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:
- What Size Generator Do I Need For My RV?
- How To Operate a Portable Generator
- 5 Awesome Portable RV Generators
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
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
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
You also need to make sure your generator is protected from the elements. While keeping your generator 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 generator underneath an RV awning, 5th wheel alcove, or under the coach itself.
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
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
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.
Maintain Ample Fuel Supply
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!
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
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
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.