Can You Run a Generator On a Porch? We Find Out

Many factors come to mind when thinking about where you can run your generator. For most people, their space is limited, and the porch might seem like a good option. So, have you ever wondered if you could run your generator on your porch?

Generator exhaust fumes contain carbon monoxide. Under no circumstances should you run a generator on your porch, inside your house, in the basement, garage, shed, or near any buildings where humans and animals live and breathe. Also, never run your portable generator in any building or an enclosed space.

Generators are generally safe. However, if you do not follow specific safety protocols, you can make them pretty dangerous. Our primary focus in this article is to look at where you could safely run your generator without health risks to yourself and your family.

Is It Dangerous to Run a Generator on a Porch?

The most dangerous health hazard to yourself when using a generator in an enclosed area like a porch or garage is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic exhaust fumes. 

When carbon monoxide accumulates, it will kill an adult as quickly as five minutes. Almost all the deaths and injuries associated with portable generators are from CO poisoning from generators used indoors or in partially enclosed spaces like a porch or garage. 

Dangers of Running a Generator on a Porch

Running a portable generator on your porch, under your deck, or next to your home can be dangerous. From 2004-2013, the Consumer Product Safety Commission stated that generators inside or next to homes caused 526 deaths.

Listed here are some of the deaths caused by portable generators near homes:

  • 3 deaths occurred with the generator running in the doorway to the home.
  • 15 deaths occurred with the generator running outside, near open doors, windows, and vents.
  • 11 deaths occurred with the generator running in the closet.
  • 127 deaths occurred with the generator running in the basement.
  • 136 deaths occurred with the generator running in the garage.
  • 180 deaths occurred with the generator running in a non-basement living space.

Where Is a Safe Place to Run My Generator?

The only safe place to run your generator is outdoors. Your generator must be placed a minimum of 20 feet from your house, and you must direct the engine exhaust away from doors and windows. Vents could allow CO to enter and build up in occupied spaces.

Even if your window is only open a crack. The differences in air temperature between inside and outside can pull the exhaust fumes directly into the house.

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You should place your generator so the prevailing wind blows the exhaust fumes away from the house and not into it. You should be aware of your neighbor’s house and how your generator placement can affect them. 

Solar Generators are Best for Operating On a Porch

If you really want to run a generator on your porch, we suggest you look at an alternate source of energy that is entirely safe to run near your home or porch.

The market for solar-powered generators is steadily growing. All-in-one portable power generators that use solar energy are an alternative to conventional fuel-powered portable generators.

Solar generators work on a battery storage system hooked up to solar panels. You can use solar-powered generators for the same purpose as traditional gas-powered generators. Instead of using fossil fuels, these generators store and output solar energy. Solar energy generators are entirely safe to use near your home or on the porch.

How Do Solar Generators Work?

Solar generators consist of two main products: solar panels and a storage system. The most used system is the battery storage system, which is usually marketed as a solar generator.

You store solar energy by placing the solar panels in direct sunlight while connected to a storage system. Your appliances can retrieve the energy from the battery system to power themselves when needed. Most solar generators sold these days come as a complete all-in-one kit; however, there are options for buying components like batteries and panels separately.

Storage for a Solar Generator

 Solar panels cannot act as solar generators on their own. The power produced by the sun’s energy needs to be stored for use later in batteries. These batteries function the same as solar batteries used in home solar panel installations. The battery part of the solar generator stores the power from the solar panels to use that the solar energy when the sun is not shining.

Solar generator batteries are smaller and more portable than the batteries used for home solar installations; they also include built-in ready outlets to plug chargers and appliances into.

Home solar batteries are generally made with lithium-ion technology. Solar power generator batteries setups can be made with lithium-ion but also made using lead-acid technology. These technologies can both be combined with other battery units, commonly known as “chaining.” This allows you to add extra batteries to your generator system for a more robust storage capacity.

The Pros and Cons of Solar Generators

The solar panels commonly used for solar-powered generators are not the same as typical residential or commercial solar panels. These solar panels are smaller in physical size and wattage and are more portable, allowing you to easily move and position them wherever the sun is shining.

Pros:

  • Free energy from the sun
  • Low maintenance costs
  • Clean and quiet operation
  • No carbon monoxide fumes

Cons:

  • Limited power supply
  • High upfront price
  • Slow recharge time

Pros of Solar Generators

There are many benefits when owning a solar generator for home use when compared to fossil fuel generators:

1. Free Energy

Getting power from a solar generator, you use the sun’s energy for free instead of spending high costs on fossil fuels. You will continue to get free energy from the sun for the 25 to 35-year lifetime of the solar panel’s lifetimes.

2. Low Maintenance Costs

Solar generators have no moving parts and do not use a liquid fuel like fossil fuel generators, significantly lowering maintenance costs for your generator.

