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Safe Use of Generators

During a power outage, you may find yourself in the dark and unable to use your appliances for a period of time. A generator can provide temporary electricity that, depending on type, can power a few appliances or an entire building. While convenient during an outage, generators used improperly can also create safety hazards.

Before investing in a generator, think first about your electrical needs and usage. Know the difference between standby and portable generators:

  • Standby generators are wired directly into the home and can be sized to match the electrical demands of the home or building. A permanently installed standby generator must have an approved transfer safety switch to avoid feeding electricity back into the electrical system outdoors, creating what’s known as “backfeed.” Backfeed is dangerous for line workers as well as anyone who may be near downed power lines.
  • Portable generators do not permanently attach to the home, and can power only the appliances that are plugged into the generator, so consider essential electrical needs when choosing. To avoid backfeed into the utility electrical system, the portable generator should never be plugged directly into the home.

The risk of generator accidents is highest between November and February due to winter storms.  Don’t wait for a power outage to prepare for safety. Before using a portable generator, read all manufacturer instructions.

Place the generator in an open, well-ventilated area away from the home or garage. Using your generator in a space that does not have adequate ventilation increases the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning (CO) from fumes. As an extra precaution, install CO detectors around the home and test them regularly. CO is odorless and colorless and can be deadly. Symptoms of CO poisoning include dizziness, nausea, and headaches. If you suspect a problem, seek fresh air immediately.

Before turning the generator on, make sure nothing is plugged in. Keep children and pets a safe distance from generators. After starting it, only plug appliances or those connected to heavy-duty extension cords directly into the generator. Never plug the generator into a wall outlet to avoid the risk of backfeed.

Carbon monoxide fumes are both colorless and odorless and may reach fatal levels within minutes if not detected.

When turning off your generator, take the time to do so safely. Unplug all appliances before turning off the power of the generator. In order to keep your generator in working order, you’ll need to perform regular maintenance.