One of the leading causes of carbon monoxide poisoning is the portable generator. Used more and more by people for temporary or remote electric power, these generators rank high on the list of potential hazards to the home. The reason? Improper use; specifically, use indoors or in only partially-ventilated spaces.
Do’s and don’ts for smart portable generator use:
NEVER use the generator indoors, even in garages, basements, crawlspaces or other partially ventilated areas. And know that merely opening doors and windows and running fans are not enough. CO is a poison and builds up in an amazingly short period of time.
CO is an “invisible” gas – it can’t be detected through sense of smell or sight. Exposure to CO is very common and happens very quickly, without its victims realizing it – until possibly too late!
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing and using your generator.
Locate the unit outdoors and allow plenty of space between it and doors, windows and vents through which CO could enter the home. If you feel weak or dizzy when using a generator, turn the unit off and get to fresh air immediately!
Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in types with back-up batteries in your home. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for installation. These alarms should be certified to the requirements of the latest safety standards for CO alarms (UL 2034, IAS 6-96 or CSA 6.19.01).
Test all CO alarms and replace dead batteries periodically. (SEE CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING)
Shock and Electrocution
While a lifesaver during power outages caused by storms, brown outs and other occurrences, portable generators can turn on users, quickly, if mishandled or operated irresponsibly. Here are some tips on guarding against serious injury or even death.
Always keep the generator away from water. Don’t use in the rain or any kind of wet condition. Operate on a dry surface underneath a canopy-like protection. If your hands are wet, dry them thoroughly before touching the generator.
Whenever possible, plug appliances directly into the generator. If you must use an extension cord, make sure it is outdoor-rated and rated (in watts or amps) at least equal (higher is better) to the sum of the connected appliance loads. Before using, check to be sure the entire cord contains no cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin.
Never indulge in a practice called “backfeeding,” where the generator is plugged directly into a wall outlet in order to power a house. This is an instance where no one wins! Because of the inherent dangers associated with such a practice, utility workers can be seriously hurt and even electrocuted, along with neighbors being served by the same utility transformer. What’s more, some of the built-in household circuit protection devices are bypassed when “backfeeding” is used.
Rather than resort to the above to power appliances, hire a qualified electrician to install the appropriate equipment in accordance with local electrical codes. Or, your utility company may be able to install an appropriate power transfer switch.
When power outages are problematic, it is far wiser to resort to a permanently installed, stationary generator. This type of generator is far better suited for providing back-up power to homes. Even so, bear in mind that these generators, even when properly connected, can overheat or suffer from stressed components and possibly failure, due to overloading.
A Fire Hazard As Well
Due to careless storage of fuel for generators or overly hot generators, flash fires sometimes occur. Devastating, but remarkably preventable.
Follow these tips for fire prevention:
Store all fuel for your generator outside of living areas in properly labeled, non-glass containers. Do not store near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater. Any spills or leaks can result in escaping vapors traveling along traveling along the ground and, ultimately, becoming ignited by the appliance’s pilot light or by arcs from electric switches in the appliance.
Always make sure your generator is completely cooled down before refueling it. Any gas spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.