Hurricane season is now upon us, and with meteorologists predicting above-average storm activity for 2020, residents of coastal areas should begin preparations now—if they haven’t already.
Being hurricane-ready (and knowing how to use a generator during a hurricane) means having a well-stocked hurricane kit with items like flashlights, bottled water, batteries and non-perishable foods; knowing your hurricane evacuation zone and having a plan for relocating if necessary; and organizing important paperwork like insurance documents, passports and birth certificates.
Before we dive in, below is a table of our recommended hurricane generators. If you want a deeper dive into these options and why they are our top picks, please see our full guide Best Hurricane Generator for Storm Preparedness in 2020.
Knowing How to Use A Generator During A Hurricane
If you live in a particularly storm-prone area or experience frequent power outages due to weather, you should consider investing in a home generator to maintain power for essential items like refrigerators, fans and lighting. Keep reading to learn how to use a generator during a hurricane to keep your family safe and comfortable.
Determine the appropriate size generator to meet your needs
When shopping for a home generator to get you through a hurricane, it’s critical to buy a model with enough power to operate all of the items you plan to connect to it. Make a list of the essential appliances you may need, such as your refrigerator, a small air conditioning unit or fans, a few lamps and any medical equipment required by you or your family members.
Once your list is complete, add up the total wattage required by all of the items you want to operate simultaneously with the generator and multiply it by 1.5 to determine your total power needs, since many appliances require additional electricity to start up. That number is the minimum wattage you’ll need from your generator.
Generators’ power output is typically measured in kilowatts (kW), so a 10 kW generator can produce up to 10,000 watts of electricity, and a 2kW generator can produce 2,000 watts. However, most generators aren’t designed to run at their maximum capacity for long periods of time (and overloading it can cause its breaker to trip) so use a figure of 80 percent to determine whether the generator you’re considering will meet your needs. In the example here, if your total power needs during a hurricane exceed 8,000 watts, you should look for a larger generator.
Before you buy, it’s good idea to have a local licensed electrician confirm your totals as well as any other factors you may not have considered. Expert advice can prevent you from wasting money on a generator that’s too small or buying one that generates more power than you need, which will drive up your fuel costs. Fuel costs are something that should be taken into account when learning how to use a generator during a hurricane.
Consider installing a transfer switch
If power outages are common in your area, it may make sense to have a licensed electrician install a transfer switch in your home. A transfer switch is a small circuit breaker mounted next to your main electrical panel. The transfer switch capacity matches your generator’s wattage and allows you to safely transfer circuits from the wiring in your house to the generator.
A transfer switch prevents you from having to plug multiple appliances directly into the generator and also keeps you from backfeeding generator power into the utility lines that connect to your house, which can cause injury or death to utility crew members as they work to restore power to your area.
Invest in one high-quality extension cord for each appliance you connect to the generator
If you opt not to install a transfer switch, you’ll need to purchase a high-quality extension cord for each item you plug into the generator to prevent fire hazards and damage to appliances and the generator itself. Cords should be double insulated and use #14AWG wiring at minimum.
The cords should also be long enough to reach from the generator to the appliance’s location without needing to string multiple cords together. Plan to spend about $50 for each extension cord you’ll need. This option from GE is our go-to extension cord.
Keep the generator in a safe outdoor location
It should go without saying that you should never bring a generator inside your home, since they emit deadly amounts of toxic—but almost undetectable—carbon monoxide gas. Your generator should be placed outside and as far away from windows and intake vents as possible. Ideally, the generator should be located in a dry, level, well-ventilated area and secured to prevent it from being stolen or going airborne in high winds.
Concerned about your generator getting wet? This is a valid concern to have. Luckily, we here at Generator Expert have the most comprehensive guide to generator enclosures online.
Practice safe operation and refueling techniques
A generator’s exterior becomes dangerously hot very quickly, so keep children and pets away from the unit and use protective gear when operating it. Avoid touching or starting the generator with wet hands or feet, and stand on a dry area when operating it.
Always start the generator before plugging anything into it, and once it’s up and running, plug items in one at a time to avoid overloading it, starting with the most critical appliances first. When you’re ready to power everything down, unplug appliances one at a time before shutting off the generator.
Like the generator itself, your fuel supply should also be stored outside in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area far away from sparks or flames. When it’s time to refuel, turn off the generator and give it a few minutes to cool down to prevent accidental combustion. Also, don’t forget your generator oil when refueling.
How to use a generator during a hurricane pro-tip: Conduct a trial run before a storm arrives
Don’t wait until the storm hits to power up your generator. You should perform preventive maintenance on the unit at the start of hurricane season—more frequently if your area is prone to severe storms year-round—and test it well in advance of the first storm, giving you enough time to troubleshoot issues and arrange repairs if necessary.
Make sure you have sufficient fuel and fuel storage containers on hand several days before a storm is forecasted to strike. These advance preparations will help reduce your hurricane-related anxiety and ensure that your generator is functioning properly when you need it most.
We hope this guide has helped you learn how to use a generator during a hurricane. As we dive into the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season, we wish you all the best of luck. Stay tuned to Generator Expert for more tips and tricks as the season goes on.