Power outages are common following a natural disaster, and generators are a good investment for those living and working in areas prone to these kinds of events.
However, while backup generators are incredibly useful, they do come with their own risks.
Generator risks include fire, damage to electrical equipment, injuries and death. It’s important to understand the risks related to generators and take the necessary precautions for safe operation.
The Tampa, Florida-based Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety offers the following tips for the safe operation of backup generators.
Backup generators should never be used indoors or outside near windows. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a common risk associated with using generators in areas that are not well ventilated. (Photo: iStock)
1. Use proper care
Proper ventilation is critical to reducing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator’s engine exhaust. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a common, serious danger that can cause death if generators are used improperly; this is particularly true when the fuel is not burned completely.
2. Placement is key
Never use generators indoors or outside near windows, vents, or air intakes that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
3. Keep other items clear
Maintain plenty of air flow space around the generator.
A battery-operated carbon monoxide detector can save lives when backup generators are in use. (Photo: iStock)
4. Pay attention
Get fresh air immediately if you begin to feel sick, dizzy or light-headed or experience flu-like symptoms while the generator is running.
5. Buy a carbon monoxide detector
Because carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless, it makes sense to buy a CO detector (similar to or sometimes combined in a smoke detector) to warn of rising CO levels.
Generators are usually needed in storms. Wet conditions can cause fires. Make sure to keep them dry. (Photo: iStock)
6. 'Ground' your generator
Carefully follow all instructions on properly “grounding” the generator.
7. Keep the generator dry
Short circuits may occur in wet conditions, which can cause a generator fire. If needed, place the generator under an open canopy-type structure.
Leave fixing generators to professionals who know how to avoid electric shock and electrocution. (Photo: iStock)
8. Be prepared
Always keep a fully charged fire extinguisher nearby.
9. Leave it to the professionals
To avoid electric shock or electrocution, do not try to fix or otherwise work on a generator.
Keep generator cords out of the way but visible. (Photo: iStock)
10. Organize your cords
Keep cords out of the way to avoid injury, but keep them in plain view to keep track of cord damage (such as fraying or cuts) that could cause a fire.
11. Do not 'back feed' power
Do not plug the generator into a wall outlet. Back feeding will put you and others, including utility line workers, at serious risk because the utility transformer can increase low voltage from the generator to thousands of volts.
Don’t touch generators — they can get hot. (Photo: iStock)
12. Know local laws
Some states have laws making the generator owner responsible for taking steps to make sure that the generator’s electricity cannot feed back into power lines; additionally, owners of commercial, industrial, or residential generators must notify the local utility of their locations.
13. Don’t touch — it’s hot
The exterior portions of a generator, even if operated for only a short period of time, can become hot. Avoid touching the generator without protective gear and keep debris clear to avoid a fire.