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If you own a portable generator or know someone who does, it can seem as innocuous as a home appliance. And if you live in an area where the weather tends to be extreme, you know that generators can be lifesavers. But they don’t come without risks. Knowing basic generator safety is a must, and pairing that knowledge with a Consumer Reports-recommended model can bring you peace of mind.

Portable generators are must-haves when the power goes out

A worker repairs a portable generator in a workshop
Portable generator | Ameer Al Mohammedaw/picture alliance via Getty Images

We often look at bad weather or natural disasters as causing varying degrees of hardship, depending on where we live. People in the Midwest deal with tornadoes yet can’t imagine living in Key West and facing hurricanes. The same could be said about certain parts of Texas, where people aren’t prepared for the same harsh winter weather that people in, say, Montana are accustomed to. And let’s not forget raging wildfires and destructive earthquakes in California.

Nevertheless, whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, power outages are the common denominator. While various weather phenomena pose unique challenges, having power makes dealing with hardships a little easier. For this reason, a portable generator is a must-have for any household, no matter where you live. In fact, people can even use the Ford F-150 hybrid’s onboard generator to power their homes.

Important safety tips for operating a portable generator

The key danger of running a generator is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the exhaust. Of course, other hazards include electric shock and fire. Believe it or not, portable generators can produce enough power to electrocute someone under certain conditions.

Keeping your generator in a dry place will help you avoid electrocution. That means don’t use it in the rain or on wet surfaces. If you have to operate it outdoors, place it under an open canopy-like structure. Use something to keep it raised above ground level to prevent water from pooling around it. And never touch a generator with wet hands.

Also, a hot engine can ignite gasoline during refueling, so turn off the generator and allow it to cool first. Store fuel in an approved container in an area away from sparks and/or flames.

Be sure your generator is properly grounded, and never plug it into a wall outlet. Plug generators only into a two-way transfer switch. Called “back-feeding,” plugging a generator into a wall socket is not only illegal in most areas but also potentially damaging to your home’s electrical system.

Finally, you’ll find the most pertinent safety tips in the manufacturer’s user manual.

3 safer models that Consumer Reports recommends

Consumer Reports recommends three generators that will keep you safer than others.

The lowest-rated generator of the three is the Echo EGI-2300. Consumer Reports gave it an overall score of 67 out of 100. It scored only 3 out of 5 in terms of power output but scored a perfect 5 for power quality. When it comes to noise, ease of use, and co-safety technology, this model scored above average at 4/5 in all three categories.

CR calls the Echo EGI-2300 “the best in its class … It’s quiet and produces 1,800 watts. It has a CO safety shutoff, plus it’s designed to produce lower CO emissions. It runs up to 12 hours on a tank of gas.”

The second model is the Cat RP8000 E, which earned an overall score of 72. It scored 5/5 for power delivery and 4/5 for power quality and ease of use. As for CO safety technology, it got on 3/5. It scored terribly for its noise level at 2/5. However, not only does the Cat RP8000 provide 18 hours of running time on a single tank of gas, but “it provides steady, reliable power and features an electric start. It has a built-in CO safety shutoff.”

Scoring the highest of the three models is the Ryobi RYi4022X, with an overall 87. It earned a 5/5 for power delivery, power quality, and CO safety technology. It also got a good 4/5 for ease of use and a so-so 3/5 for noise. According to Consumer Reports, the “Ryobi offers stellar performance all around, including ratings of Excellent for power delivery and power quality. It has an electric start and a CO safety shutoff. It runs up to 23 hours on a single tank of gas.”


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