Generators are worth their weight in gold when you are faced with an extended power outage. Having lived through a number of those outages, the novelty of “camping out” in your home wears thin after a couple of days.
Because your cooperative does such a good job of keeping the lights on, most people don’t think about a generator until there is a major outage. The tendency then is to rush out and buy one. Dragging their expensive (generators cost the most immediately before or after a major storm and protracted outage) prize home, the excitement of having power again can lead to unsafe setup and operation. So, let’s walk through some pointers.
Generators can create the following safety concerns: carbon monoxide, overloaded circuits, operating hazards, and back-feeding electricity. Elsewhere in this edition of Cooperative Living, I write about the need to connect backup generators properly to prevent injury to line crews, neighbors, and pets. That covers the danger of back feeding so I won’t go over it again in this article.
So let’s talk about the other three hazards. To prevent issues with carbon monoxide poisoning, you need to place generators properly. Rule number one, never run a generator inside your home. This includes connected garages and breezeways. You also do not want to operate it outside a window or your furnace air intake. The carbon monoxide can seep in through both and create a hazard. The ideal placement is outside the home next to a solid wall (no windows, doors, or vents), under a cover to keep the elements off the generator.
Then there is circuit overload. A popular generator size can provide 6500 watts continuously (8,000 watts starting capacity) and handle 25 or 50 amps, depending upon the connection. Most home wall outlets are sized for much smaller loads. They are frequently wired with 12-gauge wire and protected by a 15-amp breaker. That configuration is just not intended to carry 6500 watts. Even if you were to use the dryer outlet with its 10 gauge wire and much larger breakers, 6,500 watts is an overload.
Overloaded circuits get hot. With such an extreme overload, they can get really hot. Hot enough to melt insulation and start a fire inside the walls of your home. So the moral of this hazard story is to connect the generator the right way.
Lastly are operating hazards. Like any electrical device, operating it when it is wet has the potential for a bad outcome. Keep water away from the generator and try to avoid letting it pool under it. Never operate the generator with wet hands or while standing in water. And always let the generator cool off before refueling. Gasoline spilling on a hot exhaust is a sure-fire way to heat up your day (puns intended).
If you have the inclination, buy your generator before the next major outage. Get comfortable with its setup and operation. Find the optimum location for safety and convenience. Run it once a month to make sure it operates properly. Use fuel stabilizer in the gasoline to prevent issues with bad fuel. Make sure everyone in the family knows how to set it up and use it safely and properly. And have a safe way to connect your load. Always read the manual for more guidance.
Already have a generator? Check how you use it against the recommendations in this article for maximum safety. In addition, be sure to change the oil and filters to keep it in tip-top shape. Now you are ready to ride the storm out.