Winter storms can bring chilling winds, ice, and snow — and cause power outages. Generators can help keep the electricity on until power can be restored. However, those who use generators must be mindful of risks such as electric shock and toxic exhaust. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than half of the annual accidents with generators occur between November and February, the coldest months of the year. South Kentucky RECC shares tips on the safe preparation and operation of generators this winter.
Since generators come in a variety of sizes, capacities, and power sources, begin by reading and following all manufacturer instructions. Also before you use a generator, inspect it for damage. If no damage is found, prepare it for use in an area outside of the home and away from dangerous or wet conditions.
During cold weather conditions, the thought of setting up the generator away from the warmth of one’s home can seem unpleasant. Yet, it is a necessary safety step. According to CPSC, the most dangerous generator hazard during the winter months is carbon monoxide emissions, which contribute to 85 percent of annual toxic gas accidents aside from house fires.
Because carbon monoxide is undetectable and invisible, you should always run the machine outdoors, as carbon monoxide levels may be fatal within minutes in enclosed areas. Do not use generators inside a house, shed, crawlspace, basement, or garage. Even with a fan or ventilation, carbon monoxide can build up inside and be toxic for hours afterward. Be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, which include headaches, dizziness, confusion, fatigue, and nausea. If you suspect that someone has been exposed to carbon monoxide, move them into fresh air immediately.
It is also a good idea to install carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Follow the instructions in the manufacturer’s guide for proper placement, and test the batteries regularly. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, on average there are 430 deaths from carbon monoxide each year.
Carbon monoxide produced by generators is not the only hazard from generator use. If you are not careful with the preparation of a portable or standby generator, you can put the lives of others in danger because of backfeed.
Backfeed is a situation where a generator is feeding electricity back through your electrical system and meter into the power lines. This jeopardizes the safety of South Kentucky RECC line workers working to restore power, as well as anyone who may be near the downed or sagging line that becomes energized.
To prevent backfeed, standby generators should have a transfer safety switch installed by a professional. This device automatically separates your home system from the utility system. Portable generators should never be plugged directly into a home outlet or electrical system; use a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cord to plug appliances into an outlet on the generator for power. Your generator should have more output than the wattage of the appliances you will plug into it.
Be sure to keep pets and children a safe distance away. When the generator needs a refill on gasoline, first reduce flammability by turning off the machine for at least 10 minutes so that fumes can dissipate.
South Kentucky RECC urges members to make sure they are using a generator properly to avoid serious consequences.