Why is my portable generator tripping?

Generator Tripping


Why is My Portable Generator Tripping?

Troubleshooting Tips for Your Portable Generator

The storm is coming, and this time you’re prepared. You've got your stockpile of food and water, a portable generator and a supply of fuel to get you through a week with no power. You start up your generator, plug in your refrigerator and … the generator trips.

You turn off your generator and reset the “breaker”, restart and five minutes later the power is out again.

This is an especially frustrating scenario for homeowners who are depending on a portable generator as back-up power in an emergency.

There are a couple common causes for portable generator tripping, and the solution could be ensuring the power cord is sized correctly for the amperage of the device.


What's Tripping?

GFCI vs. Circuit Breaker 101

In general, there are two devices that can “trip” (shut off power) on a portable generator – the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) receptacles and the circuit breaker. Both are protection devices, but they serve different purposes and detect different problems.

Circuit breakers (and fuses) are overcurrent protective devices that will trip if you’re drawing more amps than the circuit can provide.

The GFCI receptacle senses electrical “leaks” – electrical current is escaping the device and taking a different path to ground other than the one provided for the device. Leaks are usually caused by water, dust, worn insulation, a defective electrical appliance or the human skin. A GFCI will trip and shut off power when a leak is detected to protect against electric shock, electrocution, burns, and fires.

Troubleshooting - Determining if it’s GFCI or the Breaker Tripping the Portable Generator

Other Important Considerations

Using multiple connections and extension cords greatly increases the chances of tripping the GFCI. 

Multi-outlet strips should not be "daisy chained or jumpered", i.e. connected to one another. It’s not safe.

Make sure all your cord connections are dry (not in the rain or standing water) – this is not safe and likely to cause electrical leakage (and GFCI trips).

Older household appliances (freezers, refrigerators, etc) may be prone to electrical leakage and can cause the GFCI to trip. If this happens, contact appliance manufacturer to get more information.

Never operate a portable generator indoors, in a garage (even if the door is open) or near an air intake on your home – carbon monoxide poisoning is lethal.

Never operate a portable generator in the rain. This will damage your generator and cause a potential electrical hazard.

How much power do you need?

Our Generator Sizing Tool will automatically calculate how much power you need based on the things you want to power.

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