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Consumer Tip (Sunday, May 29, 2005)
Consumer Product Safety
Commission Safety Alert
Portable generators are useful when temporary
or remote electric power is needed, but they also can be hazardous. The
primary hazards to avoid when using a generator are carbon monoxide (CO)
poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution,
people die in incidents related to portable generator use. Most of the
incidents associated with portable generators reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission
(CPSC) involve CO poisoning from generators used indoors or in
Carbon Monoxide Hazards
NEVER use a generator in enclosed or
partially-enclosed spaces. Generators can produce high levels of CO very
quickly. When you use a portable generator, remember that you cannot smell
or see CO. Even if you can't smell exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed
If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a
generator, get to fresh air RIGHT AWAY. DO NOT DELAY. The CO from generators can
rapidly lead to a person's full incapacitation and death.
If you experience serious symptoms, get medical
attention immediately. Inform medical staff that CO poisoning is suspected.
If you experienced symptoms while indoors, have someone call the fire
department to determine when it is safe to re-enter the building.
Follow these safety tips to protect against CO
- NEVER use a generator indoors, including in
homes, garages, basements, crawl spaces, and other enclosed or
partially-enclosed areas, even with ventilation. Opening doors and windows
or using fans will not prevent CO build-up in the home.
- Follow the instructions that come with your
generator. Locate the unit outdoors and away from doors, windows, and
vents that could allow CO to come indoors.
- Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO
alarms with battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer's
installation instructions. The CO alarms should be certified to the
requirements of the latest safety standards for CO alarms (UL 2034, IAS
6-96, or CSA 6.19.01).
- Test your CO alarms frequently and replace dead
Follow these tips to protect against shock and
- 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
- Plug appliances directly into the generator. Or, use
a heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cord that is rated (in watts or
amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads. Check
that the entire cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all
three prongs, especially a grounding pin.
try to power the house wiring by
plugging the generator into a wall outlet, a practice known as
This is an extremely dangerous practice that presents an
electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors served by the same
utility transformer. It also bypasses some of the built-in household
circuit protection devices.
- If you must connect the generator to the house wiring
to power appliances, have a qualified electrician install the appropriate
equipment in accordance with local electrical codes. Or, check with your
utility company to see if it can install an appropriate power transfer
- 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. This may
result in overheating or stressing the generator components, possibly
leading to a generator failure.
Follow these tips to prevent fires:
- Never store fuel for your generator in the home.
Gasoline, propane, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored
outside of living areas in properly-labeled, non-glass safety containers.
Do not store them near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas
water heater in a garage. If the fuel is spilled or the container is not
sealed properly, invisible vapors from the fuel can travel along the
ground and can be ignited by the appliance's pilot light or by arcs from
electric switches in the appliance.
- Before refueling the generator, turn it off and let
it cool down. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.