SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Hurricane Laura left many residents without power. Though the immediate danger has passed, deaths linked to improper use or installation of generators are still being reported. Portable or permanent standby generators are used in millions of homes and small businesses. Without taking the proper precautions, incorrect installation or use of generators may create hidden dangers.
“We can't emphasize this enough; never use a generator indoors or in an enclosed space, such as a garage (even if garage door is open), crawl space, or basement,” says Erin Hollinshead, University of Illinois Extension Energy Education Council executive director. Safe Electricity, EEC's public outreach program, provides consumers these safety practices.
Generator should have 3 to 4 feet of clearance and be placed at least 20 feet from all doors and windows. The generator should not be used in an area that is wet or damp and should not be plugged into a wall outlet or directly to a home's wiring.
“Carbon monoxide emitted from generators is an odorless, colorless, toxic gas, making it extremely dangerous,” Hollinshead warns. "Just a few minutes exposure may be fatal."
Many homeowners choose smaller, portable generators to power essential electrical equipment during outages. Safe Electricity offers these tips for the safe operation and use of portable generators:
- Read and follow all manufacturer operating instructions to properly ground the generator prior to hooking up the generator.
- Maintain adequate ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Never operate a generator in a home, garage, or other buildings.
- Place a generator in a dry, outside location.
- Never plug a portable electric generator into a wall outlet or connect directly to a home’s wiring. In addition to harming people, the back feed may damage the generator or other home electrical equipment.
- Turn off a generator and allow to cool before refueling. Gasoline and its vapors may ignite if they contact hot components or an electrical spark. In addition, store fuel in an approved container in a secure location.
- Protect your appliances. Turn off or disconnect all appliances and lights before you begin operating the portable generator. Once the generator is running, turn appliances and lights on one at a time to avoid overloading the unit.
- Use proper extension cords. Use only safety-tested electrical cords designed and rated for heavy, outdoor use to connect appliances. Many generators are equipped with twist-lock connects to reduce the chance of accidental disconnections due to vibrations.
- Before shutting down a generator, turn off and unplug all appliances and equipment powered by the generator.
- To maintain a well-operating generator, drain the gasoline before storing. Before restarting, inspect the fuel and oil filters, spark plug, oil level, and fuel quality. Start the generator on a regular basis to guarantee operation when needed.
Permanent Standby Generators
Properly connecting the generator into a home system is a critical step for safe, effective use. A licensed professional should install a permanent standby electric generator, Hollinshead says, which includes a transfer switch. High-end permanent generators powering some or all rooms of a home typically have the switch built into the system. Other generators require a user to manually throw the switch.
The transfer switch breaks the path of electricity between the power lines and the main electrical panel to prevent backfeed which pushes electricity “back” through the power lines, potentially harming homeowners, neighbors, or electric utility repair crews working to restore power.
“Consult a qualified electrician to ensure proper installation and electrical grounding, as well as to prevent circuit overloads and to meet local electrical code,” Hollinshead says.
SOURCE: Erin Hollinshead, Executive Director, Safe Electricity, email@example.com, 217-546-6815.
ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.
ABOUT SAFE ELECTRICITY: Safe Electricity is the award-winning, public awareness program of the Energy Education Council, a 501(c) 3 (not-for-profit organization) established in 1952 on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. With offices located in Springfield, Ill., Safe Electricity operates under the University of Illinois Extension and is led by the EEC Board of Directors. Since the Safe Electricity program was created in 2001, it has provided thousands of safety-minded resources to its more than 500 utility members from across the country to help save lives and reduce injuries.