Portable generators are great for all kinds of situations! Having the ability to make your own power when you’re camping, out in your RV, or during a power outage gives you a ton of capability that you otherwise wouldn’t have, but can you let your generator get wet?
You should never allow your generator to get wet. If you do, you run the risk of getting a life-threatening shock or serious electrocution. Never use an unprotected generator in wet conditions like snow or rain or near pools, sprinklers, when your hands are wet or when there is ice on the generator.
Let’s look at why you can’t use a generator when it’s wet.
A generator is more susceptible to water than other small engines because it’s entire purpose is to create electricity and send that electricity its outlets. If you use a generator in wet or snowy conditions, then water and moisture will eventually get into the outlets and could lead to a really dangerous situation.
Even generators with ground fault circuit interrupt (GFCI) outlets still pose a risk when they’re wet. If your generator has GFCI outlets then it will stop providing power to the outlet if water gets inside.
This is good because it stops the power from going to the wet outlet but it can be bad if you head out to check the generator and see what happened. Touching a generator when it’s wet can lead to dangerous shocks and resetting that GFCI outlet while it’s wet can easily cause you to get electrocuted.
Rain can damage the electronics of your generator and lead to life-threatening accidents. You should never let your generator stay out in the rain or snow!
It almost seems counterproductive to say that you can’t use a generator in the rain. After all, the times when you need them most are when it’s raining or during some kind of storm that knocked out your power. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use your generator at all during a storm, but it does mean that you need to either use a cover for your generator or put it in a place that will protect it from the rain.
You need to cover a generator if you’re going to be running it out in the rain or snow. You can either buy a generator cover specifically made for your model of generator, buying a generic one that will cover your generator or make one yourself.
Consumer Reports recommends using a normal canopy that is open on all sides as your generator cover. This does two things, it protects the generator from the rain or snow and it allows plenty of air to flow around the generator, letting the exhaust safely blow away. This is a great idea if you already have a canopy that you can set up in the yard but it leaves the generator open to windblown rain and snow.
This pop-up tent canopy is pretty cheap and it could be build without extending its legs which would provide more cover for your generator from wind-blown rain and still give the generator plenty of airflow.
The thing to remember with generator covers is that they have to be able to protect the generator from rain and snow, let the engine get enough air to run properly and hold the cover off of the engine’s exhaust so it doesn’t melt or catch on fire. The covers that fit tightly around your generator are great for protecting it when it’s in storage but they’re not for use while it’s running.
Manufactured generator covers are specifically designed to fit certain generators or are generically made to fit a range of generator sizes. They’re best if you just want something that is going to work and don’t feel like building one yourself.
Tent generator covers (like this one from Champion) attach to the generator and protect it from rain and snow while providing decent airflow around the generator.
Outdoor storage sheds are another good option to cover your generator. You can pick up something like this Rubbermaid shed which allows you to open the sides to get airflow and run extension cords to wherever you need power. Just make sure you buy a shed that’s large enough to leave room on all sides of your generator if you plan to run it inside the shed.
One of the easiest ways to cover your generator is by draping a tarp over the top of it. You need to make sure that you don’t allow the tarp to touch the generator at all. Prop the tarp up with poles.
You can even use lawn chairs to hold the tarp up. Just make sure that the chairs aren’t going to get blown over and the center of the tarp is elevated so rain doesn’t pool in the center and pull the tarp onto the generator or off of the chairs.
Another popular way to build a cover for your generator is by making a structure out of PVC pipe and then covering it with plastic.
This video shows you one way to build a PVC generator cover. Don’t worry about following the video step by step, it honestly isn’t the best way to build a PVC structure but it should give you some ideas of how to build your own.
Another good way to build a PVC generator cover is by building it with three arched PVC pipes attached to a PVC base.
This video goes over everything you need to throw this simple wooden generator cover together. It’s a good video but the thing is a little over-engineered for what ends up being a wooden shell covered by a tarp.
You can use this to get some of your own ideas flowing or you can follow this step by step.
Any wooden frame like this with a tarp stapled to it will work for the occasional rain or snowstorm.
One of the things that really get people when they buy a generator, is trying to figure out a good place to put it. It can be pretty frustrating.
