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How Far Should a Generator be From the House?

Backup Generators are true life savers, especially during emergencies such as hurricanes, storms, and other natural disasters. You can power an entire house for days with a generator. Apart from residential use, generators are also very useful in construction or work sites, camping, RVs, etc. While portable generators (or any other type) look and work in a simple way, they could be very dangerous (and sometimes even life-threatening) if you don’t take the necessary safety measures. The obvious hazard associated with a generator, which is a device that produces electricity, is electric shock. But that’s not what we are discussing here today (at least primarily). We are here to talk about the hazards of the combustion of fuels in generators that produce extremely poisonous Carbon Monoxide (CO) gas.

In this “Generator Safety” guide, let us talk about a common byproduct of using portable generators i.e., Carbon Monoxide. First, we will see some basics of a generator and how they work. Then we will understand the hazards of Carbon Monoxide. We will also answer a popular question many generator owners and buyers have “how far should a generator be from the house?”.

We don’t want you to be intimidated or worried about using generators but pointing out that powerful machines like generators can be fatal if not used with proper care.

If you are new to generators or planning to buy your first generator, then we hope that this guide on the placement of the generator around your house could help you avoid any accidents.

What is a Generator?

A Generator is an electromechanical device that produces electricity from mechanical energy. The source of the mechanical energy is usually an internal combustion engine that runs on fuels such as gasoline, diesel fuel, propane, or natural gas.

The climate nowadays is unpredictable. We have severe droughts, storms, floods, blizzards, etc., that could last days or weeks at a time. The first thing that gets affected during such emergencies is the electricity infrastructure or simply the grid.

Having a portable (or standby) generator as a backup source of power makes perfect sense. During extended power outages, you can start the generator and run electrical and electronic appliances off of it.

Speaking of appliances, you can power lighting, heating, refrigerating, medical, and other essential appliances. This way, you don’t have to worry about spoiling food, spending the night freezing, or a medical device not operating.

Types of Generators

The two basic types of generators are portable and standby. As the name suggests, a portable generator is, well, easily portable from one place to another. It has tiny wheels and a handle (or something similar) to carry it around.

You can use it at your house, garage, or workshop, carry it with your RV on a camping trip, etc. Even though they are “portable”, don’t think of them as small or less powerful. You can easily get very powerful portable generators that produce 12,000 to 15,000 Watts of continuous power. If you are unfamiliar with power ratings, then this is a lot of power with which you run several large electrical appliances.

Next, we have the standby generators. These are usually fixed at a permanent location somewhere around the house. You can wire the generator to co-exist with the current residual wiring that runs off of the grid.

In the event of a blackout or power loss, you can switch to the generator as the main source of power. There are special systems and devices that automatically start the generator and switch to them when the power goes out.

How a Generator Works?

Working of a generator is very simple. The two important parts of a generator are the engine and the alternator. An internal combustion engine is the source of rotational mechanical power.

As the engine starts and becomes operational, it produces a rotating force. When we connect an alternator to this rotational mechanism, it produces electricity. There is a lot more going on in the alternator such as electromagnetism, rotational magnetic field, etc.

But the essential thing is the engine produces the rotational force and the alternator converts this into electricity. With some special devices and circuitry, we can extract a stable 120V 60 Hz or 240V 60 Hz AC Supply from the generator.

The next important thing to know is the type of fuel we use to power the engine. As it is essentially an internal combustion engine similar to what we use in our cars, motorbikes, etc., a couple of things that come to mind when we say fuel is gasoline and diesel fuel.

And as expected, these two are the common choice of fuel for portable and standby generators. However, smaller generator units that we usually use in our homes, garages, workshops, RVs, etc. run on gasoline. Larger commercial generators that power bigger things run on diesel fuel.

Apart from these two, there are two more choices of fuel in the form of propane and natural gas. The usage of these alternative fuels, especially propane, for generators is becoming more common nowadays.

Generators and Carbon Monoxide

No matter what kind of fuel you use with your generator, burning fuels will produce Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Carbon Monoxide (CO). While the combustion of fuel releases other gases as well, these two are the main products that we need to be aware of and be cautious of.

Again, between Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide, the latter is significantly more dangerous.

Carbon Monoxide is an unwanted byproduct of the combustion of fuels. While normal combustion produces carbon monoxide in a small quantity, the situation is terrible if there is an incomplete combustion of the fuel. In this case, the amount of carbon monoxide released is very large.

The worst thing about this gas is it is colorless and odorless. If you inhale carbon monoxide, it leads to carbon monoxide poisoning, which has some adverse effects on your health.

Inhaling lower quantities of carbon monoxide can cause severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, and tiredness, and you will feel dizzy for a long period. But if the quantity is slightly more, it can cause severe sickness and even death.

A study conducted by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) reveal that more than 50% of Carbon Monoxide poisoning cases were caused by portable generators.

How Far Should a Generator be From the House?

Now that we have seen the effect of generators and their release of carbon monoxide gas on our health, the immediate thing you might ask is how to use a generator safely. Or more precisely, the proper question is how far should a generator be from the house.

