How to safely use a portable generator - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

How to safely use a portable generator

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Even if you don't experience flooding or severe wind damage from a storm, it's a pretty good bet that you're going to lose power -- possibly for weeks.

Falling trees usually knock down electric lines, and the damage is so widespread that it takes power companies a long time to hook everyone up again.

The solution is to have a generator that will make electricity for you, but there are some serious safety issues that you need to be aware of before you use one.

Carbon monoxide
Most generators are powered by a gasoline engine just like the one in your car or lawn mower. Gasoline engines produce deadly carbon monoxide gas in their exhaust, so that means you cannot use a generator indoors. It needs to be outside in a well-ventilated area -- preferably in a shed or under a canopy where it's protected from rain. But not in your garage.

After the hurricanes of 2004-2005, FOX 13 reported on the deaths of several people who died using generators inside or in their garages. The fumes collected inside their homes, killing them.

Limited capacity
Generators also don't have unlimited capacity. Each one is designed to produce only so much power, or amps. That means you can't plug every appliance in your home into it and expect it to run -- that is unless you have a very large professionally installed generator that's specifically designed to do that. You will have to pick a few appliances based on your generator's capacity, and just run those. Overloading a generator can damage it and may cause electrical short-circuits and fires.

Extension cord safety
When using a generator, you're probably going to use it with a long extension cord running inside your home. Make sure you have one that's good enough for the job. Any firefighter will tell you that one of the most common causes of house fires is an overloaded extension cord. Thin, cheap extension cords will quickly overheat and spark fires if you have too many appliances plugged into them. Also, make sure you're not running your extension cord through water, wet areas, or a place where it might be cut or damaged by vehicles or foot traffic. A generator should also be properly grounded to help avoid electric shock or short-circuits.

Using generators with your home wiring
One of the most common causes of electrocution after hurricanes is when people plug generators into their home's wiring or fuse box. You should never do this. Not only are most generators not strong enough to handle the load, electricity can travel back up the power lines outside of a home and shock power company workers who are working with electric lines that they believe are dead. When power is restored, electricity can pass down into the generator, damaging it or causing short circuits. If you're going to have a large generator that you intend to use with your home circuitry, it's best to have it installed by a licensed electrician who will install the proper switches and safeguards to make sure it'll work properly and nobody will get hurt.

Working with fuel
Store generator fuel outside or away from living areas in properly labeled non-glass containers. Vapor from gasoline is a major fire hazard. Also, never refuel a generator while it's still hot. Allow it to cool first. Before shutting down a generator, turn off all the appliances that are connected to it.

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