Generator Safety Tips That Will Get You Through a Storm and May Save Your Life

With a few more weeks of winter left which will be followed by spring storms, today seems like the perfect time to remind you about generator safety.
My guess is you rarely use your generator. And even if you do, you have become complacent and are overlooking basic generator safety measures.
 
Improper generator use can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, electrical shock or burns. These things happen all too often during times of power outages. We want you to stay safe. Here are the important generator safety tips to follow.
 

Gas Mask

Carbon Monoxide Hazards:

The main hazard to avoid when using a portable gas generator is carbon monoxide poisoning from the engine exhaust. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that over 50 people die each year of carbon monoxide poisoning related to gas generators.
 
Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless poison. This poison is caused by generators used indoors or in enclosed spaces. This includes basements, garages and spaces that can capture deadly levels of carbon monoxide. You should never operate a gas generator indoors or in an enclosed space. Make sure the generator is at least 20 feet from the house and away from doors and windows..
 
When operating a portable generator, remember that you cannot see or smell Carbon Monoxide. Even if you do not smell exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide.
Install a battery operated carbon monoxide detector in the hallway outside of bedrooms. Test the batteries monthly on these detectors. If you do start to feel sick, dizzy or weak while operating a generator, get to fresh air immediately. NEVER ignore a beeping carbon monoxide alarm, exit the building and call 911 if the alarm sounds.
 
Since May 14, 2007 danger labels have been required on all portable generators manufactured or imported. Always follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions that came with your generator.
 

Electrical Shock Risk

Electrical Hazards:

To avoid electrocution, keep the generator dry and do not use in rain or wet conditions. Operate it on a dry surface under an open canopy-like structure, such as under a tarp held up on poles. Do not touch the generator with wet hands. Do not run a portable generator in the rain unless you cover and vent it. You can buy model-specific tents online and generic covers at home centers and hardware stores.
 
If you don’t yet have a transfer switch, you can use the outlets on the generator if you follow certain precautions. Plug appliances directly into the generator or use a heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cord. Ensure the extension cord is rated (in watts or amps) at least equal or higher to the sum of the connected appliance loads. Check that the entire cord is free of cuts and that the plug has all three prongs. This is critical to protect against a shock if water has collected inside the equipment. Protect the cord from getting pinched or crushed if it passes through a window or doorway.
 
Install a transfer switch before the next storm. This connection will cost from $500 to $5,000 with labor (depending on where you live) for a 5,000 watt rated or larger generator.
 
A transfer switch connects the generator to your circuit panel. This lets you power hard wired appliances while avoiding the glaring safety risk of using extension cords. Most transfer switches also help you avoid overload by displaying wattage usage levels.
 
Do not attempt to backfeed your house. Backfeeding means trying to power your home’s wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. This dangerous practice presents an electrical shock risk to utility workers and neighbors served by the same electrical transformer. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices. You could end up frying some of your expensive electronics or starting an electrical fire.
 
Never connect more watts to your generator than it is rated for. Remember, even a properly connected generator can become overloaded, resulting in overheating or generator failure.
 

House Fire
Fire Hazards:

Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions.
 
Turn the generator off and allow it to completely cool down before refueling.
 
Gasoline spilled on a hot engine can quickly ignite. Allowing the engine to cool down also reduces the risks of burns while refueling.
 
Use only the type of fuel recommended in the owner’s manual or on the label on the generator.
 
To guard against accidental fire, do not store fuel near an open flame or source of heat such as gas water heaters. Do not store fuel inside your home.
 
Gasoline, propane, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should never be stored inside. It should be stored outside of living areas in properly-labeled, ANSI-approved containers. Fuel should be kept in a cool, well ventilated place.
 
When you think you’ll need to use the generator for an extended time, you’ll want extra fuel on hand. Keep in mind, gasoline can become stale in as little as two weeks. Always add a quality fuel stabilizer to your fuel.
-Jack Hayes
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Jack Hayes

Jack Hayes

Jack Hayes is the Head of Internet Marketing at LawnMowerPros and the editor of this blog. You can often find him creating featured articles, DIY guides, custom graphics and much more.