Portable Generators can supply power for basic needs during a power outage. They produce electricity, so using common sense and care are both important.
Power outages are regional events and can affect just a few homes or entire neighborhoods covering many blocks. If the outage area is small, it may only take an hour or so for the utility to restore power. Very often, it takes more than an hour for the utility to even know what caused the outage. Meanwhile, you’re wondering about the refrigerator and freezer, the sump pump, and keeping your phone charged.
These are everyday needs that we hardly even think about until something goes wrong. On a hot day, the food in a refrigerator can start to spoil in just four hours and the freezer won’t even take a half a day in most cases. When the power is out, the portable generator you have stored in the garage can get you through the outage with emergency backup power.
While these can be extremely helpful devices, using them safety is imperative. Here are the most important things to keep in mind to operate your generator safely:
Outside Use Only
Never run a generator inside a house, garage, or shed. The carbon monoxide in a portable generator’s exhaust can reach lethal levels in a few minutes. Every year there, hospitalizations and fatalities occur because someone ran a generator in the basement or other room and thought that opening the window would provide sufficient ventilation. It won’t.
Keep the generator at least 20 feet away from the house. Differences in air pressure and temperature between the inside and outside can create a draft that pulls exhaust fumes into the home. Don’t forget that your generator exhaust could affect your neighbors too. Don’t place the generator where the wind can push the exhaust against windows, vents, doors, or other openings. Use a carbon monoxide detector indoors to alert you of possible poisoning before it happens.
Setting up in the pouring rain is dangerous to you and could damage the generator. Water and electricity are never a happy combination and chances are good that your portable was not designed for use in the rain. Read your manual if there is any doubt. Specially designed tents made to fit over your generator will protect it from the rain but follow all safety rules in the manual.
Only purchase and use extension cords rated for outdoor use that match the circuit breaker of the generator outlet. 20-amp outlets require a 20-amp extension cord. Accidentally overloading the cord is a serious fire hazard and burn hazard. Always use 3-wire extension cords and never attempt to defeat the ground blade.
Do Not Backfeed
Backfeeding is dangerous and could endanger utility workers. Backfeeding means using a generator power cord to plug into an appliance outlet such as your dryer or range. This energizes your entire house and most likely, your generator cannot handle that kind of load. Electricity may travel through your main panel back to the transformer on the pole which works just as well in reverse. Distribution lines typically carry up to 50,000 volts. Your transformer will step up your 240-volt generator voltage to distribution voltage and send it down the line. A utility worker who expects a dead line could be injured. Or a neighbor who thinks the power is out could also be put in danger.