Here at WEN, we often get questions about best practices for running a generator. Tragically, dozens of people are hurt or killed each year in accidents arising from using their generators incorrectly. In this article, we've compiled some helpful tips and best practices to maximize safety when running your generator. We'll also address some common questions later on. You may want to check out our helpful Generator FAQs page too.
Avoid carbon monoxide
NEVER run a generator indoors or in enclosed spaces, or within 20 feet of doors or windows. Generator (and all engine) exhaust contains carbon monoxide (abbreviated CO), a poisonous, colorless, odorless and tasteless chemical. CO can kill you in minutes.
ALWAYS keep battery-backup CO alarms installed in your home, or anywhere you'll be using a generator, such as in your RV. Test them at least monthly.
Know the symptoms of CO poisoning. These symptoms include headaches, nausea, dizziness, fainting, weakness and fatigue. If you or anyone around you experiences these symptoms when around a generator, get to fresh air immediately, and get medical assistance as soon as possible.
Read your generator's owner's manual, and keep it handy for reference. It contains helpful information about running your generator, staying safe while doing so, and maintaining your generator. Don't assume you know it all, and don't throw your manual away. If you need a copy of a WEN generator's manual, you can search your generator's model number in the search bar at the top of the page. The most recent manual edition is posted on each WEN generator model's webpage.
Point the generator's exhaust away from others. Keep the exhaust pointing downwind of any other structures, people, or animals.
Consider purchasing a generator with an onboard CO sensor. Some WEN generators, denoted with an X at the end of the model number, come with onboard Watchdog CO sensors that will automatically shut down the generator if high levels of CO are detected. While no system is completely foolproof in preventing CO exposure, an onboard CO sensor is another handy level of defense.
Avoid electric shock
Ground your generator. Your generator is designed to minimize the risk of electric shock, but using a grounding wire and grounding rod adds another layer of protection. WEN generators can be grounded by tightening the grounding nut on the control panel against a grounding wire. A generally acceptable grounding wire is a No. 12 AWG (American Wire Gauge) stranded copper wire. This grounding wire should be connected at the other end to a copper, brass, or steel grounding rod that is driven into the earth. Refer to your generator's owner's manual and local electrical codes for more details.
Run your generator in a dry area. Don't run it in areas exposed to rain or snow.
ALWAYS use a transfer switch if connecting to a building, such as your home. NEVER connect your generator directly to any building's electrical system without using a transfer switch. This is known as backfeeding, and is a violation of the National Electrical Code. It could severely injure or kill utility workers attempting to restore power. Transfer switches should be installed by a licensed professional electrician in compliance with all local electrical codes.
Use the proper extension cord size. WEN generators' owner's manuals contain recommendations for choosing the proper extension cord size (also known as gauge) and length to handle a given load. Using an extension cord that is too small or too long is a fire and shock hazard.
Use the proper extension cord type. Use a grounded extension cord, whether 3-wire or 4-wire (which partially depends on the voltage you're using). Make sure it's rated for outdoor use.
Use a GFCI outlet or extension cord with an in-line GFCI if needed. Some WEN generators come with GFCI outlets on the panel; in other situations, it may be best to use an in-line GFCI extension cord. Refer to your generator's owner's manual for more details.
Other common questions
Can I run my generator in the rain or snow?
No. Don't expose your generator to moisture, as it significantly raises the risk of electric shock. If you need to run your generator during inclement weather, consider one of the following options:
Purchase a stationary standby generator. While much more expensive, this may be a better option for long-term performance in inclement weather.
Build a weatherproof enclosure. Make sure it has adequate ventilation and clearance on all sides, but will not allow rain or snow in.
There are products on the market that claim to allow generators to be run in rain or snow, but WEN Products does not endorse their use.
What about a generator cover?
A generator cover is intended for keeping your generator protected during indoor storage. DO NOT use a generator cover on a generator while it is running, or when it has a hot engine, as this is a fire hazard.
Can I run my generator without oil?
No. WEN generators have a low-oil shutdown switch that prevents you from doing this. Running any engine without oil will severely damage or destroy the engine, and could injure you or someone else.
Make sure you use the proper type of engine oil as well. Read your owner's manual for more details. Synthetic oil is best, but conventional oil is fine too.
Do I have to use a grounding rod?
Your generator will run without using a grounding rod, but as discussed above, to maximize safety, we do recommend using a grounding rod. Read your owner's manual for more details.
How do I power the stuff I need during a power outage?
If you'll be using only a few things at a time, and those items have cords and plugs on them, use an extension cord. Make sure to keep your generator outside and far away from doors and windows, and make sure your extension cord is properly sized to handle the load(s) you plan to apply.
If you'll be using many items simultaneously, or anything hardwired into your home's wiring, you'll need to have an electrician install a transfer switch, as discussed above. NEVER plug a generator directly into a home's wiring without a transfer switch.
Can I refuel the generator while it's running?
No. A hot engine can ignite gasoline fumes. Yes, it's inconvenient when the power is out to shut off the generator, but doing so and letting it cool before refueling is best, and also reduces the risk of accidental burns.
Thanks for reading! We hope this has been a helpful refresher on staying safe when operating your generator. If you have any other questions, check your generator's owner's manual. If you still need assistance with your WEN generator, please feel free to give us a call at 1-847-429-9263 (M – F, 8 – 5 CST), or drop us a message here to talk to our friendly and knowledgeable technical support team.