Generator Safety

Generator Safety Q & A
 

Portable Generators
I bought a new generator so that I’d be prepared for the next power outage. Is there anything special I should know about installing it?
ESFI strongly recommends that a licensed electrician install home generators to ensure they meet all local electrical codes.

Also, make sure your generator is properly grounded in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Can’t I just plug my generator directly into one of my home’s outlets?
Do not connect generators directly to the household wiring unless an appropriate transfer switch has been installed by a licensed, qualified electrician.

What could happen if I don’t have a transfer switch installed?
Without the proper transfer switch, power provided by the generator can “backfeed” along the power lines, creating a significant electrocution hazard for anyone coming in contact with the lines, including lineworkers making necessary repairs.

I’ve heard that generators should be kept dry. Can I run it in my garage to protect it from the rain?
Never operate a generator inside your home or in any other enclosed—or even partially enclosed—area. Generators very quickly produce carbon monoxide, which can easily enter your home.

Place the generator on a dry surface under an open, canopy-like structure. Do not operate the generator in wet conditions or where there is standing water.

Can’t I just open the garage door to provide ventilation for the carbon monoxide?
Opening windows or doors or using fans does not provide adequate ventilation to prevent the build-up of carbon monoxide. Generators must be located outside a safe distance away from your home’s windows, doors, and vents, through which carbon monoxide can enter your home.

How far away from the house is a safe distance?
Preliminary research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) indicates that even 15 feet from the home is too close to operate a generator safely.

Remember your neighbors, too. Keep your generator a safe distance away from their homes as well.

What exactly is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that is created when common fuels such as natural gas, oil, wood, or coal burn incompletely. This odorless, colorless, tasteless gas is often called the “silent killer” because it is virtually undetectable without the use of detection technology like a CO alarm. Extremely high levels of carbon monoxide can be fatal within minutes.

How big a problem is carbon monoxide associated with the use of generators?
From 1999-2009, 542 carbon monoxide deaths associated with portable generators were reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

More than 80 percent of carbon monoxide deaths related to portable generators occurred in the home, often resulting from operation of a portable generator within the living space of the home, including the basement, closets, and doorways.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include fatigue, shortness of breath, drowsiness, headache, and nausea. Get to fresh air right away if you feel dizzy or weak while running your generator.

Is there anything else I should do to protect my family from carbon monoxide produced by my generator?
Make sure that there is at least one battery-operated or battery-backup carbon monoxide alarm in your home. Test it before using your generator.

Is it safe for my children to play in the area around the generator?
No. Keep children away from portable generators at all times. Also be sure to store generator fuel out of reach of children.

How many appliances can I plug into my generator at one time? Can I use it for my window air conditioner and my refrigerator at the same time?
The capacity of generators varies. Follow the manufacturer’s instruction carefully. Do not overload the generator.

My generator is powering my sump pump, but it is going to need more fuel soon. Can I refuel it while it’s running so I don’t have to turn off the sump pump?
Unplug all appliances from the generator before shutting it down. Turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling. Refueling the generator while it is running is a significant fire hazard.