Generators can be useful devices in the case of a power outage, preventing food in your fridge or freezer from spoiling, allowing you to keep the lights on, and a home office running.
However, they can also be expensive, noisy and pose serious risks to you and others if you do follow certain safety protocols.
The primary hazards to avoid when using a generator are:
1) carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust
2) electric shock or electrocution
Never Use a Generator Indoors!
A portable generator is an internal combustion engine that exhausts a deadly gas called carbon monoxide or CO. CO is odorless and colorless, and you can be overcome if the generator is indoors. Even if you cannot smell exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed to CO. If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air RIGHT AWAY - DO NOT DELAY.
Place the generator in a spot outside where exhaust fumes will not enter into enclosed spaces. Only operate a generator in a well-ventilated dry area outside that is away from air intakes to the home.
Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home.
Never Connect A Generator To Your Home Wiring Unless It Has Been Professionally Wired To Accept It.
Never plug the generator into a wall outlet in your home or garage. Connecting a portable electric generator directly to your household wiring can be deadly. If a generator is plugged into your home's electrical circuits, it can 'backfeed' power into the utility company lines, which can injure or kill utility workers fixing on the downed power lines, or neighbors served by the same transformer.
A licensed electrician will hard-wire a generator to your home with an approved cut-off switch that will automatically disconnect the home from the power grid when the generator is being used. Please check with your local utility company before installing a hard-wired generator.
What is the Correct Way to Use a Generator?
The correct way to use a generator is to plug appliances directly into the generator itself, or connect a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated power cord to the generator and then connect appliances to it. Make sure the power cord is rated (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads. The outdoor-rated power cord should have sufficient wire gauge to handle the electrical load, be free of cuts or tears and have all three prongs, especially a grounding pin.
Don't Overload the Generator
All generators have a power rating. They should be used to power a limited number of appliances or equipment. The total wattage used by the appliances should be less than the output rating of the generator. If you put too many appliances on a generator, it could seriously damage the appliances and electronics. Overloading the generator could also cause fires in the power cord. If in doubt, don't add that extra load to the generator.
To find out how much energy a given appliance takes to run, check the service tag on the appliance. It will tell you the starting amps and the running amps. Running amps will be lower. Multiply both numbers individually by 120 (volts). The bigger number gives you the watts the appliance needs to start. The smaller number gives you the watts the appliance needs to run.
Energy.gov has a handy appliance calculator if you cannot find information on your appliance.
Amperage (amps for short) is a measure of the AMOUNT of electricity used. Voltage (volts) measures the pressure, or FORCE, of electricity. The amps multiplied by the volts gives you the wattage (watts), a measure of the WORK that electricity does per second.
Note that a motor can use a significantly greater amount of power when it first starts than after it’s been running. Base your calculations on the watts used when the appliance cycles on. If necessary, stage your start-ups so that the starting surges don’t all happen at the same time. And note that refrigerator compressors periodically cycle off, and then back on again, so allow for ongoing start-up surges.
Keep the Generator Dry
Electrocution is a real risk! Do not use in rain or wet conditions. To protect the generator from moisture, 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.
Store Fuel Safely
Store fuel for the generator in an approved safety can. Use the type of fuel recommended in the instructions or on the label on the generator. Do not store it near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater in a garage. If the fuel is spilled or the container is not sealed properly, invisible vapors from the fuel can travel along the ground and can be ignited by the appliance's pilot light or by arcs from electric switches in the appliance.
Extinguish all flames or cigarettes when handling gasoline or the generator.
Let it Cool Down!
Be sure to turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite. Turn off/unplug all equipment powered by the generator before shutting it down. Many generator parts are hot enough to burn you during operation. Stay away from the muffler and other hot areas.
Always have a fully charged, approved fire extinguisher located near the generator.
Make sure your generator is properly grounded to avoid electrical shocks.
Keep children away from portable electric generators at all times.
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