Are you using the wrong extension cords on your generator? Generator safety 101

HOUSTON – Generators are humming in neighborhoods across the Houston area where crews are working to restore power. Having a generator can help keep things like your refrigerator cool or lamps powered on, but they can also bring several problems you can’t see.

KPRC 2 Investigator Amy Davis talked with fire officials about her generator and the common mistakes people make with generators that could be deadly.

Generator Safety (Copyright 2024 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Carbon monoxide precautions

You want to know what you’re buying, and the only way to do that is to read the user manual from cover to cover. Inside most manuals, you’ll learn about carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Daniel Anderson with the Cy Fair Fire Department tells Davis it’s important to get a carbon monoxide detector with your generator and put it in the recommended spot.

“Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, we may never know we are experiencing symptoms from it until we start getting nauseated or dizzy,” he adds.

Generator placement

Most people think it’s ok to keep the generator in your garage with a crack to let out the carbon monoxide.

“Whenever you do something like that,” Anderson adds, “Carbon monoxide can build up into the garage and be drawn into the house. If it is built up enough it can become a hazard.”

Here are some general tips he wants you to know.

  • Ensure the exhaust is directed away from living spaces.
  • Keep generators at least 20 feet away from windows, doors, and vent intakes.
  • Avoid placing generators in garages, near eaves, or on balconies.
  • Avoid placing generators near ventilation systems that can draw exhaust into the home.
  • Place the generator outside and in a dry, well-ventilated area.

“We need to make sure we have at least 20 feet of clearance to make sure the heat and carbon monoxide can dissipate and not get pulled into the house through the doors and windows, said Anderson.

Should you put a generator on your balcony?

Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen says no, but there are things to consider.

“We know people are going to put them on the baloneys, we recommend that you don’t, but you know, work with your apartment complex if you’re going to,” said the Fire Marshal “Remember you got your sliding doors, you got glass there. This exhaust and it is important to know where the exhaust is coming from, you want this going a different direction because it can seep in from those windows if it’s too close.”

KPRC 2 Investigates Amy Davis talks with Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen about generator safety. (Copyright 2024 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Generator fuel safety

Depending on which generator you purchase, you should learn about the fuel you’ll need to use.

Fire Marshal Christensen tells us one of the most important things when adding fuel to your generator is to make sure it cools off.

“Generators are used for emergency power. So, let’s remember that we are not meant to run our house like we do every day,” she said. “We may have an hour of discomfort by letting something dry or letting something cool off.”

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She recommends:

  • Be careful when adding fuel to avoid overflows and spills.
  • Always let the generator cool down before refueling to prevent fires.
  • Unplug everything connected to the generator to avoid power surges.
  • Use a safe gas can and mark it for specific use (e.g., generator, lawn mower).
  • Cycle through your fuel every three to six months. It’s also a good way to make sure your generator continues to work.

Extension cords

So how do you power that fridge, lamp, or even your phone from the generator? Anderson tells us you want to use the heavy-duty generator-approved extension cord.

Generator approved extension cord. (Copyright 2024 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

This will help with your large appliances, and if you need it, then use the smaller extension cords you would use for things like Christmas lights to power your phone and lights. Just make sure you do not overload the generator with too many devices or heavy appliances.


If you plan on using candles, keep them away from any flammable materials. That includes the location where you put your generator. Fire Marshal Christensen recommends blowing them out whenever you’re not in the same room to prevent a fire.

About the Author

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.

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