Generators: Powering Safely After a Storm

Generators: Powering Safely After a Storm

One of the great things about the modern American electric grid is that power almost always flows when we need it. Given our dependence on electricity, it’s understandable why portable generators are popular when the power goes out and stays out for a while. But generators can cause more harm than good if not used properly.

Here are a few safety tips to protect yourself and the line technicians who are working to restore your power. First, never, ever plug a portable generator directly into one of your home’s outlets. It’s best to have had a licensed electrician install a “transfer switch” in your home. If you don’t have a transfer switch, electricity produced by the generator can “backfeed” along power lines, causing injury to the line technicians working on those lines.

In addition, portable generators create carbon monoxide—the odorless, colorless gas that can quickly become deadly if the generator isn’t exhausted outside. Attached garages with an open door don’t count—the carbon monoxide can still seep indoors and poison inhabitants. Generators must go outside in a dry area, which might mean you’ll need to build a canopy to protect it from precipitation at a safe distance from your home’s windows, doors and vents. How far is a safe distance? Even 15 feet can be too close.

Other things to keep in mind: Plug appliances directly into the generator using heavyduty, outdoor-rated extension cords, but don’t overload it. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for maximum load. Shut off the generator before refueling, or a fire could start—and it’s a good idea to have a fully charged fire extinguisher nearby, just in case.