A portable generator can help restore life to normal during emergencies, but its safe use requires care and planning. The following tips - and a thorough reading of the generator's instructions - can help avoid dangerous shortcuts.
Gasoline-powered generators produce deadly carbon monoxide fumes.
• Always run portable generators outside the house.
• Never run generators inside, or in a garage.
• Keep generators well away from open windows - including neighbors - so deadly exhaust does not enter their home.
Tip: You can't trust your senses for protection from carbon monoxide; this deadly gas is invisible and odorless. When buying a generator, also buy a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm. It works like a smoke alarm, sounding an alert if carbon monoxide levels become dangerous
Never connect a generator directly to your home's wiring.
Power from a generator connected to a home's wiring will "back feed" into utility lines, potentially injuring severely or killing a neighbor or utility crew working to restore service.
• Plug appliances directly into the generator's outlet.
• Use a heavy-duty extension cord rated for outdoor use to keep the generator safely outdoors.
• Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for grounding the generator.
Tip: If the appliance has a three-prong plug, always use a three-prong extension cord.
What will a small generator run?
A small generator of about 3,000 watts can run a few lights, fans and a refrigerator all at one time. If used to start and run only one item at a time, it can run a small window air conditioner of about 5,000 BTUs.
• Each generator has a rated wattage, which provides a limit on the appliances it will safely power.
• Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for proper use and load. Overloading the generator can result in damage to appliances it is powering.
Tip: You do not need to run everything at the same time; rotating larger items allows the use of a smaller generator which costs less to buy and is easier to move.
• Never refuel a hot generator or one that is running: hot engine parts or exhaust can ignite gasoline.
• Turn off all connected appliances before starting your generator.
• Turn connected appliances on one at a time, never exceeding the generator's rated wattage.
Get the most from your generator
• Save gas by using appliances only as needed. If no appliances are running, shut the generator off.
• If you are just running a few lights, using other sources may cost less than running the generator.
• Do not leave a running generator unattended; turn it off at night and when away from home.
Tip: Refrigerators may only need to run a few hours a day to preserve food. Using a refrigerator thermometer, aim to maintain 40 degrees in the refrigerator compartment and 0 degrees in the freezer.
Be a good neighbor
If the power is out, your neighbors are probably sleeping with their windows open. Consider that the sound of your generator may not be music to everyone's ears!