The simple answer is it should be as far away as possible. But this might not be possible in practical installations as you have to deal with wiring, losses, and other issues.

There are several generator placement suggestions from a lot of organizations (CDC, NIST, local governing bodies, zoning and housing commissions, etc.).

While there are no definitive numbers that say how far should a generator be from the house, many experts from these organizations and institutes suggest that there should be at least 20 feet distance between the house and the generator.

There are some additional requirements to this suggestion. Some of them are:

  • Follow the 20 feet distance rule. If this is not possible, try to place the generator at least 15 feet away from the house. In the worst case, don’t place the generator less than 5 feet away from the house.
  • Don’t worry about powering appliances off of the generator at that distance. You can easily get very good quality generator-grade extension cords.
  • Never place the generator near openings of the house i.e., windows, doors, vents, etc.
  • Always place the exhaust side of the generator facing away from the house. The direction of the wind plays an important role here. If you can estimate the wind flow near your house, make sure that that wind doesn’t bring exhaust gases toward your house.
  • Never use generators in closed environments such as indoors, garages, or sheds. Always make sure that there is a lot of ventilation where you place the generator.
  • You can opt for a generator exhaust extension fitting system that carries the exhaust gases from the generator to a different place. Such fittings are very useful especially if you have to place the generator close to the house or inside a garage or shed.
  • Even when you are using generator exhaust extension fittings, make sure that the pipes that carry the exhaust gases do not blow those gases anywhere near the house. If possible, try to divert the exhaust gases high into the air with the help of extension pipes and tubes.
  • Different manufacturers might have their respective suggestions and recommendations on where to place the generator. Do proper research before installing generators. This step is very important particularly in the case of standby generators as they are more of a one-time and permanent installation.

Follow these safety steps and you can use your generator worry free during emergencies.

Some Do’s and Don’ts with Generators

  • Always consult with experts and professionals if you are new to generators. Take all the necessary help as it is a matter of life or death if you ignore the hazards of using a generator.
  • While the chances of power outages are significantly more in cold windy winters and during rains, you have to be extra careful in these situations. Do not run generators directly under rain or on a low wind day. The low wind and rain make it difficult for the carbon monoxide gas to escape.
  • If you have to use the generator in such tricky weather conditions, use a tent-like structure to cover the generator while following all the other safety precautions such as good ventilation, exhaust away from the house, etc.
  • As carbon monoxide is the main problem with portable generators, we recommend you invest in good quality carbon monoxide detectors, preferably battery-operated ones.
  • Use these detectors near garages, houses (in line of sight of the generator and house), or even near the generator. These devices are very useful especially if you intend to use generators slightly closer to the house or in garages, sheds, or basements.
  • Some advanced and modern portable generators have a built-in carbon monoxide detection system. Such units continuously monitor the levels of carbon monoxide in the exhaust gases.
  • If they detect a severely high level of carbon monoxide gas, then they shut off the generator. Take a look at these models and if possible, invest in them.
  • Refueling generators is another important yet dangerous task. Turn off the generator and allow it to properly cool down before you start refueling. This step doesn’t change for any type of fuel you use.
  • While most of the safety tips we mentioned here are associated with using a generator in a house, you can still follow similar precautions when using generators with RVs, Motor Homes, or Camper Vans.
  • Place the generator as far away as possible from your RV and make sure that the exhaust isn’t facing your RV.
  • If you parked your RV in an RV Park or similar campgrounds, keep an eye on nearby campers and other generators. While it is essential to place the generator away from your camper, do not place it near another’s RV or blow exhaust towards another camper.
  • Have a friendly discussion with nearby campers and educate them regarding the hazards of carbon monoxide poisoning, if they are unfamiliar. You can easily find common ground for the placement of your generators.
  • Keep an eye on campfires, barbecues, fuel tanks, etc. You can install carbon monoxide detectors inside your RV.
  • If possible, try to use shore power (if available and accessible) when you parked your RV in a park or campsite.


There is a huge storm and the first thing that happens is the power goes out. Portable Generators are one of the simplest ways to provide backup power. Apart from emergencies, you can also use generators with your campers, in garages, and even in worksites.

While having a portable generator is very good during emergencies, it can be dangerous and even life-threatening, if you don’t take the necessary precautions.

We are not talking about the electrical hazards of the generator but rather the problems of exhaust gases due to the combustion of fuels in the generator. Carbon Monoxide poisoning due to improper placement or handling of portable generators can be more fatal than exhaust gases from automobiles.

So, how far should a generator be from the house to avoid inhaling colorless and odorless carbon monoxide gas? In a perfect world, it should be as far away as possible. But we don’t live in a perfect world. So, a distance of at least 15 to 20 feet between the generator and the openings of the house is highly recommended.

We hope that this guide on generator placement and necessary safety measures while using a generator could help you with the hazards of the generator. If you feel we missed something or want us to add anything, do let us know in the comments section. It will not only help us but even other readers as well.

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