Safe Generator Use

With the recent Public Safety Power Shutoffs and the stormy winter weather here, many people are thinking about getting portable generators to keep the power on in their homes.  If you don’t know how to properly use a generator, it can be dangerous.

If you have a generator, consider having a transfer switch installed.  The transfer switch connects  the generator to your circuit panel and lets you power your hardwired appliances while avoiding the safety risk of using extension cords.  Only a qualified electrician should install a transfer switch.

The transfer switch prevents energy from leaving the generator and going back onto the utility equipment, where it can  be dangerous to linemen or others and downed power lines, a process known and back feed.

Never try to power a house by plugging the generator into a wall outlet.  Doing so, can cause back feed and destroy your appliances and electronics or cause an electrical fire.  Do not  hook the generator directly into your home’s panel box.

If you don’t have a transfer switch, you can use the outlets on the generator. Use heavy duty extension cords rated for outdoor use to plug  appliances directly to the outlets on the generator. The watts or amps of the extension  cords should at least equal the sum of the appliance load.  Check that the extension cords are free of cuts or tears and that each plug has all three prongs.

Before you operate your generator, disconnect your normal source of power. Turn  the generator on before plugging the appliances to it.

Here are some things to consider for safe generator use.

  • Never use generators inside the house, garage, sheds, or similar areas, even when using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation. Operate your generator outdoors in an area with plenty of ventilation.  Keep generators positioned outside and at least 15 feet away from windows so exhaust doesn’t enter your home or a neighboring home.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning can result from engine exhaust.  Even if you can’t smell exhaust fumes, you may have still been exposed to carbon monoxide.  If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get right away to fresh air.  The carbon monoxide from a generator can rapidly kill you in as little as five minutes.  Data from the Consumer Safety Product Commission shows more than 900 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning between 2005 and 2017 while using portable generators.
  • Generators pose electrical risk, especially when operated in wet conditions.
  • Use generators only when necessary in wet or moist conditions.  Protect the generator by operating it on a dry surface where water cannot form puddles or drain under it and under an open, canopy-like structure. Make sure your hands are dry before touching the generator.
  • Keep children and pets away from generators.  Many generator components are hot enough to burn during operation.
  • Make sure your generator is properly grounded.  Grounding  a generator can help prevent shocks and electrocution.
  • Make sure you have an adequate supply of fuel.  Know your generator’s rate of fuel consumption.  Consider how much fuel you can safely store and for how long.  Fuel stored for  long periods of time may need added chemicals to keep it safe to use.  Never store fuel in the home.  Gasoline, propane, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in a cool, dry, well ventilated place, in properly labeled, non-glass safety containers.  Do not store fuel near fuel burning appliances, such as a propane  water heater in a garage.
  • Before refueling the generator, turn it off and let it cool down.  Gasoline spilled on hot parts might ignite.
  • Inspect and maintain your generator regularly.  Check storage tanks, pipes, and valves for cracks and leaks and replace them immediately if damaged.
  • Always keep a clear path to your generator to avoid injury from running into objects in low visibility.

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