Generator Safety

 Generator Safety

One of the great things about the modern American electric grid is that power almost always flows when we need it. However, due to infrequent circumstances, electrical service may be occasionally disrupted to your home.

Given our dependence on electricity, it’s understandable why portable generators are so popular. Be assured that Sam Houston Electric Cooperative will always work to get your power back on as quickly as possible. You may decide, however, that a portable generator will best serve your needs during an outage.

When purchasing a portable generator, remember they come in varying sizes and have different features. Have a licensed electrician determine your needs and then match the power output of the generator to your needs. Some practical options to look for include:

  • A double-throw switch to safely disconnect power from the Co-op's distribution line.
  • An overhead valve engine for longer life and quieter operation.
  • An auto idle control to reduce noise level and fuel consumption.
  • A large gas tank. For reference, a five-gallon tank may only last five to ten hours.
  • A low oil shutdown feature to prevent engine damage.
  • A wheel kit for easy transport. Generators larger than 3,000 watts can weigh more than 100 pounds.

Once you have purchased your new generator, a qualified, licensed electrician should be hired to install a double-pole, double-throw transfer switch, unless you plan to plug in individual appliances directly to the generator. The generator and switch must be installed in compliance with the National Electrical Code and any local ordinances. The generator should be properly grounded, with a minimum of 10-gauge wiring. Be sure to learn from the manufacturer and/or electrician how the switch and generator should be turned on.

When using your generator to provide power to the whole house, a transfer switch disconnects your wiring system and generator from Sam Houston EC's system. This eliminates any chance of the generator feeding power back into the Co-op's distribution system, and causing injury to the line technicians working on those lines.

We can't stress enough the importance of using a transfer switch and connecting the generator properly. The danger works the other way, too. Should service be restored while the generator is running without a proper transfer switch, the generator can be damaged or destroyed.

Small generators are usually not powerful enough to run your complete household needs. Overloading can cause damage to the generator and appliances. It can also cause a fire hazard. Therefore, know the total combined wattages of all the appliances you plan to run on your generator. Remember loads are often greater as an appliance is started versus when it is running, but your generator should be sized to handle this load.

A 5,000-watt generator, for example, could run four lights, a furnace fan (only), a refrigerator and a sump pump. Voltage levels may fluctuate from portable generators, which can cause damage to your electrical appliances. Be sure and start the largest motor or appliance first. Don't attempt to speed up the engine for more output. Non-standard voltage and frequency can cause damage to your appliances and the generator. Also remember to plug appliances directly into the generator using heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cords, and remember that undersized extension cords can overheat.

Install the generator in a clean, dry, well-ventilated area. Obstructing ventilation can cause overheating and produce carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can quickly become deadly. Never operate your generator in a confined area where animals or people could be exposed. Attached garages with an open door don’t count—the carbon monoxide can still seep indoors. Generators must go outside in a dry area, which might mean you’ll need to build a canopy to protect it from rain at a safe distance from your home’s windows, doors and vents. Also, be sure the generator is not in a flooded area. Water and electricity don't mix!

Do not fill the fuel tank while the engine is running. A hot muffler, engine, or an electrical spark can ignite gasoline. Allow the engine to cool completely before refueling. Store fuel in proper containers. It’s a also a good idea to have a fully charged fire extinguisher nearby, just in case.

Don't let a weather disaster turn into a personal disaster. Restoring your electric service is a dangerous job even in the best of conditions. By installing a double-pole, double-throw generator transfer switch you'll know you have protected the line technicians and your home.

Quick Tips for Safe Generator Operation

  1. Never connect a standby generator into your home’s electrical system. Utilize an approved generator transfer switch or plug your appliance(s) directly into the outlet provided on the generator.
  2. Set up and run your generator in a well-ventilated area outside the home. Make sure it’s out and away from your garage, doors, windows and vents. The carbon monoxide generated is deadly.
  3. Use a heavy-duty extension cord to connect electric appliances to the outlet on the generator.
  4. Start the generator first before connecting appliances.