3. Clean and Quiet Operation

Choosing a solar generator system over a gasoline fuel generator is environmentally friendly. Gasoline fuel generators lead to air pollution and add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change. Solar power generators do not release any CO fumes, making them the safest option for your family; they are even safe enough to be used indoors or run on a porch.

Gas generators are loud when they are running. Solar-powered generators have no moving parts and make no noise when you are running them.

4. No Carbon Monoxide Fumes

The carbon monoxide released by a gasoline fuel-powered generator is a dangerous health hazard which is why you can only use gasoline or diesel generators outdoors and at a 20 ft distance away from any buildings. Fortunately, solar power generators do not release any CO fumes, making them the safest option, even safe enough for indoor uses as well as on your porch.

Cons of Solar Generators

Solar power systems are not without any flaws. Here are some drawbacks to keep in mind if you are considering buying a solar generator:

1. Limited Power Supply

When it comes to energy capacity, storing solar energy with a solar generator has limitations. If you need to power your whole house on a backup generator system, a solar generator might not be enough. With a solar energy generator, you can easily recharge small electronics and operate some appliances. Still, you will not be able to keep your TV, fridge, and lighting systems all running for very long.

2. Higher Upfront Cost

Operating costs associated with solar generators are a lot lower than those associated with fossil fuel generators. Expect to pay a higher upfront price for solar generators. Solar generators cost a few hundred dollars more than comparable fossil fuel generators.

3. Slow Recharging

Unlike fuel generators, you won’t be able to instantaneously get more power from your solar generator. Recharging your solar batteries needs to be done in the day; therefore, solar generators might not be the best option if you cannot take the appropriate time to recharge them. With a gasoline generator, you can simply fill up your gas tank, and you are ready to go.

The Risks of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning From Generators

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas formed by the incomplete combustion of fuels. When people and animals are exposed to CO gas, the CO molecules displace the oxygen in their blood that leading to poisoning that can be fatal. Without oxygen, cells throughout your body die, and your organs stop working.

Carbon Monoxide has no odor, taste, or color; our senses cannot detect CO. Toxic concentrations of Carbon monoxide could build up indoors, and you will have no way to detect the problem until you become sick. Unfortunately, when people become sick from CO gas, the symptoms are like the flu, which usually causes people to ignore the early signs of CO poisoning.

It is estimated that 400 people die from unintentional CO poisoning in the United States each year. Around 300 people are taken to the emergency department each year for treatment linked to unintentional CO exposure.

Where is Carbon Monoxide Found?

Carbon monoxide is produced when a material burns. Homes that use generators and fuel-burning appliances are most likely to have Carbon Monoxide issues. Common sources of CO include devices like:

  • Generators
  • Clothes dryers
  • Water heaters
  • Furnaces or boilers
  • Fireplaces, both wood and gas burning
  • Gas stoves and ovens
  • Motor vehicle exhausts
  • Grills, power tools, lawn equipment
  • Wood stoves

Exposure to Carbon Monoxide

  • There are several ways you can be exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide while participating in activities like camping, hunting, boating, or fishing.
  • Generators, camp stoves, fuel-burning lanterns, and charcoal grills should never be used inside an RV, tent, or cabin.
  • Heating equipment in cabins should be in good condition and regularly inspected.
  • When using a boat, be aware of the exhaust area at the back of the boat.
  • Be aware of the exhaust fumes from neighboring generators at the camping site when parked near them.
  • Don’t run your generator inside your home, shed, garage, or basement, or less than 20 feet from any door, vent, or window.

What are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Knowing the signs of CO poisoning can save your life. Common symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are headache, upset stomach, dizziness, weakness, chest pain, confusion, and vomiting. People often describe CO symptoms the same as the flu.

You could suffer a loss of consciousness when exposed to CO. It is hazardous when exposed to CO while sleeping; you could die before noticing any symptoms or waking up.

What to Do When You Suspect Exposure to CO?

People often call carbon monoxide the “silent killer” because it cannot be smelled or seen. People often ignore early signs and eventually lose consciousness and then are unable to escape to safety.

If you continue to breathe the fumes, you may lose consciousness and die. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur quickly or over a long time. When breathing low levels of carbon monoxide over a long period will cause severe heart problems and brain damage.

If you have been exposed to CO and show symptoms, leave the area immediately and call 911 or directly go to the emergency room. Inform the medical staff that carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected. 

18 Generator Safety Tips

Portable standby generators are essential during long-term power outages. However, if you do not know how to use them properly, they can be dangerous. Here are 18 safety tips to follow.

