts electrical service, someone manages to kill themselves with carbon monoxide from a generator. All portable generators run by burning something and they give off carbon monoxide in the process of burning. If you put the generator in the house, the garage or near the air intake you may kill everyone in the house with the fumes. Place the generator in a well-ventilated area that is not near your air source and where it is not likely to start a fire.
Also remember that you are generating electricity and follow the usual safety rules for electricity. You need long extension cords with heavy electrical capacity to make use of the generator. Connect the equipment directly to the outlets on the generator, not through the house wiring. Don't run the cords through water. Don't close doors on them. And, don't try to power heavy appliances with an extension cord designed for a 60 watt light bulb.
Do not connect your generator to the house’s electrical service lines unless these were installed with a disconnect to the main power feeder lines. A direct connection can cause a “backfeed” of electricity into the neighborhood supply lines and terrible problems. You could electrocute someone who is working on a line that should be dead because it is disconnected from the utility lines.
When you need to refuel your generator, turn it off and let it cool. Store generator fuel in approved cans in a safe place. Do not store fuel inside the house, garage or basement. If you are using gasoline from cars, pull the car out of the garage and use a proper siphon to put the gasoline into an approved can before putting it in the generator.
All generators have a limited power output. Read the labels on everything you plan to plug into the generator and add them up to calculate your power needs. Keep the power draw well under the maximum capacity of the generator. There will also be a surge of power drawn as you turn on an appliance so consider this in your calculations. Also calculate how much fuel you have and how much you will use to power everything.
Use your generator capacity and your fuel supply for the things that really matter. If you live where it gets cold, make sure you have the connections, the cord and the expertise to hook the generator up to run the thermostat and the fan on the heating system. Keeping relatively warm is the most important use of the generator. This will work if you have a gas, coal, or oil system. If you have electric heat, you are not going to be able to run it off a generator unless you have a huge generator and a lot of fuel.
You can expect to run a refrigerator off a small generator and this may be the best use of power after the heating. Don’t waste power by opening it very often, but keeping the refrigerator running can increase the amount of safe food you have available. Do not try to cool a room with a refrigerator. The heat that comes out the back is greater than the cooling coming out the door. It is hotter in a room with an open refrigerator than with no refrigerator. As my mother used to say, “Don’t fan your face with the refrigerator door.”
Lights and cooking are the next things to think about. Lamps really don't use much power and they can add a lot to your comfort and sense of well-being. Ovens and cook tops require a lot of power and run off 220 volt lines instead of 110 like the rest of the house. They really aren't very useful if you are using a generator. On the other hand, microwaves, toasters, crock pots, coffee makers, and hot plates plug in easily and cook just fine.
Like the oven, don't try to run your air conditioner off a generator, it takes too much power. Unlike the oven, you can damage an air conditioner by running it on too little power. Browning out the compressor may guarantee you don’t have a system by the time the power comes back on. If it is really hot, think about running fans or the air handler in your air conditioning system. Circulate the shaded air inside the house and stay as comfortable as you can.