Portable Generator Safety Tips

Contributor

Tucker Ballister

Favorite Trip

5 Months Solo on the Road

Home Base

Hendersonville, NC

Favorite RV

2008 Fleetwood Bounder

About Contributor

Tucker Ballister is our Content Strategist. He’s a lover of the open road and the proud owner of a 2021 Sunlite Classic travel trailer (his 3rd RV to date). Check out more of his RV adventures, gear reviews, and outdoor advice at thebackpackguide.com.

A portable generator is a great alternative power source for your RV or for powering some of your household appliances in emergency situations. Most towable RV owners will need a portable RV generator if they want to camp anywhere other than campgrounds with electric hookups. 

If you haven’t yet purchased a portable generator for your RV, we have several resources you’ll find useful: 

For those with a portable generator, using yours safely isn’t just a recommendation. It’s a requirement. 

10 Portable Generator Safety Tips

Because we’re dealing with gas and electricity here, you must follow these portable generator safety tips for safe operation.

Test Your Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector 

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Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that can lead to full incapacitation and, in the worst case, death. You can be exposed to it even if you don’t smell exhaust fumes, and the early warning signs are feelings of dizziness, weakness, and sickness. 

If you feel any of these signs, get outside and into fresh air IMMEDIATELY.

It should also be noted that CO poisoning can affect your neighbors, whether you’re using a generator at home or in a campground. Ensure your generator isn’t expelling fumes into anyone else’s home or RV, and notify neighbors of its use to be as safe as possible.

To protect yourself from carbon monoxide exposure, ensure your CO detectors are plugged in and operating properly. Test the batteries frequently and replace them when needed. If your CO alarm goes off, move outside into fresh air or next to an open door or window. 

Install CO detectors according to the listing in your home to provide an early warning system in the event of a carbon monoxide accumulation. In RVs, only use CO detectors made for RV use and install them according to their listing.

Place Your Generator Outside 

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Photo by Camping World

Generators produce carbon monoxide (CO). If they are placed inside and without proper ventilation, this poses a serious health risk. Your generator should always be positioned outside and at least 20-25 feet from any open doors, windows, or vents that could allow carbon monoxide to filter inside. 

In an RV park, place the generator a full power cord length away from all coaches in the vicinity. 

Never operate a generator inside your home, garage, recreational vehicle, or any other enclosed area.

Keep It Protected From The Elements 

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Photo by Warehouse of Images via Shutterstock

You also need to ensure that your generator is protected from the elements. While keeping it at a safe distance from your home, RV, and other RVs, utilize a generator cover to protect it from rain and moisture.

Just know you must remove the cover before starting your generator.

Place it in a dry area, ideally underneath a canopy that protects it from rainfall. The canopy should not be enclosed and should still provide plenty of airflow around your generator. 

Operate your generator in a dry, well-ventilated, but covered space. Never leave a generator out in wet or rainy conditions, and never touch a generator with wet hands.

Never operate a portable generator underneath an RV awning, 5th wheel alcove, under the coach, in the bed of a truck, inside a storage compartment, or while sitting in a trailer’s A-frame or bumper-mounted rack.

Disconnect From Regular Utilities 

Before using your generator to power RV or household appliances, disconnect from your normal power source or use a transfer switch. You can do this by shutting off power from the main breaker behind your home’s electrical panel or unplugging your RV from an electrical stand. 

Disconnect from your normal power source before powering household or RV appliances with your generator. This protects appliances from damage when power returns and eliminates the possibility of your generator sending power down utility lines, affecting workers attempting to repair an outage.

Plug Appliances Directly into the Generator

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When powering an individual appliance from a stand-alone portable generator, unplug it from the wall outlet and connect it directly to the generator. This requires running heavy-duty extension cords from your refrigerator, heater, and other appliances to the outdoor location where you’re safely running your generator.

Never attempt to connect a stand-alone generator to the main 120-volt AC service by plugging it into a wall outlet or by wiring it directly into an electrical service panel. 

A licensed professional must connect directly to a home’s 120-volt AC service and requires specialized equipment. Unplugging an RV from the park pedestal and plugging it into an appropriately sized portable generator will power the entire coach.

Use The Right Extension Cords 

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Heavy-duty extension cords designed for outdoor use should always be used when plugging into your generator. This is the case even if the majority of the cord is lying inside or in a protected area. 

