5 Generator Mistakes that Can Leave You in the Dark or Worse

Updated Feb 15, 2013

Of the dozens of deaths attributed to Hurricane Sandy, many were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning from generators being run in garages, basements, porches and other enclosed or partially enclosed spaces. Unfortunately, the rush to power a home without lights, heat or a running refrigerator, can leave little time to protect yourself and your home from the generator itself. Before the next emergency, here are five known hazards you can prevent.

Running the generator too close to the home. If you have a stationary generator, it should have been professionally installed as far away from the home as its instructions and local codes require. But for a portable, the threat from carbon monoxide—an odorless, invisible gas—can be deadly. Keep it away from any doors and windows. Never run it in a garage, even if the doors are open. Instructions for a portable generator warn you not to run it in the rain. To protect it from moisture, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends operating it on a dry surface under an open, canopy-like structure.

Overusing extension cords. When a storm hits, many supplies become hard to find, extension cords included. This means that for a brand-new generator, you have to rely on cords that might be years old—and unsafe for what you’re connecting. If your generator has a 220-volt outlet, have your electrician install a transfer switch with an outdoor power inlet—meaning one safe connection rather than multiple questionable ones. But if your generator is small and lacks a 220-volt outlet, your only possible connections are through extension cords. Stock up on 12-gauge cords, which can handle most 110-volt appliances.

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By Ed Perratore
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