How To Use a Generator Safely

The United States has some of the most violent weather globally, which can be felt in the number and duration of its power outages. In 2015 the United States suffered from 3,571 total power outages. 

America’s power interruptions are more frequent and longer-lasting than any other developed country. The average house in the upper midwest is without power for 92 minutes annually, which is significantly higher than the 4-minute annual outage for Japanese households.

It’s no wonder then that more and more homeowners are seeking to compensate for these outages with their own electric generators. 

These machines can be a life-saving resource in times of natural disasters, but when misused can result in injury, death, or property damage.

It’s important to take steps to ensure your generator runs safely despite the following hazards.

Carbon Monoxide

This poisonous gas claims an average of 400 Americans every year. A portable generator, like all engines, will exhaust this deadly poison, which can kill a human in as little as five minutes.

  • Never run your generator indoors or in an enclosed space
  • Use a CO detector while your generator is running. Some models come with a detector built-in.
  • If you feel sick, dizzy, or weak at any point while running the generator, seek fresh air immediately.

Electrocution

An average of 411 Americans die every year from electrocution, and generators are no exception to this danger.

  • Keep your generator dry, preferably under a canopy.
    • It is unsafe to run your generator in your garage, even with the door open.
  • Do not run your generator in the rain or any wet environments.
  • Disconnect your home from the power grid before running your generator.
  • Make sure the generator is properly grounded, as per OSHA standards.
  • Do not under any circumstances try to power your home by plugging the generator into an outlet or panel.
    • Only a licensed electrician is qualified to connect a generator directly to your home.
    • Instead, plug the equipment you wish to power into the generator with outdoor extension cables.

Fire

The risk of fire-related injury is always present when gasoline is utilized. Take steps to protect yourself.

  • Allow the generator to cool before refueling. If any amount of gasoline spills on a heated element and ignites, both the generator and refueling tanks will be at risk of catching fire.
  • Keep your generator on a level surface while running. The cooling systems of generators often require a level location. If you don’t have a level space available, create one or do not use the generator.

Misc Tips

  • Regularly maintain your generator. Check for cracks, breaks, leaks and replace any damaged components. It would be wise to schedule a professional inspection once a year.
  • Have enough oil on hand. Generators require an oil change every 25-50 hours of operation, which could easily happen during an extended outage.

Shut down the generator prior to running out of gas to avoid damaging it. The residual magnetic field accompanying the generator coils can be drained if the generator runs until the gas is empty. This will be an expensive and troublesome fix, especially during a disaster.

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