Can You Run a Generator in the Rain?

Storms have knocked your power out, but is it safe to power up your portable power supply in inclement weather? Here's what to know about running a generator in the rain.
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Q: Recent power outages prompted me to buy a portable generator, but it operates on gas, so I need to set it up outside where it would be vulnerable to the elements. Can you run a generator in the rain, or will I need to think of a different solution? 

A: “Can you run a portable generator in the rain?” and “Can a generator get wet?” are questions many people ask because emergency power is often associated with rain or lightning storms. The answer to both questions is no. If you run an uncovered generator in the rain, you risk damaging the generator’s wiring and, worse, electrocuting yourself. That said, if it’s raining lightly and the weather isn’t too windy, it’s possible to use a generator tent to keep the generator safe and dry during use. There are also many generator cover ideas that are easy to find online so you can make a DIY generator cover if you don’t want to look for a prefabricated cover or tent.

Homeowners can solve the problem of recurring power outages by investing in a whole-home generator; these have protective covers and can operate safely in inclement weather. Continue reading to learn more about safely operating a generator in the rain.

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Whole-house backup generators can operate in the rain.

There are significant differences between portable generators and whole-house generators. The answers to questions like “Can generators get wet?” and “Are generators waterproof?” are different than they are for portable generators if your home has a whole-house backup generator installed. This is because whole-house backup generators are made with protective housing that keeps them safe in rain, sleet, and snow. These generators are the most reliable option for providing power to the entire home in an emergency, in any weather.

If you are concerned about the usual rush to the gas stations during a power outage, it may be a good idea to invest in a whole-house backup generator that operates on natural gas. You can also get models that run on propane or diesel fuel and produce enough energy to run the home for several days.

Portable generators without protective covers should not be used in the rain.

While you don’t need to worry about inclement weather when you have a whole-house backup generator, you’ll want to confirm whether know whether you can run a portable generator in the rain before purchasing one and using it in stormy weather. Most manufacturers will clearly state that a portable generator is not designed to be used in the rain or other wet conditions because the water can damage the generator and pose a safety risk to anyone nearby.

Generators operate by burning flammable fuels. They are designed to produce powerful voltage and when moisture gets into the outlets or seeps into the engine, it can result in electrocution or an explosion. Do not allow a portable generator to get wet or operate uncovered in the rain.

can you run a generator in the rain
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Portable generators can be stored—but never used—indoors.

The entire purpose of a generator is to create electricity that can be used to power your electrical devices, lights, and appliances.  In order to generate that electricity, however, a portable generator must burn a fuel source like propane, gasoline, or diesel. When these fuels are burned, they produce fumes that can quickly accumulate and become toxic in a sealed or enclosed space, like the garage or inside the home.

Some people may feel that it’s okay to use a portable generator in the garage as long as the door is open, but they are wrong. Carbon monoxide is an invisible, tasteless, odorless gas that can easily seep through the garage and into your home. You can store the generator inside when it’s not in use, but always make sure that you only run the generator outdoors.

RELATED: How Much Does a Whole House Generator Cost?

Operational generator covers allow for use during precipitation, but not in severe weather.

You won’t be able to use a portable generator in severe storms, even with an operational generator cover because the cover can be blown off or otherwise dislodged, leaving the generator vulnerable to rain. “Operational cover” is the term used to describe a generator cover that protects the generator while it is being operated. This is different from a cover that can only be used when the generator is off, because an operational cover needs appropriate ventilation to allow for proper use without overheating. An operational cover can be used while a generator is running in light to heavy rainstorms to provide power to the home or to the campsite. Choose between a steel enclosure, plastic shed, pop-up canopy, or opt for building your own DIY generator cover.

  • Steel enclosures offer the highest level of durability and safety, though it’s recommended to have these enclosures professionally installed to ensure that they are waterproof.
  • Plastic sheds can work as a generator cover and are more durable than a light cloth or plastic covering, but plastic sheds often have problems with overheating because they insulate the generator. If you choose this route, make sure the shed is properly ventilated.
  • Pop-up canopy tents are affordable and easy to use, though they lack durability and are prone to being blown away by powerful wind.
  • Custom DIY generator covers can also be effective, but you need to know what you are doing, otherwise the cover may not be properly waterproofed or it may not have the right ventilation, resulting in the generator overheating.

RELATED: The Best Standby Generators for Backup Power Solutions

can you run a generator in the rain
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How to Protect a Portable Generator So it Can Be Used in the Rain

Follow these steps to protect the generator from the elements.

1. Designate a solid, dry, outdoor space for operating the generator.

When it rains or snows, you will need to protect the generator on all sides, including its underside. It’s important to find a solid, dry space outdoors where the generator can sit. Do not place it in areas that tend to puddle or pool with water during rain. Instead, look for a place that sits higher than the rest of the yard. If you don’t have a solid, dry place for the generator, consider doing some landscaping to create an appropriate place for it.

2. Add an operational cover suitable for the generator.

With the generator located in a suitable location, the next step is to find a cover that can protect the top and sides of the generator without causing the machine to overheat. Consider whether it would be best to invest in a steel enclosure, a plastic shed, a simple pop-up canopy, or build your own custom generator cover. If you choose to DIY a solution, carefully consider the ventilation requirements to keep the generator cool and running efficiently.

Our Recommendation: GenTent Generator Running Cover on Amazon for $159.99
A sturdy steel pole attaches to the generator’s frame via a set of clamps, making this cover strong enough to resist winds up to 70 miles per hour or 18 inches of snow.

3. Ensure the power cord connected to your home is weatherproof.

Where you position a generator and how you protect it from the elements aren’t the only things to worry about. You also need a weatherproof power cord that can travel between the generator and your appliances. Locking power cords help prevent the cord from coming loose during heavy winds— just make sure you choose a power cord that is both weatherproof and compatible with your generator.

Our Recommendation: Yodotek Generator Locking Power Cord on Amazon for $58.88
The weather-, water-, and fire-resistant design ensures that this locking power cord will stay safe during rain, sleet, and snowstorms.

The prices listed here are accurate as of the last update on 4/4/22.