We have all seen time and again how winter storms can cause power outages. Some homes can be without power for days or even weeks at a time in particularly bad storms. Young children and the elderly are particularly at risk when it comes to cold temperatures without power.
Many people elect to use a portable generator which in many cases may save lives in inclement weather. Having a generator is a good part of many families’ emergency plans. However, generators can be deadly. Between 1992 and 2012 there were 931 Carbon Monoxide related deaths in the US. 80% of them were associated with the use of generators. 67% of the fatalities occurred when a generator was used in a basement of the home and 26% occurred when the generator was used in an attached garage or shed. This may sound frightening but generators can be used safely if these guidelines are followed.
Checking the power of the generator
Understand that a generator is a temporary source of power. It is not designed for permanent use and should never be used as a permanent solution. Always get a generator that produces more power than you’re going to need. Otherwise you risk overloading the generator and causing a power failure at the worst possible time. To calculate how much power you need, check the power on each appliance and add up the ones you will use. You will not be able to power everything in your home with a generator. If necessary, you can call an electrician to help with this process.
Placing your generator
One of the most important safety aspects to generators is how you place them. Generators produce carbon monoxide; an odorless, colorless, and tasteless poisonous gas. It is often called the “silent killer” because it is virtually undetectable without the use of technology like CO alarms.
Many people unfamiliar with using a portable generator might think placing it inside their home is safe. It is not, due to this poisonous gas. Some advice will tell you to ventilate your home or garage in order to keep it inside. In truth, ventilation does very little and it only takes a little bit of carbon monoxide to put you and your family in danger. Generators need to be placed outside the home, at least 20 feet away. If it is raining outside, place a canopy over the generator. This is the best way to avoid electrocution from moisture.
Always place your generator away from open windows or vents as carbon monoxide can still enter your home through these openings. It is also important to ground your generator properly. Ideally your generator should be installed by a certified electrician and use a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. Only use extension cords with three-pronged plugs and are rated for the intended load.
Never connect generators directly to household wiring without installing a transfer switch. This prevents back feeding which could electrocute utility workers making repairs.
Safety when fueling
You must also consider how you plan to fuel the generator. It is important to note what kind of fuel your generator will need and how long it will last if you buy it ahead of time. It’s important to buy fuel ahead of time if you are expecting to use your generator in the winter. During inclement weather, you may be unable to obtain fuel. It’s also important to pay attention to how long you store your fuel. High octane fuel will begin to break down in 90 days. Low octane, or regular gas, will begin to break down in 6 months. Consider this when you buy fuel ahead of time.
Fuel needs to be kept in a dry cool place and this is tantamount when using a generator. Keep fuel in a safe place away from anything flammable, such as a shed. When you refuel your generator, you must allow the machine to cool down before you add any gasoline to it. If you add gasoline to a generator that has been running for many hours, the heat of the internal parts can start an instant fire.
Keeping clear of Carbon Monoxide
Make sure to have carbon monoxide alarms in the home outside every sleeping area. Homes should have these alarms regardless of if it has a generator. Remember you cannot see or smell carbon monoxide so if an alarm goes off, do not ignore it. Get your family and pets out of the house and call 911. As with smoke alarms, the batteries on carbon monoxide alarms need to be changed once a year.
For additional information regarding generator use, go to www.esfi.org
For a free wattage calculator to help you choose a generator that is right for you, go to http://powerequipment.honda.com/generators/wattage-calculator