How To Use A Generator In Different Situations

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Discover how to use a generator in different situations so you can get the most out of your machine in a safe way.

How do you use a generator for the first time?

Take the following steps to use a generator for the first time:

  1. Unbox the generator
  2. Check your generator user manual to see if there are any specific guidelines
  3. Put your generator in a safe location
  4. Fill your generator with the right amounts of oil and fuel
  5. Turn the fuel filler cap vent lever to ON
  6. Turn your generator eco throttle off if it has one
  7. Turn your generator choke lever to the closed position if it has one
  8. Turn the engine switch to ON
  9. Start the generator without any extension cords or devices plugged in. This will often mean pulling the starting cord
  10. Set the generator choke lever to open if it has one after 10 to 30 seconds
  11. Follow the break-in procedure of your specific generator
  12. Use your generator as usual

You can follow the in-depth versions of these first-time generator usage steps below too.

Step 1: Unbox the generator

Before you can use your generator it has to get out of the box.

This will also get you access to the user manual for the next step.

Step 2: Check your generator user manual to see if there are any specific guidelines

Check the generator user manual to operate your machine more safely and without voiding the warranty.

Using your generator typically only requires the general steps in this article.

That being said, some generator brands specify different steps, maintenance guidelines, and safety precautions.

Step 3: Put your generator in a safe location

Put your generator in a dry and even location that is far enough away from any homes.

This will help you avoid damaging your machine and risking your own safety.

These location guidelines are some of the most important generator safety tips.

Additionally, brands regularly recommend grounding your generator.

Do not forget the more general maintenance guidelines either.

Step 4: Fill your generator with the right amounts of oil and fuel

Filling your generator with enough oil and fuel is essential since these get and keep it running.

The oil helps your engine parts move smoothly and without too much friction.

Fuel will make the engine move which is how a generator produces electricity.

Propane and natural gas generators require different steps to get the fuel into the machine.

Step 5: Turn the fuel filler cap vent lever to ON

After filling your gasoline or diesel generator with fuel you need to turn the fuel filler cap vent lever to ON.

This will make sure the fuel can move smoothly through the machine.

Step 6: Turn your generator eco throttle off if it has one

Inverter generators often have eco throttles which need to be off to make sure the machine starts easily.

You do not need this step to use a regular portable generator.

Step 7: Turn your generator choke lever to the closed position if it has one

If your generator has a choke lever and your machine is cold, you want to put the lever in the closed position.

This will give you a mixture of fuel and air that gives you a better chance of starting the engine.

Step 8: Turn the engine switch to ON

Generators typically have an engine switch that you want to turn on to be able to start your machine.

This is straightforward once you know this switch exists. However, not everyone is aware of this fact.

Step 9: Start the generator without any extension cords or devices plugged in

Pull the generator starting cord or press the electric start or remote start button after making sure there are no extension cords or devices plugged in.

It is easier for your generator engine to get going without load.

Step 10: Set the generator choke lever to open if it has one after 10 to 30 seconds

After the generator successfully runs for a minute or two you can set the choke lever back to the open position.

Skip this step if your generator did not have a choke lever in the first place.

Step 11: Use your generator as usual

You should be able to use your generator as usual after following the steps described above and in your user manual.

That means you can plug in the right extension cords and/or devices in your generator without going over the watt capacity of your machine.

How many generator outlets you can use depends more on the things you plug in.

Additionally, you don’t want to forget all of the usual guidelines either.

How to start a generator?

After taking care of the safety and maintenance guidelines, you can start a generator by following these steps:

  1. Open your generator user manual to see if there are any unusual extra steps.
  2. Put the generator in a safe location
  3. Fill the generator with enough fuel and oil. Some fuel types will require a connection instead
  4. Turn the generator fuel filler cap vent lever to ON
  5. Turn off the eco throttle mode if your generator has one
  6. Set the choke lever of a cold generator to the closed position. A warm engine can start with the choke lever around 75% of the way to open.
  7. Turn on the generator engine switch
  8. Pull the generator starting cord or press the electric or remote start button
  9. Set the choke lever all the way to open after the generator runs for 10 to 30 seconds without problems.