When you’re looking for a place to put your generator you should try to follow these guidelines as best as you can:
- Place your generator on a flat, level surface outside that doesn’t collect water. Never try to run your generator inside your house!
- Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen in as little as 5 minutes. Run your generator at least 10 feet from your house (20 feet away from any doors, windows or air intakes).
- Don’t put a generator under an overhang, in a breezeway or in areas where snow drifts can occur.
- Don’t place a generator near flammable materials or fuel.
Finding an area that meets all of these criteria can be almost impossible for some people. Keep these guidelines in mind when you’re looking for an area to put your generator and use commonsense when you’re looking for an area that works for you.
The first thing you should be concerned about is the possibility that carbon monoxide can get into your home if you put it too close to doors, windows or air intakes. Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that displaces the oxygen in an area. I like to keep a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector with my portable generator so I always have one available when I use it.
If you search around to find out how far away a generator needs to be away from your house, you’re going to find a lot of different answers. The best answer I can find is to keep a generator 10 feet away from your house and 20 feet away from any doors, windows or other areas that can let carbon monoxide in. The U.S. Department of Commerce did a study that showed even 15 feet was still close enough to allow a dangerous amount of carbon monoxide into windows or doors.
Portable generators shouldn’t be used during hurricanes and other strong storms. It’s almost impossible to protect them during strong storms.
Imagine trying to rely on a homemade tarp cover over your generator during 70+ mph winds. It’s probably not going to go very well.
Any storm that threatens your home is going to make it very difficult to use a generator during that storm. Instead, keep your generator in a safe place that won’t be affected by the storm and have it ready to start up as soon as the storm has died to a level that allows you to get your generator running safely.
A garage seems like a great place to set up a generator, but it really shouldn’t be used unless it’s detached from your house. Attached garages are really nothing more than another room in your house.
Even detached garages pose a possible threat. If there isn’t enough ventilation in the garage, you could enter the garage and still be overcome by carbon monoxide. Keep this in mind and always allow plenty of time for the garage to air out before you enter.
You wouldn’t stick a generator in a bathroom, close the door, open the window and call it good would you?
If you absolutely have to run a generator in your garage, you need to provide as much airflow and ventilation as possible. This means pointing the exhaust out of the main door and opening the other doors and windows. This still isn’t safe and is the number one cause of CO poisoning, but if it’s the best that you can do then you need to decide for yourself what you should do.
If you’re running a generator in an attached garage, then you really need to have carbon monoxide detectors in the rooms that are above the garage and any room attached to it.
There are many reports of people being overcome by carbon monoxide following large storms…you need to decide if taking the risk is worth it to you!
Sheds seem like an obvious place to put a generator when the power goes out, but is it a good idea? Sheds are actually a great place to put generators.
A shed protects the generator from the elements and can also reduce the noise from the generator. You can even add a more robust muffler on the generator to further reduce the noise produced.
You do need to keep a couple of things in mind when you’re running a generator inside of a shed.
- You still need to have the generator a safe distance from your house.
- Don’t store flammables inside the shed. (Remove and flammable liquids and fuels)
- Keep the shed well ventilated or allow it to air out before going inside when a generator has been running inside.
Never run a generator on a porch! Your porch may keep the rain off of your generator, but the possibility of carbon dioxide leaking into your house is too high.
You may want to consider attaching a tart to the railing of the porch and creating a lean-to style cover for your generator instead. This could allow you to get your generator safely away from your house and still protect it from the rain and snow.
Detached carports are ideal places to run a generator. They protect the generator from the elements and allow for plenty of ventilation on all sides. Just make sure there isn’t any fuel or flammables close to the generator.
Attached carports pose a risk that’s similar to using your generator on a porch. Carbon dioxide can still leak into your home in levels that are dangerous. It’s not worth the risk!
Wet generators pose a shock and electrocution hazard if you’re trying to plug or unplug items when they’re wet. Wet generators should be allowed to dry off before you use them.
Rain isn’t going to ruin your generator. There are plenty of people that have generators mounted inside of open bed pick-ups and leave them exposed to the elements with no problem!
If it starts to rain and you’re running your generator, you can still cover it up to protect it. Place the cover over the generator and try not to touch it.