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Seattle City Light DEBRA SMITH, General Manager and CEO
Generator Safety
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Generator Safety

Generators can be dangerous. If you plan to use one, please consider the tips below both for your safety and that of our line crews.

Never connect a generator directly to household wiring. A transfer switch must be used to supply generator power through a household circuit. It must be installed by a licensed electrician and approved by your local utility. Opening the main breaker to isolate household wiring from the utility's wires is neither legal nor safe. The household breaker does not provide a sufficient gap to ensure isolation of the energy, and the breaker may have been damaged as a result of the outage, creating a dangerous hazard that could cause a fire or electrocution.

Danger: Backfeed

Connecting a generator directly to household wiring without a transfer switch may create backfeed (electrical energy from the house to utility wires), creating severe risk for electrical crews. If the utility wires are re-energized while a generator is connected via house wiring, the generator also could explode and catch fire. Liability for any injury or death resulting from an unauthorized connection would rest with the person who connected the generator.


The safest way to use a portable generator is to connect the generator directly to the load(s) being served. Some users wish to power only their refrigerator and a few lights, while others are primarily concerned with running the fan on a gas or oil-fired furnace. An extension cord from the generator to the needed appliances or fixtures is the most effective method. In the case of a furnace, most furnace fuel suppliers can provide a connection that makes use with a generator fairly simple.

Power or Wattage

The generator should be rated to produce the amount of power necessary for the appliances or fixtures selected. In the case of a refrigerator or fan, this should be the starting wattage, since the power required to start an electric motor is higher than the power used once it is running. For example, if you want to power two 60-watt lights and a 750-watt refrigerator, you would most likely select a 1000-watt generator.


A portable generator uses an internal combustion engine which emits carbon monoxide, so it must be well-ventilated. Be sure to place the generator where exhaust fumes will not enter the house. Consider the fuel capacity of the generator if you want to keep a refrigerator running during the day while you are away from home.


A wide variety of size and quality of generators is available in the marketplace. There are small units that will handle a single light and a radio. There are also large units that, used with a transfer switch, can be started remotely and power half the circuits in a large home. The size you choose is determined by what you want to power and by your budget.
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