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Safety First: Portable Electric Generators

Portable electric generators are wonderful tools that serve an important purpose in the case of power outages. And it’s important to be prepared for such events, especially when living in coastal areas vulnerable to hurricanes. Indeed, generators can be real lifesavers, but they can be dangerous if the proper safety measures aren’t followed. So, let’s take a look at the potential hazards of generators, and how to avoid them.

Perhaps the most important thing to be aware of is generators give off carbon monoxide (CO) during operation. This gas is invisible and odorless, which is part of what makes it so dangerous. To avoid CO poisoning, never use generators inside a home or garage, even if doors and windows are open. They must be used outdoors where exhaust fumes have no chance of entering your home or other enclosed spaces.

Another hazard to avoid is backfeed, which can occur when a generator is connected directly to a home’s wiring. The generator may backfeed electrical current into the power lines connected to your home. Think of it as electricity going the wrong way down a one-way street. This can destroy equipment and harm (or even be fatal to) utility workers, even if they’re many miles away.

If you want to hard-wire a generator to your home, go through a licensed electrician. Their professional installation includes a cut-off switch that automatically disconnects the house from the power grid when the generator is in use, effectively blocking the path for electricity to backfeed.

To avoid electrical shocks, be sure to properly ground your generator. Detailed grounding instructions can be found in the generator’s owner’s manual. In fact, the first thing to do when using a generator for the first time, or in a new way, is to read the owner’s manual. If it’s lost or missing, contact the manufacturer for a replacement. In many cases, a replacement manual can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website. Keeping the manual with the generator in a zip-lock bag will keep it clean and dry and prevent it from being misplaced.

Additional safety precautions:

  • Avoid the muffler and other heated parts during operation
  • Keep children away from generators at all times
  • Only refuel a generator when it’s not running
  • Shut it down properly after every use
  • Keep it protected from exposure to rain and snow
  • Use outdoor-rated power cords with sufficient wattage range
  • Never push a generator past its power output rating

Like a lot of important equipment, portable electric generators have the potential to be dangerous. But their hazards are easily avoided once you know what they are. It’s a simple matter of awareness. And if you weren’t aware already, now you are.