If you live in an area that is subject to intermittent but long power outages, a portable generator is a good way to get though the event in relative comfort.
Depending on the size of your portable generator, it can keep your freezer cold, give you light, let you run TV/radio and maybe even keep access to the internet active depending on how it is connected to your house.
Be ready with your generator
The problem with portable generators is that they are one of those tools that sit unused until needed. That means that you are probably not that familiar with its safe operation and that can present a danger.
The following guidelines will get you up to speed on operating your generator safely.
First and foremost, read the portable generator’s manual. It will familiarize you with the proper operational and maintenance procedures. It will also provide you with a full list of safety procedures to follow when running the unit. The manual is such an important safety component of your generator that you should store it in a water tight bag attached right on the unit so it is available to you every time you need to use your generator.
That said, lets get into the variety of safe operation tips you should practice when running your generator.
There are three types of hazards that can occur when operating your generator: carbon monoxide, electrical, and fire.
Carbon Monoxide Hazards
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas and generators can produce large amounts of it very quickly. And since it is an odorless and colorless gas, you cannot tell if you are exposed to it. To avoid this, follow these tips when running your portable generator:
- Never run a generator in an enclosed space. This means do not run it inside your home, garage, crawl space, shed, etc. Even with a fan running to remove fumes, it is unsafe. Only run it in open spaces
- Carbon monoxide is a heavy gas that does not dissipate quickly. The gas can remain potent several hours after the generator is shut off. (This is not a problem when it is run in an open area.)
- Place your generator in an open space away from all doors, windows and vents that could allow the CO to enter your living area.
- Follow all instructions that come with your generator in regards to placement and safe operation.
- Invest in a battery operated CO detector/alarm. This will warn you if CO is building up in your living space and give you the opportunity to correct the situation/evacuate the premises. And be sure to test your detector frequently to be sure the unit and the battery are in good operating condition. And test it when you turn on your generator. (It would also be a good idea to have a spare battery on hand in case the test fails.)
- If you feel sick, dizzy or weak when running your generator, get to a source of fresh air right away. These are early symptoms of CO poisoning. If the symptoms persist, seek qualified medical care right away.
The purpose of a generator is to make electricity. Electricity is capable of hurting and even killing a person so be sure to follow these electrical safety tips when running your generator:
- Moisture is an electrocution hazard. Be sure to operate your generator on a dry surface where it will not get wet while operating. And be sure to follow all your CO safety tips when choosing such an area.
- When running an extension cord from the generator to an appliance, be sure to use a heavy duty outdoor rated extension cord.
- Make sure the wattage rating of each extension cord is greater than the wattage of all the devices plugged into it.
- Be sure the cord has no cuts or nicks in it which could mean damaged or exposed wiring. And be sure the plug has all three prongs. That third prong is an important built in safety device.
- Take care to not overload the generator. This can cause it to perform unpredictably and possibly damage your plugged in appliances and electronics.
- NEVER plug the generator into a wall outlet. This is very dangerous. It can create a situation called back-feeding and can be dangerous to you and to your neighbors/utility workers working in your area.
- If you are looking for the convenience of powering some or all of your house with a generator, be sure to get a qualified electrician to install an appropriate power transfer switch and other equipment needed for this operation to be done safely BEFORE you need the generator.
- Permanently installed outdoor whole house generators are much safer than portable generators. They are rated to handle your house’s electrical load safely and are positioned so that they are not a CO hazard. This is a good option if you are in an area with frequent long duration power outages.
Generators need fuel to run and stored fuel always represents a fire hazard. These simple tips will ensure that your risk of a fire hazard is minimized:
- Never store fuel in your living area. All gas, propane, etc. should be stored outside of living areas in proper storage containers.
- Take care where storing fuel to ensure that it is not near a fuel burning appliance like a natural gas water heater in your garage.
- Your generator will need to be refueled from time to time. Before refueling it, turn it off and let it cool for a while. Gas spilled on the hot engine could ignite and cause a fire. Never add fuel to a running generator.
A last safety tip is the simple warning that many parts of the generator get very hot when running. They can burn you so take care when working around a generator that is running or has just been shut down.
A generator is a great tool to help you get through a short term power outage. By following proper operating procedures, the safety tips outlined above, and your user manual, your power outage experience will be safer and more comfortable.