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Portable generator safety tips

The following list of tips is not inclusive. Always refer to the manufacturer’s guide that came with your portable generator:

  • Read and adhere to all manufacturer’s instructions for safe operation. Professionally and permanently installed standby generators are actually a safer and more reliable option than portable generators because they are mounted a safe distance from your home and run directly from a fuel source.
  • Never plug a generator into a wall outlet or directly into your home’s wiring. Contact a licensed electrician to install a properly rated power transfer switch. This protects you and your appliances and protects co-op workers from shock while restoring power.
  • Ensure your generator is properly grounded.
  • Never, ever use a generator indoors—even with windows open—or in an enclosed area, including never in an attached garage, carport, basement, crawlspace, or any other enclosed or partially enclosed area—even if it’s ventilated.
  • If you must use a generator, install a carbon monoxide detector and test batteries monthly. Carbon monoxide (CO), which is odorless and invisible, can build up to lethal levels in a matter of minutes.
  • Locate the generator where fumes cannot filter into your home through windows, doors, vents, or other openings.
  • Start the generator first before connecting appliances. 
  • Make sure the generator stays dry during operation, and never touch electrical equipment with wet hands. Water and electrical devices don’t mix. To prevent shocks or electrocution, the generator must be kept far away from water or precipitation. Operate it on a dry surface under an open structure.
  • Turn off generators and let them cool down before refueling. Never attempt to refuel the generator while it’s running or hot. Gasoline and its vapors may ignite if they come in contact with hot components or an electrical spark. Turn the unit off and allow it to cool down first.
  • Store fuel in a properly labeled safety container, in a secure location outside of living areas and away from the generator or other fuel-burning appliances. Local laws may restrict how much fuel you can store and where you can store it. Check with your local fire department for details.
  • Locate the generator where fumes cannot filter into your home through windows, doors, vents, or other openings—even 15 feet is too close. Carbon monoxide (CO), which is odorless and invisible, can build up to lethal levels in a matter of minutes. If you must use a generator, install a carbon monoxide detector and test batteries monthly.
  • Turn off all equipment powered by the generator before shutting it down.
  • Always have a fully charged fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Practice proper maintenance procedures between uses. Refuel it with treated fuel from the generator before putting the unit away. It’s also a good idea to inspect the fuel and oil filters, spark plug, oil level, and fuel quality. Start the generator on a regular basis to make sure it’s running properly.

From Kentucky Electric Cooperatives Safety & Loss Control: What to know before, during, and after you buy a portable generator:

What do I think about when shopping for a portable generator? Most portable generators will not power your whole house or all appliances at once. You may need to rotate important loads like refrigerators, lights freezers, and heaters to keep from overloading a generator. Keep in mind that you may also have to assemble the unit.

What will a 6000-watt generator cover?  This size would be limited to powering a couple portable heaters, refrigerator, lights, and TVs or computers not the whole house.

What’s important when choosing between a battery-start and a pull-start generator? The pull-start generator requires a hard pull, such as starting a lawn mower. A battery-start generator requires you must have a charged battery to start the generator.

What are some of the fuel types of generators? A 4- cycle generator burns normal lawn mower gas; a 2-cycle generator, which include some smaller generators, requires a gas-oil mix; propane and natural gas generators require pressurized gas (such as your heating system) and are usually built-in or permanent-type generators.

Where do I store my generator? Store it in a dry location that is easy to get into position to supply power during an outage, fueled up with fuel that has storage treatment. Regularly start it and monitor its operation and keep enough fuel available to run the generator several days. Also, store a large drop cord that is generator compatible to run your appliances.

Where do I locate my portable generator? I have my temporary power supply generator parked in a safe place, close to where I will operate it in case of an outage. I usually wait a few hours to determine the utility’s electric restore time by checking their website and watching news for severity of storm or outages before starting the generator.

Do I need a generator for this outage? Before starting the generator, check with your local electric co-op whenever possible, for restore information about your location. You may be on a critical line that is restored sooner than normal, or you may be in a remote location that will take longer to repair power service.

What other things do I need to think about? Other than just starting it, you need to check fuel, check oil, get it in a safe place to run, and bring UL-rated, heavy-duty drop cords through a window or dedicated entrance point to supply power to selected appliances.

How long should I run it? You will need to decide if you are going to run it all the time, or only run it a few hours a day to conserve fuel and preserve home atmosphere

Can I wire it directly into my electrical wiring of the house? ABSOLUTELY NOT. DO NOT plug it directly into a regular wall outlet or wire it into your home’s wiring. It could send high voltage to the repair persons working on your line. Use a licensed, professional electricity to hook up your generator. This means you will need to plan in advance to install a portable or standby generator.

Where do I place the generator? Place it somewhere safe from theft, such as chained to something. Place it away from windows, vents, flus, and furnace intakes, and away from combustibles like leaves, wood piles, garbage cans, etc.

I have some lights on watching KET and my lights flicker. Why? Maybe it is out of fuel. Check fuel and refuel after it cools off, check oil level, then restart. Check the manual for how long it will run on a tank of fuel.

Once the power is back on, what do I do? I give it a few minutes to make sure the local electric co-op power is on, then turn off all equipment powered by the generator before shutting the generator down. Service it soon afterward, refuel it with treated fuel, store it, and store your cords nearby where you can find them in the time of need.

Remember, the generator power can still shock, burn and kill you if handled wrong. Never cut corners when it comes to safety!

Cold red barn: The ice-covered trees and bamboo paint a feathery picture of the barn across the road. Photo by Melanie Henderson of Lewisburg, member of Pennyrile Electric Cooperative.

Remember the ice storm of 2009?

Carbon monoxide deaths associated with generators have spiked in recent years as generator sales have risen. During or shortly after a disaster is not the time to buy a generator and use it. You need to pre-plan for a generator as there are many safety steps to take into consideration. During the 2009 ice storm in Kentucky, of the 38 reported deaths, 10 (28 percent) deaths were attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning.

According to Public Health Reports (PHR), Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After an Ice Storm in Kentucky, 2009,* May 1, 2011:

“During the two weeks after the storm, the KRPC (Kentucky Regional Poison Center) identified 144 cases of CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning; exposure sources included kerosene heaters, generators, and propane heaters. Hospitals reported 202 Emergency Department visits and 26 admissions. Twenty-eight people received hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Ten deaths were attributed to CO (carbon manoxide) poisoning, eight of which were related to inappropriate generator location. Higher rates of CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning were reported in areas with the most ice accumulation.”

In conclusion, “The KRPC (Kentucky Regional Poison Center) logged 115 carbon monoxide (CO) exposure calls, representing possible exposures of 275 people, compared with nine calls during the same period in 2008. … Twenty-seven percent of the cases were in children younger than aged 18 years. … Kerosene heaters were the most common source of CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning; however, the majority of deaths and severe poisoning cases during this period were associated with generators, which is consistent with a previous study reporting more severe poisoning with generators.”

One of the recommendations in this report includes: “Because no consensus has been reached regarding a safe distance from a home for operating a generator, CDC recommends placing the generator as far from the home as possible. A recent study by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology determined that generators should be placed more than 25 feet from a one-story house to avoid CO (carbon monoxide) entry related to airflow patterns.”

*Source: Public Health Reports, 2011 Supplement 1, Volume 126; PubMed Central (PMC), U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM), PMCID: PMC3072909; Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health, 10.1177/

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