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Generator Safety

While owning an emergency generator comes in handy during an extended power outage, recent events have exposed the need for better safety awareness. Carbon monoxide (CO) deaths associated with the misuse of generators have risen sharply in the past decade, according to the National Fire Protection Association, which recorded an increase of non-fire CO-related deaths of 18 percent between 2003 and 2005. To safely use generators, camp stoves, and barbecue grills, operate them only in well-ventilated areas outdoors so emissions can’t enter your home. Also, install a CO alarm that detects the presence of the odorless and colorless gas.

In addition, always turn off a generator when refueling it, and store gasoline, diesel fuel, or propane outside of living areas. Plug appliances directly into a generator or use an extension cord. Do not try to power a home’s wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet.

All-important transfer switch:
A permanently installed standby generator for a home or business requires a transfer switch to isolate it from the power grid. The main breaker on an electric panel does not qualify as a transfer switch under the National Electrical Code.

Transfer switches are critical for two reasons:

  • They prevent the backflow of current across distribution lines that could electrocute lineworkers trying to restore power during an outage.
  • They protect the generator from damage when electric service has been restored.

An automatic transfer switch senses power interruptions. The switch delays activation for 10 to 20 seconds to determine whether power will resume. This prevents the generator from cycling on and off every time a power “blip” occurs. After power is restored, the transfer switch waits for sustained current flow before shutting off the generator.

Permanent installation of a standby generator should be done by a licensed electrician and must comply with the National Electrical Code as well as state and local codes.

Notify your local electric co-op if you are using a generator. During an outage, if a line crew sees your lights are on, they might assume you have power and proceed to work elsewhere.

Power requirements:
Before buying a generator, check the power requirements of each device you want to run. Wattages are marked on the back or bottom of appliances, or on nameplates. Note that some larger appliances, such as refrigerators, require three to four times more power to start than they use during normal operation.

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