Portable generators may come in handy during long-term power outages. The growing popularity of portable electric generators has resulted in millions being placed in homes and small businesses across the nation. However, recent studies show that an overwhelming percentage may be installed incorrectly. As part of the “Teach Learn Care” TLC campaign, Safe Electricity urges consumers to understand the proper safety steps that must be taken.
“A qualified vendor or electrical professional should be consulted to determine the best equipment for your situation or needs,” advises Mike Ashenfelter, electrical inspector and member of the Safe Electricity advisory team. “A reliable vendor will know existing safety codes and your utility’s safety requirements. If installed and operated correctly, use of a standby or portable electric generators poses little danger, but improper installation or use could be deadly.”
Properly connecting the generator into the system is a critical step for safe and effective use. A licensed professional should install a permanent, standby electric generator and can help with proper equipment for safely using a portable generator.
Have a qualified electrician install a transfer switch. The transfer switch breaks the path of electricity between the power lines and your main electrical panel. This is the best way to protect you, your neighbors and repair crews from ‘back feed.’ Back feed occurs when an improperly connected generator begins feeding electricity “back” through the power lines. It is your responsibility to take necessary steps to prevent the injury of anyone near lines, especially crews working to restore power.
“Safety for the operators and users of a generating system in the home and utility crews cannot be over-emphasized,” says Ashenfelter.
Some homeowners choose smaller, portable generators to power essential electrical equipment during outages. Safe Electricity offers these tips for the safe operation and use of portable generators:
- Read and follow all manufacturer operating instructions to properly ground the generator. Be sure you understand them before hooking up the generator.
- Maintain adequate ventilation. Generators emit carbon monoxide. It is against fire code to operate a generator in your home, garage or other enclosed building. Place it in a dry location outdoors.
- Never plug a portable electric generator into a wall outlet or connect directly to a home’s wiring. This can energize utility power lines and injure you or others working nearby. Electrical back feed can also damage the generator and home electrical equipment.
- Turn off the generator and allow cooling before refueling. Gasoline and its vapors may ignite if they come in contact with hot components or an electrical spark. Store fuel in a properly designed container in a secure location away from the generator or other fuel-burning appliances, such as water heaters. Always have a fully charged, approved fire extinguisher located nearby.
- Protect your appliances. Turn off or disconnect all appliances and lights before you begin operating the portable generator. Once the generator is running, turn your appliances and lights on one at a time to avoid overloading the unit. Remember, generators are for temporary usage, prioritize your needs.
- Generators pose electrical risks especially when operated in wet conditions. Use a generator only when necessary when the weather creates wet or moist conditions. Protect the generator by operating it under an open, canopy-like structure on a dry surface where water cannot form puddles or drain under it. Always ensure that your hands are dry before touching the generator.
- Keep children and pets away from portable generators at all times. Many generator components are hot enough to burn you during operation.
- Use proper extension cords. Use only safety-tested, shop-type electrical cords designed and rated for heavier, outdoor use to connect appliances. Many generators are equipped with twist-lock connects to reduce the chance of accidental disconnections due to vibrations.
- Shut down the generator properly. Before shutting down a generator, turn off and unplug all appliances and equipment being powered by the generator.
- Remember maintenance between uses. It’s important to drain the gasoline from the generator while it is being stored. It’s also a good idea to inspect the fuel and oil filters, spark plug, oil level and fuel quality and start the generator on a regular basis before an emergency situation happens.
Safe Electricity suggests that these safety guidelines and basic operating instructions be posted in the home and with the generator.