Operating a generator indoors can be deadly. Every year millions of people rely on portable generators when they lose access to power. Used safely, a portable generator delivers the power you need, when you need it most. Power outages are common during disasters, and they can last for several days.
How Generator CO Poisoning can be Avoided
Generating Power – Safely
Never use a portable generator inside your home, garage, crawlspace, shed or similar area. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide (CO) can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off. Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home. The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure.
What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Why is it Dangerous?
Carbon monoxide is a gas produced by burning any type of fuel/gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal. What makes this gas so dangerous is that when you breathe it in, it replaces the oxygen in your blood. Without oxygen, the cells throughout the body die and organs stop working. Breathe too much of it, and it becomes deadly within minutes.
Problems arise when cars, trucks or other engines are left running in enclosed spaces, such as garages or other enclosed areas. When fuel-burning appliances are not installed or used properly, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can build up inside houses and other buildings.
How to Properly Operate a Generator
Operating a generator indoors is never a safe idea. Exhaust from backup generators, both portable and stationary, contains a high level of carbon monoxide (CO) gas. Position generators outdoors and well away from any structure. Keep generators positioned outside and at least 15 feet away from open windows so exhaust does not enter your home/business or a neighboring home/business.
Follow these steps and view the diagrams below to ensure you are properly operating your generator and avoiding contact with deadly CO:
1. Keep the generator dry. Operate your generator on a dry surface under an open, canopy-like structure and make sure your hands are dry before touching the generator. Do not use the generator in rainy or wet conditions.
2. Disconnect the power coming into your home/business. Before you operate your generator, disconnect your normal source of power. Otherwise, power from your generator could be sent back into the utility company lines, creating a hazardous situation for utility workers.
3. Make sure your generator is properly grounded. Grounding generators can help prevent shocks and electrocutions. Refer to OSHA guidelines for grounding requirements for portable generators.
4. Plug equipment directly into the generator. Use heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cords that are in good working condition and have a wire gauge that can handle the electric load of any connected appliances.
5. DO NOT plug the generator into a wall outlet. NEVER try to power your house/business by plugging the generator into a wall outlet or the main electrical panel. Only a licensed electrician should connect a generator to a main electrical panel by installing the proper equipment according to local electrical codes. Make sure the electrician installs an approved automatic transfer switch so you can disconnect your home’s wiring from the utility system before you use the generator.
- Read and follow the operator’s manual closely before operating your generator.
- Install CO detectors/alarms throughout your home to ensure you are aware of the presence of CO gas. You cannot see, smell or taste CO.
Check out this very helpful graphic, courtesy of the PGMA – Safety First – Carbon Monoxide Awareness