As we face this ongoing winter storm, some in our region may plan to utilize back-up generators if there is a power outage. While generators are handy to have during inclement weather, it is important to practice generator safety to protect your home from dangerous carbon monoxide fumes and generator misuse.
Under no circumstances should portable generators be used indoors. This includes inside a garage, carport, basement, crawlspace, or other enclosed or partially-enclosed area, even with ventilation.
Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent CO buildup in the home. The CO from generators can rapidly lead to full incapacitation and death, but CO can't be seen or smelled. Even if you cannot smell exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed to CO. If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air RIGHT AWAY - DO NOT DELAY.
To avoid electrocution, keep the generator dry and do not use in rain or wet conditions. To protect the generator from moisture, operate it on a dry surface under an open canopy-like structure, such as under a tarp held up on poles. Do not touch the generator with wet hands.
It is a good idea to install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer's installation instructions. If CO gas from the generator enters your home and poses a health risk, the alarm will sound to warn you. Test the battery frequently and replace when needed.
Be sure to turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite. In addition, store fuel for the generator in an approved safety can and do not keep this can near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater in a garage. If the fuel is spilled or the container is not sealed properly, invisible vapors from the fuel can travel along the ground and can be ignited by the appliance's pilot light or by arcs from electric switches in the appliance.
Plug appliances directly into the generator. Or, use a heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cord that is rated (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads. Check that the entire cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin.
Never try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet, a practice known as “backfeeding.” This is an extremely dangerous practice that presents an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors served by the same utility transformer. It also bypasses some of the built-in household protection devices.