Published: Jun 28, 2013 5:40 PM EDT

HURRICANE CENTRAL - Before every major storm, portable generators seem to fly off the shelf. This year, Consumer Reports is helping you with the Do's and Don'ts from installation to storage.

Paul Maniscalco services all types of outdoor power equipment. He says when it comes to generators, his customers don't realize they need regular maintenance.  

"They let it sit for a year or two and then expect a miracle," he said.

Consumer Reports' Dave Trezza agrees. He tests portable generators and says there's a lot to know so you're all set in an emergency.  

First, you want to get a larger portable generator. Consumer Reports recommends buying one that's at least 5,000 to 7500 watts, with a 240-volt outlet.
"You can hook it to a standard transfer switch, which an electrician can install for you," said Trezza.

Installing a transfer switch also prevents you from a making a big mistake; connecting your generator directly to your circuit box.

"If you hook it up improperly, you could cause an electrical or fire hazard," Trezza said.

When you run your generator, it poses another threat: carbon monoxide poisoning. To prevent that, you need to keep the generator at least 15 feet from your house and point the exhaust away from your home. Also, be sure nearby doors and windows are shut.

"Many people don't realize that portable generators should be covered when it's raining or snowing," explained Dave Trezza. "Manufacturers do make special covers for this purpose."

To make sure your generator will start when you need it most, you have to use a gas stabilizer. Also, you have to replace the gasoline with fresh fuel every six months.   

We do that with our own generators here at WINK-TV which is important because without fresh gas, you may find your own generator doesn't start when you need it most. And keep in mind, even the smallest ones can use anywhere between eight and 22 gallons of gasoline in just one day.

If you're still interested, check out local hardware stores for a generator. You can find them ranging anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on your needs.