As many of you know the South was hit by a wave of tornados that devastated some communities, and left many of us feeling either really lucky, blessed, or in a complete state of shock (or all three). At this moment as I write this, I am sitting on the front porch listening to the wonderful sound of our generator which brings us to this week’s Safety Sunday on generator safety.
For many of us, we rarely have an issue with electricity & if we do it is restored pretty quickly. Unfortunately when an event like this happens, many individuals are left scrambling to throw food out, buy a ton of dry ice, hook up or go buy a generator. In our area, I know of one store that grabbed their big rig & picked up a 150 generators & promptly sold out of them within an hour. While this is great for their business, the bad part is many don’t read the directions & are only interested in getting everything up & running again. This unfortunately though leads us to a few different issues which can not only hurt someone but kill quite a few people.
Running one inside or close to the house:
Carbon Monoxide aka the Silent Killer is one of the biggest by products of combustion engines. Unlike a vent less heater (where you are supposed to open a window anyways) a generator is not meant to be run indoors as the carbon monoxide will build up quickly, and not be able to get out. As a reminder CO is heavier than air, so even with all the windows open, that won’t help with the CO building up. If you have done this it may take a few hours with all the windows & doors open, for the levels to drop down to a level where it is safe to enter.
Wiring it to your fuse box / circuit breaker panel /feeding power through an outlet:
No, no & no – folks, you have to have a disconnect installed or the meter must be pulled if you do this. In many area’s not only is this against the law (unless wired properly by a licensed electrician) but it can seriously hurt or kill a utility company worker trying to restore power as you are essentially energizing the lines. If that isn’t enough, you also may damage the generator, the fuse panel, or appliances you are trying to feed, as this type of generator was probably not designed to handle the load. We recommend simply using the proper sized extension cord for the load.
Overloading the cords / circuit:
This issue seemingly pops up every Christmas with individuals overloading the circuit, extension cords, etc… Not only can this damage the appliances, but it can also cause an arc fault or over heating situation resulting in a fire. Make sure you use the properly sized cord for the load and be careful of damaging the cords themselves (outside, entry path inside, etc…)
Starting the generator with cords attached:
While, this is not a safety issue, one should start the generator without any cords attached & then plug them in after it is running properly. This will help avoid damaging any electronics.
Overloading the generator:
As we mentioned in the first section, if you overload the generator you can damage it & the appliances. In most cases a 5000 continuous watt generator can easily run your refrigerator, a freezer, and a few other small items. While a 3000 watt generator can theoretically do the same per most available sizing charts, we would not recommend it. One of the main reasons is that the higher a load is placed on the generator, the more gas is required to produce the load, so a 5000 watt generator running at half its loaded capacity will generally use less fuel than a 3000 one running almost full out.
QUICK TIP: Our generator pictured above is using approximately 10 gallons of gas a day – if you wish to conserve fuel & not worry about food going bad – we recommend that you run the generator for 4 hours on / 4 hours off. If you have a highly efficient refrigerator &/or freezer you might be able to go 2 & 4 without any issues.
The quickest issue many find when running a generator is how much gas is required. (We listed our numbers above) Make sure that you do not store the gas inside a house or garage & it is kept in a well-ventilated area away from the generator & other combustion sources.
Fueling the generator:
This is more of a do as I say, not as I do one – but the generator should be stopped and allowed to cool down before you fuel it. One should also not be smoking, or talking on a cell phone while fueling it either (insert whistling smiley here).
In many parts of the country, you are required to install a spark arrestor. A spark arrestor is designed to prevent a spark from escaping past the muffler & catching something on fire. If you are in California, a National Park, or National Forest you are probably going to have to have it installed. In other areas where the fire danger is high, we would definitely recommend you install it and clean it as recommend by the manufacturer.
Camping & Boating:
While we did mention the issues with Carbon Monoxide above inside a home, while one is out boating or camping is another time you should be careful. Just because you are in wide open area, it doesn’t mean you might not have issues of CO Poisoning. Quite a few years ago, there was a spate of deaths caused with kids & adults swimming under the swim deck on all types of boats as that was where the CO was trapped. When camping, make sure the generator is not next to your tent or camper & preferably left off during the night if others are around.
Grounding the Generator:
While most generators do not require grounding as it is handled internally, you should check the manual and see if this is required. In some cases the generator will not run properly without it being in place & if something does go wrong, you might become the ground.