Here are a few criteria to look for:

  • Weatherproof housing
  • Minimum 20-25 foot cord length
  • Minimum 10AWG/3C copper wire
    • AWG = American wire gauge
    • C = Conductor count
  • Rated up to a minimum of 600 volts
  • ETL (Electrical Testing Labs) certified

Ensure your extension cords are in good condition and contain a wire gauge rated for the electrical loads of all connected appliances. Also, consider using a surge protector to protect your RV/home appliances from electrical surges. You may need to use an adapter if your power cord plug does not match your generator’s outlet. 

Technician Tip: Utilize a chassis ground wire from the generator frame to a metal water pipe or a metal rod driven into the soil.

Maintain Ample Fuel Supply 

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Photo by Tonographer via Shutterstock

Your generator is only as effective as the amount of fuel you have to keep it running. Whether your generator runs on propane, diesel, or gasoline (or it allows you to use multiple fuel types), you must keep enough on hand to refill as needed. 

Always keep a backup fuel supply to refill your generator without making a supply run! Let the generator cool adequately before refueling.

Always use the type of fuel the generator’s manufacturer recommends and store it in a dry, well-ventilated location away from heat sources.

Most generators require ethanol-free fuel, as ethanol fuels can go bad faster. If your generator sits with fuel in it for more than 30 days, you may need to use a fuel stabilizer to prevent it from going bad.

Operate Your Generator Regularly

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Most generators should be operated at least once a month. This ensures proper lubrication of internal parts, protects the function of the carburetor, and keeps your RV’s battery charged. 

For example, Generac and Cummins I series portable generators call for operating them for at least 20 minutes each month. Onan built-in generators, in comparison, call for two hours per month at 50% load.

Consult your generator’s owner’s manual for recommended guidelines on fuel management, regular operation, and short and long-term generator storage.

Turn It Off Before Refueling 

Make sure your generator is powered down before refueling. You should also give it plenty of time to cool off before adding more fuel. 

Never attempt to refuel a generator while it is running or immediately after it has been shut off. 

Follow The Manufacturer’s Operation and Maintenance Instructions

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Photo by Feng Yu via Shutterstock

In summary, read your owner’s manual and follow all instructions for safe generator operation and maintenance! 

Generators must be maintained properly, just like any household or RV appliance. Your owner’s manual contains all the recommended information you will need to operate your generator safely and efficiently.


Do you have any questions about safely operating a portable generator? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Comment (4)
  • Alex McGill says:

    These are some excellent tips for safely operating a portable generator. Following guidelines around placement, fuel storage, extension cords and maintenance is key to avoiding dangerous carbon monoxide exposure. The reminder to always read the owner’s manual is also important, generators require proper care. Great overview of important safety considerations.

  • Why is there no mention of using a grounding plug when using a 8500/7000 watt generator to power a camping trailer? I was not able to even make a pot of coffee, with no interior lights on, no fans running. I was unable to use the air conditioner at all while setting in an open field at the race track. Trying to use the microwave was out of the question when it was discovered that no coffee was to be made. That is something that should be made clear for someone wanting to purchase a generator for any type of remote camping.

    • Hi Floyd,

      Sorry for the delayed reply, but I wanted to reach out to our technical team to get their thoughts. Here’s the response:

      I am not sure what you mean by “grounding plug”. Only shore cords intended for the coach be used and they always have a ground pin. Extension cords should be avoided whenever possible to prevent damage from overload, and they should be made for RVs and will always have the ground pin. If you are talking about actually grounding the portable generator to an earth ground with a jumper, the instructions vary from manufacturer to manufacturer so your portable generator’s instruction manual is your best resource.

      Another possibility is that you’re referring to a floating neutral kit. Most portable generators designed for RV use already have this feature built in. If not, they can be modified or a ground adapter can be plugged in the the outlet to create this condition. Most of the time it is not an issue, but some GFCI, EMS, or surge protector systems will not function correctly without “System Grounding”. This is the intentional interconnection of the neutral and ground conductors for safety. NFPA 1192 makes this a code violation in an RV.

      Only when an RV is plugged in to shore power will this protection be present because the power pedestal has been designed this way. On a portable generator, if not wired this way from the factory, an aftermarket modification or adapter must be used and it is called a floating neutral.

      I hope this helps, but please let us know if you have any follow up questions!

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