  1. Never run a generator indoors, porch, garage, or basement.
  1. Generators should be placed a minimum of 20 feet away from your home or building.
  1. Always make sure there is adequate ventilation.
  1. Always point the exhaust away from your home and neighbor’s home.
  1. Do not run a generator in the rain. Always make sure your hands are dry before touching your generator.
  1. Before refueling your generator turn it off and let it cool down.
  1. Always keep your generator dry.
  1. Install a transfer switch to disconnect the power coming into your home to avoid back feed.
  1. Make sure your generator is properly grounded.
  1. Never plug your generator into a wall outlet.
  1. Maintain an adequate supply of fuel. Do not store fuel in your home. Gasoline, diesel, and propane should be stored outside incorrectly labeled, non-glass safety containers. Fuel that is spilled or when the container is not sealed properly could have invisible fuel vapors travel along the ground that the generator’s pilot light could ignite.
  1. Inspect and maintain your generator regularly.
  1. Plug equipment directly into the generator.
  1. Provide a cover. Protect your generator by operating it under a canopy on a dry surface where water cannot form puddles.
  1. Make sure you turn your generator on before plugging any appliances into it. Once the generator is running, switch your appliances and lights on one at a time to avoid overloading your generator.
  1. Keep children and animals away from portable generators. Most generator components get hot enough to burn you during operation.
  1.  According to the manufacturer’s instructions, install battery-operated carbon monoxide alarms with battery backup in your home. These CO alarms should be certified to the requirements of the latest safety standards for carbon monoxide alarms (UL 2034, IAS 6-96, or CSA 6.19.01).
  1. Regularly test your carbon monoxide alarms and replace dead batteries.

Safe Generator Placement

  • Run Generator Outdoors: Above we have already discussed the importance of running a generator outside because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. It is recommended that your generator be placed approximately 20 feet away from your home or buildings.
  • Choose a Dry Area: AlwaysPlace your generator in a dry area to prevent electrical hazards. Your generator must also be protected from rain and snow. When a generator gets wet, it may result in a short circuit, which can cause electrocution and even a fire.
  • Cover: Provide cover for your generator from rain and snow. A canopy or commercially made generator cover will protect against the elements. A generator enclosure help protect the generator from moisture while minimizing noise at the same time.
  • Concrete Pad: Run your generator on a level surface. You can install a raised concrete pad to keep your generator out of reach of the water.

Do NOT run your generator in any of these mentioned places.

  • In a home
  • In a garage
  • On a porch
  • Under a deck
  • In a basement
  • On a deck
  • In a shed
  • Under a window
  • Near an open window
  • Near children or animals

Operational Safety: Troubleshooting and Test Run

To ensure your generator operates appropriately, do a thorough test run after you’ve installed the generator. Don’t wait for an emergency, do a complete test run while everything is fine. All your appliances might operate on generated power just fine, or they don’t. When the test run indicates problems, there are a few things you can check.

  1. Tripping GFCI Outlets: Tripping indicates there is a ground fault in the circuit the generator is supplying, or an incompatible 2-pole transfer switch was used. Installing a 3-pole transfer switch should solve the problem. If it doesn’t, you should find the ground fault hidden somewhere in the electrical system.
  1. Tripped Breakers: When the breakers trip, you overloaded something; try better power management. For example, you might have miscalculated the power draw of one of your appliances. The last thing you want is an under-voltage to big loads, which will eventually damage your generator. Most electric motors surge up to three times their rated current during the first few seconds of startup.
  1. Appliances that Refuse to Operate or Operate Poorly: There are many reasons for this; it could be a bad transfer switch installation or a deficiency in the generator itself. Cheaper generators from unreputable companies might be lacking in the quality of their electrical output. It could be that the generator produces 120 volts, but not consistently. It gets worse when the generator is undersized.

Under normal operating conditions, the low power quality will worsen as demand increases on the generator. Stick with well-known generator brands, like those manufacturers that belong to the Portable Generator Manufacturers Association. It is not a guarantee against power-quality problems, but it certainly improves the odds.

A permanently installed stationary generator is far better suited for regular power outages to provide backup power to your home. Even a correctly installed portable generator can become overloaded at any time. This could result in stressing or overheating the generator components, which could lead to a generator failure.

Conclusion

We have established that you should never run a gas-powered generator on a porch. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is too high. Also, never use a generator in homes, garages, under a deck, basement, or near open windows and doors, even with ventilation. Generators produce high levels of carbon monoxide very quickly. Opening windows and doors or using fans will not prevent carbon monoxide build-up in your home.

When running a portable generator, you should remember that you cannot see or smell or carbon monoxide. Even if you can’t smell the exhaust fumes, you can still be exposed to them. Carbon monoxide could build up within your home at a rapid pace and kill you. Always follow the safety instructions that come with your generator. Place your generator outdoors at the recommended distance from your home and direct the exhaust away from your home and other buildings.

Sources

Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections since 2002. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and an FHA 203k Consultant. I started PickGenerators.com to help people better understand whole-house and portable generators.

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