Downed utility lines, power company blackouts, hurricanes and tornadoes are all reasons why many homeowners experienced power outages last year in Charleston, South Carolina. Many turned to a portable generator as a temporary power solution for their home. Portable generators can be a very useful resource but it is important that they are always used with caution.

Portable Generator Safety

Before using a portable generator, you should always read the Owner’s Manual and instructions for your generator. Carefully follow all instructions and warnings in order to safely start and operate the generator.

Do NOT cut corners when it comes to safety.

Carbon Monoxide and Ventilation

  • A portable generator is an internal combustion engine that exhausts a deadly gas called carbon monoxide or CO. CO is odorless and colorless, and you can be poisoned if the generator is indoors.
  • Only use outdoors and far from windows, doors, vents, crawl spaces, and in an area where adequate ventilation is available and will not accumulate deadly exhaust gas
  • Never run a generator in the garage
  • Using a fan or opening doors and windows because that will not provide sufficient ventilation
  • It is recommended that you install battery operated Carbon Monoxide alarms/detectors indoors for safety and check them every 6 months.

Gasoline, Fueling and Burn Safety

  • Portable generators use gasoline which is extremely flammable and explosive
  • If the tank is over-filled, fuel can expand and overflow onto a hot engine and cause a fire or explosion
  • Never add fuel while unit is running or hot. Allow generator and engine to cool entirely before adding fuel.
  • Store fuel for the generator in a container that is intended for the purpose and is correctly labeled as such. Store the containers outside of living areas.
  • Never store a generator with fuel in the tank where gasoline vapors might reach an open flame, spark or pilot light
  • Do not smoke near fuel or generator
  • Keep children and pets away from portable generators at all times.

Electrocution Hazards and Electrical Shock Hazards

  • Connecting a portable generator directly to your household wiring can be deadly to you and others. A generator that is directly connected to your home’s wiring can ‘back feed’ onto the power lines connected to your home and injure neighbors or utility workers.
  • If you decide to have a permanent plug installed to feed power to your home, hire a licensed electrician to install a manual transfer switch. By installing a manual transfer switch, it prevents voltage from back feeding out on the power lines and hurting anyone.
  • The correct way to use a generator is to connect a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated power cord to the generator. Appliances can then be connected to the power cord, as long as they are in the wattage range that the generator can supply and the power code has sufficient wire gauge to handle the electrical load. Do not use extension cords with exposed wires or worn shielding.
  • Always start or stop the generator only when no electrical loads are connected
  • The generator must be properly grounded. If the generator is not grounded, you run the risk of electrocution. We strongly recommend that you check and adhere to all applicable federal, state and local regulations relating to grounding.

Power Rating and Overloading

  • All generators have a power rating. They should be used only when necessary and only to power a limited number of appliances or equipment.
  • The total wattage used by the appliances should be less than the output rating of the generator.
  • Overloading your generator can seriously damage your valuable appliances and electronics. Prioritize your needs. A portable generator should be used only when necessary, and only to power essential equipment.

Generator Maintenance

  • Generators can be used during a wide variety of weather temperatures, but should be protected from the elements when not in use to prevent shorting and rusting.
  • Operate the generator only on level surfaces and where it will not be exposed to excessive moisture, dirt, dust or corrosive vapors.
  • Inspect the generator regularly and contact the nearest authorized dealer for parts needing repair or replacement.
  • Always disconnect the spark plug wire and place the wire where it cannot contact the spark plug to prevent accidental starting when setting up, transporting, adjusting or making repairs to the generator. Do not operate the generator in wet conditions such as rain or snow.
  • Use gas treatments in the tank when generator is sitting. Ethanol in gas can cause harmful deposits when being stored over time. Treatments help prevent these deposits and help with engine starting
  • Keep units maintained. Change oil, air filter and oil filter at yearly intervals even if the unit is not being used often.

A portable generator may be an appropriate option for some homeowner when it comes to delivering backup power in an emergency situation but it’s important that people know they have options when it comes to safe, reliable backup power. In addition to portable generators, there are permanent standby generators that automatically turn on when the utility power fails. The homeowner does not need to be present to operate the generator. A transfer switch automatically monitors utility power and transfers the electrical load to the generator if power is lost usually within 10 seconds. A standby generator is installed outside the home, much like a central air conditioner, and runs on propane or natural gas. It powers critical appliances and systems: lights, furnaces, air conditioners, refrigerators, sump pumps, home security systems, office equipment and delicate electronics.

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