A portable generator is an incredibly useful tool whenever your home or business faces a power outage. It can be used to power various pieces of electrical equipment such as portable heating units, water pumps, computers, lighting, refrigerators, and many more.
Generators, however, also come with their own set of risks. To ensure your safety and that of your family along with the people working to restore power in your area in case of a power outage, it is important to adhere to the 9 generator safety tips provided below:
1. Never Operate Your Generator Indoors
You must never operate a generator indoors. It is estimated that around 50 people die annually from carbon monoxide poisoning related to using generators incorrectly. Always ensure that the generator has at least 3 to 4 feet of clear space all around it and that it is placed not less than 20 feet from open windows.
Generators produce toxic carbon monoxide gas that can fill easily an enclosed space to deadly levels in just a few minutes. It is an odorless gas, which means that the space can quickly fill with carbon monoxide and reach toxic levels without you even knowing it. That’s why it is always advisable to avoid operating your generator indoors.
2. Ground Properly
Always take care to properly ground your generator when using it to avoid the risk of electrocution. Fortunately, most of today’s generators come already grounded, but it a rule of thumb, it is worth noting that most portable generators will not require additional grounding if they are supplying electricity to devices and appliances plugged directly into them.
To find out whether your generator requires grounding, check the manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t have those instructions on hand, the next best way to determine if grounding is needed is to check the transfer switch. If it is designed such that it can be transferred to a neutral ground conductor, then the generator requires grounding and vice versa.
3. Install Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms
Generator misuse can lead to death due to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, burns, and injuries from close calls, which all happen far too often during storms and power outages. Still, CO poisoning is the biggest problem. Generators quickly produce toxic levels of CO, which is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas.
To reduce the risk of CO poisoning, install CO detectors/alarms outside bedrooms and on each level of the home for early detection before it reaches deadly levels. Ensure that the CO alarm/detector is either battery operated or has a battery backup and always follow the maintenance and battery replacement instructions as provided in the owner’s manual.
4. Temporary Use Only, Not a Permanent Solution
Portable generators provide a limited supply of electricity ranging from 2 to 4 outlets or a few specific outlets when plugged into the panel. However, they are designed for temporary use only and they are not a permanent solution to your power outage problems.
If you are looking for a permanent solution, you should consider investing in home standby generators, which are also called stationary generators that are permanently installed by professionals and have insulated weatherproof housing that ensures that they stay relatively quiet.
5. Only Use Extension Cords with a 3-Pronged Plug
If you are unable to plug in an appliance to the generator, us a heavy-duty, outdoor rated, grounded, extension cord. Ensure that the cord is rated in watts or amps to more than the total load of connected appliances including any start-up requirements.
If your generator has a 3-pronged plug, you should only use a 3-prong extension cord. To prevent heat buildup, uncoil the cords or lay them flat in open locations. It is also advisable to visually inspect the cords to ensure that they don’t have any cuts or tears and that all the 3 pins are undamaged.
6. Don’t Overload the Generator
The total power requirements of the devices and appliances connected to the generator should always be less than the output rating of the generator. Overloading the generator can easily damage the devices and appliances connected to it and may even cause cord-related fires.
You can estimate the required watts using numerous freely available online calculators. For instance, let’s say that your TV requires 300 watts, your AC system requires 1,500 watts, with a starting requirement of 2,000 watts, and your PC requires 250 watts. If you wish to run all of them simultaneously, you require at least 2,750 watts of power and at least a 3,000-watt generator.
7. Always Use a Transfer Switch
If you are using the generator for backup power, it is always advisable to have a transfer switch installed by an electrician. The transfer switch is installed next to the electrical panel and allows you to power the plugs already in your home and can even power a well pump or furnace that’s already connected to the circuits in your home. It can also help with power management.
8. Get an Electrician to Install a Standby Generator
Electricity that a standby generator supplies poses the same hazards as the regular utility-supplied electricity. If the generator bypasses various safety devices including circuit breakers built into your electrical system, you can face additional risks.
If you plan to connect your standby generator to the wiring in your home, it is always advisable to have a qualified and competent electrician do the installation. You need the right transfer switch that meets all the requirements of local electrical codes and is definitely not a DIY job.
9. Keep Your Generator 20 Feet from the House
It is never advisable to use a generator in any kind of enclosed space as explained above since the combustion processes that power the generator typically produce toxic carbon monoxide gas, which is odorless, tasteless, colorless, and almost impossible to detect without dedicated equipment.
That’s why you shouldn’t take unnecessary risks by misjudging the distance you should maintain from vehicles, houses, and other enclosed structures at all times, which is never less than at least 20 feet, but more is preferable depending on the specific make and model of the generator.
Generator Safety Tips: Final Thoughts
Portable or permanently installed generators can be wonderful back-up sources of power in case of a power outage or emergency situation. However, they come with their own set of rules for safe use, which if breached, can be dangerous. That’s why it is always advisable to follow the 9 guidelines provided here when using generators.