What Will My Portable Generator Run During a Power Outage?

Portable generators serve double duty as backup power for homes and primary power on the job, on camping trips, and RVing where there are no shore lines.

In the fall of 2012, Hurricane Sandy roared up the coast and left millions in the dark. Most power outages took crews about a week to restore power. Others were left waiting and hoping and wishing for electricity for more than a month.

Bad weather and no power are worrisome. Your home cools until it becomes uncomfortable. Keeping the fridge closed only works so long and the temperature inside soon rises to unsafe level. Even worse, the heat is out and there is no way to keep warm.

Utility customers without power sometimes turn to portable generators. These workhorses can fill in during an outage, but they were not really designed to operate as a backup power supply in an emergency. That doesn’t mean you should not use them, only that special precautions must be taken to avoid illness or death.

Warning: Don’t use any generator to power a home unless you have carbon monoxide detectors located in all sleeping areas. Check batteries and test the units to ensure they work.

Carbon Monoxide

A plug-in carbon monoxide detector.

A CO Detector Provides Advance Warning that Deadly CO is accumulating.

Carbon Monoxide is a deadly gas present in the exhaust of all internal combustion engines. CO rises to lethal levels in just a few minutes. When portable generators run indoors, they fill the room with exhaust fumes. Leaving windows and doors open does not prevent CO buildup in a home.

NEVER run a portable generator or any internal combustion engine indoors.

The best guideline is the further from the house the better. Ten feet is considered the minimum distance, but don’t forget to take in other factors. Small openings can create an air intake and pull exhaust fumes inside the home. Such was the case when two sisters died of CO poisoning after Hurricane Sandy. A window was open just a crack to allow an extension cord from the generator into the home.

Take the wind direction into consideration when you position the portable generator. Don’t allow the exhaust to blow directly at vents, open windows, open doors, or other openings.

Tips for Choosing the Right Portable Generator

Extension Cords

Let us help you prepare for your next power outage.

A transfer switch, now required by the National Electric Code, connects to the circuits in your electrical panel that you’ll need most during a power outage, like a furnace, refrigerator, lights, well pump, television, garage door opener, etc.

Only use heavy duty cords made for use outdoors. Remember that cords have a current limit, and maxing out a cord is asking for trouble. A 12-gauge cord can handle 20 amperes on an 80 percent duty cycle. If you want to pull 20 amperes all the time, step up to a 10-gauge cord.

The best connection for a portable generator is a manufacturer supplied cord that plugs into an inlet box. The inlet box connects to a portable generator manual transfer switch which provides power to selected circuits. It allows your generator to run permanently wires appliances such as your furnace. The switch disconnects the home from the distribution grid to prevent injury to line workers and prevent overloading the generator.


The Kohler 20RESAL-SE with included 200-Amp Automatic Transfer Switch.

The Kohler 20RESAL-SE with included 200-Amp Automatic Transfer Switch.

Let’s face it, who wants to run outside in the middle of a blizzard like Juno to drag the generator out of the garage or shed, connect it to the house, fill it with fuel and get it started.

Then, every few hours you have to run back outside, shut it down, let it cool, fill it with fuel, and then you can start it again.

A standby generator like the Kohler 20RESAL-SE can put an end to fuel storage issues and or having to hook it up in the middle of the night while a storm rages. Standby units like this include a 200-amp automatic transfer switch and are service-entrance rated. The system runs on your existing gas supply (natural gas or propane) and is a fully automatic, permanently installed appliance that begins providing power just seconds after an outage is detected.

They fit between your meter and existing main service panel to provide you with power throughout any outage, and they can run for more than a week before requiring maintenance. Just keep the vents and cover clear of snow and debris and you’re ready to power through the next storm.

Generators are a life saver and can keep you in your home during an extended outage. Use them safely and consider installing a standby unit made for emergency home power.