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October 29th, 2012
Safe Use of Portable Generators
power outages are likely to leave many East Coast residents in the
dark, as Hurricane Sandy’s winds are forecast to affect residents within
a 500-mile radius beginning as early as tonight. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) offers the following guidance about the safe use of portable generators.
A generator poses certain risks that must be addressed for safe
operation, including fire, damage to electrical equipment, and even
injury or death to people operating the generator or in the building
where it is being used, according to IBHS.
FACTS ABOUT PORTABLE GENERATORS
Portable generators have a relatively short run-time and may need to
be refueled several times a day during a prolonged power outage.
Most portable generators are designed to work with a few appliances or
pieces of electrical equipment that may be plugged directly into the
generator without the use of a generator transfer switch.
This type of generator isn’t recommended if you are operating
sensitive equipment or have numerous large appliances or business
Before using a portable generator remember to purchase an electric power cord to feed the electrical equipment:
This should be a heavy duty outdoor-rated extension cord sized for
the total electrical load (voltage and amps) you may need.
Choose a cord that exceeds the total expected load in order to
prevent excessive heat buildup and degradation of the power cord.
Ensure that the cord has three prongs and has no splits, cuts or holes in the external insulation covering.
An overloaded power cord can potentially start a fire.
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from engine exhaust is a common and
serious danger that can result in death if generators are used
improperly, in particular, if the fuel is not burned completely. Install
a CO detector to warn of rising levels.
When using an emergency electric power generator, get fresh air
immediately if you begin to feel flu like symptoms, sick, dizzy or light
Never use generators indoors or outside near windows, vents, or air intakes that could allow CO to come indoors.
Maintain plenty of air flow space around the generator.
Carefully follow all instructions on properly “grounding” the generator.
Keep the generator dry. If needed, operate portable generators under
an open canopy type structure. Short circuits may occur in wet
conditions resulting in the generator catching fire.
Store fuel in an approved storage container or holding tank designed
for such use, and only use fuel that is recommended in the owner’s
manual. Never store fuel indoors.
Do not keep fuel near the electric generator while the electric generator is in use, as it could start a fire.
Never refuel while the generator is running, and always keep a fully charged fire extinguisher located nearby.
Keep cords out of the way to avoid injury, but in plain view to allow
for visual inspections of any damage, such as fraying or cuts, that
could result in a fire.
AVOID BACK FEEDING
Do not “back feed” power into your electrical system by plugging the
generator into a wall outlet. Back feeding will put you and potentially
others, including utility line workers, at serious risk because the
utility transformer can increase the low voltage from the generator to
thousands of volts. Some states have laws that make the generator owner
responsible for taking steps to make sure that the generator’s
electricity cannot feed back into the power lines, and for notifying the
local utility of the location of any commercial, industrial, or
The exterior portions of a generator, even those operated for only a
short period of time, can become hot. Avoid touching the generator
without protective gear and keep debris clear to avoid a fire.
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