Generator safety

A portable generator can help restore life to normal during emergencies. But, its safe use requires care and planning. The following tips – and a thorough reading of the generator’s instructions – can help avoid dangerous shortcuts.

Gasoline-powered generators produce deadly carbon monoxide fumes
Carbon Monoxide (CO), a colorless and odorless gas, is known as the “invisible killer.”Every year more than 100 people in the United States die from unintentional exposure to carbon monoxide associated with consumer products.To reduce the risk of CO poisoning:

  • Always run portable generators outside the house.
  • Never run generators inside, or in a garage.
  • Keep generators well away from open windows – including neighbors – so deadly exhaust does not enter the home.

Tip: You can’t trust your senses for protection from carbon monoxide. When buying a generator, also buy a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm. It works like a smoke alarm, and sounds an alert if carbon monoxide levels become dangerous.

Never connect a generator directly to your home’s wiring
Power from a generator connected to a home’s wiring will “back feed”into utility lines, which can severely injure or be fatal to a neighbor or utility crew working to restore service. Instead:

  • Plug appliances directly into the generator’s outlet.
  • Use a heavy-duty extension cord rated for outdoor use to keep the generator safely outdoors.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for grounding the generator.

Tip: If the appliance has a three-prong plug, always use a three-prong extension cord.

What will a small generator run?
A small generator of about 3,000 watts can run a few lights, fans and a refrigerator at the same time. If used to start and run only one item at a time, it can run a 1/2 horsepower pump, or a small window air conditioner of about 5,000 BTUs. Before connecting electric equipment or appliances to your generator, know the following:

  • How much power (watts) your generator can provide. Each generator has a rated wattage, which provides a limit on the appliances it will safely power.
  • The manufacturer’s recommendations for proper use and load. Overloading the generator can result in damage to appliances it is powering.

Tip: You don’t necessarily need to run everything at the same time. Instead, rotate larger items. This allows you to use a smaller generator, which costs less to buy, and is easier to move.

Getting started
The safest way to use a portable generator is to connect the generator directly to the equipment or appliance(s) being served. An extension cord is the most effective method.

  • Never refuel a hot generator or one that is running: hot engine parts or exhaust can ignite gasoline.
  • Turn off all connected appliances before starting your generator.
  • Turn connected appliances on one at a time, never exceeding the generator’s rated wattage.
  • Save gas by using appliances only as needed. If no appliances are running, turn the generator off.

Tip: Refrigerators may only need to run a few hours a day to preserve food. Use a refrigerator thermometer to help you to maintain 40 degrees in the refrigerator compartment and 0 degrees in the freezer.

Be a good neighbor
If the power is out, your neighbors are probably sleeping with their windows open. Consider that the sound of your generator may not be music to everyone’s ears!

Tip: Don’t leave a running generator unattended; turn it off at night and when away from home.