As Hurricane Sandy moved toward Massachusetts this weekend, many people purchased portable power generators. This equipment is an inexpensive way to find comfort during a power outage, but it is important to remember the potential safety hazards when not used properly.
The most frequent danger associated with portable generators is carbon monoxide poisoning, which can result from a leak or misplacement of a power generator in a house or garage where gas can accumulate. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas and poisoning can occur without warning. Symptoms often start with headaches and dizziness, but can quickly advance to seizures, coma and death.
Use your portable generator outside. Set it up away from your home's doors, windows and vent openings.
Never use a portable generator inside your home. Also do not use it in an attached garage, even in a garage with an open door.
Check your carbon monoxide detector. Make sure the detector and batteries are working. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for placement as well as state law, which in most cases requires residences to have carbon monoxide detectors on every habitable level of the home or dwelling unit. Check if your portable generator manufacturer offers additional instructions.
Make sure there is a safe connection. Take time to learn the proper way to connect the portable generator to your appliances.
Refuel safely. Turn off your portable generator and let it cool before refueling and turning it back on.
Fuel storage. Store your portable generator fuel in a clearly marked container. Store it outside living areas.
Read the manufacturer's instructions. These instructions should provide details about how you can expect the device to operate during the critical storm conditions.
No backfeeding. Never try to power the house by "backfeeding", the practice of plugging the generator directly into a wall unit or household wiring. This creates an electrocution risk to yourself as well as neighbors and utility workers using the same utility transformer. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices.
Do not operate in the rain or wet conditions. You may have purchased a portable generator to make it through the storm, but you should only operate the generator in dry conditions. If you must operate in wet conditions, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends placing it under an "open, canopy-like structure on a dry surface."
Portable Generator Hazards, Consumer Product Safety Commission.
MEMA offers tips as Hurrican Sandy approaches, Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).
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