Generators are useful when temporary electric power is needed, but they also can be hazardous. The primary hazards to avoid when using a generator are electrocution, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and fire. Every year, people die in incidents related to portable generator use. Most of the incidents involve CO poisoning from generators used indoors or in partially-enclosed spaces.
Follow these tips for safely using a backup generator:
- Never try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet, a practice known as “backfeeding.” This is an extremely dangerous practice that presents an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices.
- Keep the generator dry and do not use in rain or wet conditions. To protect from moisture, operate it on a dry surface under an open, canopy-like structure. Dry your hands if wet before touching the generator. Plug appliances directly into the generator, or use a heavy duty extension cord that is rated (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads.
- For power outages, permanently installed stationary generators are better suited for providing backup power to the home. Even a properly connected portable generator can become overloaded, resulting in overheating and possibly leading to a generator failure.
- Never use a generator in enclosed or partially-enclosed spaces. Generators can produce high levels of CO very quickly. When you use a generator, remember that you cannot smell or see CO. Even if you can’t smell exhaust fumes, you may be exposed to CO. If you feel sick, dizzy or weak, get to fresh air right away.