September 3, 2014

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Tips for portable generator safety and use

A generator can help restore life to normal during emergencies, but its safe use requires care and planning. For example:

Always thoroughly read the manufacturer’s instructions. This can help avoid dangerous shortcuts and assist you in ensuring safe operation of your generator.

Keep generators away from all open windows – including neighbors’ windows – so deadly exhaust does not enter the home or business.

Be a good neighbor. If the power is out, your neighbors are probably sleeping with their windows open. Consider that the sound of your generator may not be music to everyone’s ears!

Tip: You can’t trust your senses for protection from carbon monoxide; this deadly gas is invisible and odorless. When buying a generator, also buy a battery-operated carbon-monoxide alarm. It works like a smoke alarm, sounding an alert if carbon-monoxide levels become dangerous.

Here are some additional guidelines and more specific tips for those using portable generators and for those using stationary generators.

Portable generators

Gasoline-powered generators produce deadly carbon-monoxide fumes.

Always run portable generators outside the house.

Never run generators inside, or in a garage.

Keep generators well away from open windows – including neighbors’ windows – so deadly exhaust does not enter the home.

Never connect a generator directly to your home’s wiring. Power from a generator connected to a home’s wiring will "back feed" into utility lines, potentially injuring severely or killing a neighbor or utility crew working to restore service. Either:

Plug appliances directly into the generator’s outlet.

Use a heavy-duty extension cord rated for outdoor use to keep the generator safely outdoors. If the appliance has a three-prong plug, always use a three-prong extension cord.

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for grounding the generator.

Getting started

Never refuel a hot generator or one that is running; hot engine parts or exhaust can ignite gasoline.

Turn off all connected appliances before starting your generator.

Turn connected appliances on one at a time, never exceeding the generator’s rated wattage.

Get the most from your generator

Save gas by using appliances only as needed. If no appliances are running, shut the generator off.

If you’re just running a few lights, using other sources may cost less than running the generator.

Don’t leave a running generator unattended; turn it off at night and when away from home.

Tip: Refrigerators may only need to run a few hours a day to preserve food. Using a refrigerator thermometer, aim to maintain 40 degrees in the refrigerator compartment and 0 degrees in the freezer.

What will a small generator run?

A small generator of about 3,000 watts can run a few lights, fans and a refrigerator. If used to start and run only one item at a time, it can run a half-horsepower pump, or a small window air conditioner of about 5,000 BTUs.

Each generator has a rated wattage, which provides a limit on the appliances it will safely power.

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper use and capacity. Overloading the generator can result in damage to appliances it is powering.

Tip: You don’t need to run everything at the same time; rotating larger items allows the use of a smaller generator, which costs less to buy and is easier to move.