Generator Safety 101
Learn the Do’s and Don’ts of Operating a Generator Safely During a Power Outage.
By Christina Sawyer
There are many reasons to use generators, such as during power outages, at remote locations, for outdoor events, and in emergencies.
However, improper use of generators can pose serious risks, including carbon monoxide poisoning, electrocution, and fire.
When selecting a generator, several factors must be taken into consideration. To make sure the generator can adequately meet the power requirements of your home or business, it is important to conduct a detailed power audit. Identify the number of devices that would need to be powered and their corresponding energy consumption. That will determine the necessary wattage the generator must be able to deliver.
Generators fall into 2 broad categories: standby generators and portable generators. Standby generators are permanently installed and can automatically restore power in the event of an outage. They are more powerful, capable of running high-demand appliances, such as HVAC systems, and are typically fueled by propane. Alternatively, portable generators are smaller, less expensive, and more mobile. They are best for temporary uses, such as outdoor events or camping, but they require manual setup and refueling.
Generators provide a viable power source during emergencies or power outages, but they must be operated safely.
Generators should never be stored or operated inside homes, garages, basements, crawl spaces or other enclosed or partially enclosed spaces—even if windows and doors are open. These generators emit carbon monoxide gas—a deadly, colorless, and odorless gas. Generators should be operated outside, in well-ventilated areas, and at least 20 feet away from windows, doors, and vent openings to ensure carbon monoxide does not seep into living spaces.
Additionally, generators should be placed on a dry, firm surface and covered properly during rainy or wet conditions to avoid electrocution or the generator being compromised. A generator should never be moved or refueled while it is running. Make sure it has cooled down before refueling to avoid fire hazards, and always store the fuel for generators in a cool, well-ventilated space and in properly labeled, non-glass safety containers.
Remember, safe generator use includes storage and handling as well. Improper generator use can also be a safety concern for lineworkers. A generator that is not properly installed is a potentially fatal threat.
When a generator is connected directly to a home’s wiring without a proper transfer switch, it can backfeed electricity into the power lines. Back feed can energize what lineworkers might assume to be de-energized lines, posing a danger of electrocution. This backfeed can also damage electrical systems and cause fires.
Make sure to install a transfer switch, and always turn the main breaker off when using a generator to ensure the safety of your family and lineworkers. When in doubt, consult a professional about generator use. Safety should always be a priority.
Follow Generator Safety Guidelines:
- Always place generators outdoors and away from windows, doors, or vents. Misuse of generators can lead to serious risks such as carbon monoxide poisoning, electrocution, and fire.
- Install a carbon monoxide alarm in your home if you use a generator.
- Never plug a generator directly into your home’s wiring. Instead, use a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cord.
- Avoid overloading your generator. Make sure it is rated high enough for your power needs.
- When choosing a generator, consider the power requirements of the home or business.
- Conduct a detailed power audit to help identify the number of devices that need to be powered and their energy consumption.
- Generators should be placed on a dry, firm surface and covered properly during rainy or wet conditions to prevent electrocution.
- Never move or refuel a generator while it is running. Make sure it has cooled down before refueling to avoid fire risks.
- Fuel for generators should be stored in a cool, well-ventilated space and in properly labeled, non-glass safety containers.
- Always install a transfer switch and turn off the main breaker when using a generator.