It is typically smart to double-check your generator user manual to make sure you don’t forget any important starting steps.

How to start a generator that has been sitting

To start a generator that has been sitting you:

  1. Empty the gasoline tank
  2. Clean out the gasoline tank
  3. Check the carburetor and clean it out or replace it if necessary
  4. Check the spark plug and replace it if necessary
  5. Check the air filter and replace it if necessary
  6. Replace the generator oil if necessary
  7. Add new gasoline
  8. Take the typical steps to start a generator

The carburetor is the most likely generator part to give you trouble when trying to start a machine that has been sitting too long.

This is due to the possibility of old gasoline clogging up the carburetor.

How to use a generator with extension cords

To use a generator with extension cords you:

  1. Unplug every extension cord or appliance
  2. Follow the standard generator starting steps
  3. Plug in the extension cords

Make sure you use the right sizes of extension cords for the wattage amounts your generator produces.

How do you use a generator for your house

To use a generator for your house you:

  1. Set up the equipment for the electric connection to your house
  2. Make sure the active devices in your house consume less power than the generator can produce
  3. Put the generator far enough away from your home
  4. Start the generator as usual
  5. Safely connect the generator to the house

You will typically need an exterior inlet box connected to a circuit panel using a transfer switch to use a generator for your house.

Besides putting the generator far away enough, you want to follow the other maintenance and safety guidelines too.

Do you have to turn off your main breaker when using a generator?

According to Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative, the answer is yes, you have to turn off your main breaker when using a generator.

If you don’t do this, the electricity of your generator could go to the outside power grid. This can put utility workers into trouble.

How to use a generator during a power outage?

To use a generator during a power outage you:

  1. Make sure the conditions are safe for running a generator. Keep your generator dry, put it in a well-ventilated area far enough away, and follow the other standard guidelines
  2. Move the generator to a safe location with protection if necessary
  3. Follow the typical steps to start a generator. Make sure your hands are dry
  4. Use the generator as usual

Remember that connecting your generator to your home requires extra installation and safety steps.

This is something you do before the power outage happens.

How to use a generator in the rain?

To use a generator in the rain you:

  1. First, make sure running a generator in the rain is safely possible with the gear you have
  2. Put the rain protection on the generator
  3. Move the generator to a safe location
  4. Start the generator with dry hands
  5. Plug in the extension cords

As you can tell, a generator can sometimes run in the rain but there are conditions.

In light rain, a generator tent or cover could keep the machine dry while still offering enough ventilation.

In heavier rain or storm, even a generator shed could be too unstable to run your machine safely.

Don’t forget that you can not run your generator inside or too close to the house. Even when it rains.

How to use a generator for camping with a travel trailer?

To use a generator for camping with a travel trailer you:

  1. Put the generator in a safe location
  2. Make sure your generator can deal with the active devices in your travel trailer
  3. Unplug everything from the generator
  4. Follow the standard maintenance guidelines and generator start steps
  5. Connect the generator to your travel trailer with an extension cord of the right size
  6. Use devices in your travel trailer while not overloading the generator

When using a generator for a travel trailer the main thing to keep in mind is that the wattage limits still apply.

In simpler words, you may still need to limit what devices you run your travel trailer itself.

To a slightly bigger extent than usual thanks to the power loss from getting the electricity to your camping devices.

How to use a generator in an apartment?

You simply don’t use a generator in an apartment.

Most generators produce carbon monoxide which is deadly inside an apartment.

Additionally, it is unlikely that you are able to put the generator outdoors at a safe distance from the building itself.

It is worth noting that you can use a power station (battery with outlets) and solar generator inside an apartment since these normally don’t produce carbon monoxide.

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Author:

Mats is the founder and head editor of Generator Decision. With a combination of critical thinking, tireless research, and a healthy interest in electronics he helps people find the right generators and how to use these. At this point in the journey, Mats has done research on hundreds of portable generators.