Safety Tips for Using Portable Generators This Winter

A portable electric generation being used to power a home in the snow during winter.Experiencing power outages during New England winters is an unfortunate inevitability that many of us have to contend with. With frigid temperatures that can quickly make one’s home uninhabitable without electricity, many Massachusetts residents have invested in portable generators to keep their heat running when the power goes out. However, despite the convenience of generators, they come with their fair share of risks. If you’re looking to safeguard your home from power outages, learn these safety tips for using portable generators this winter.

Consider the Placement of Your Portable Generator

Even if you have a small 5.5-kilowatt (kW) generator, running the machine can produce as much carbon monoxide exhaust as six idling vehicles, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Since a high concentration of carbon monoxide is considered toxic, you must follow these guidelines to keep your family safe:

  • Provide Distance: To avoid carbon monoxide from entering your home through your windows or doors, place the generator far away from your home outside. Also, know that your garage is not a safe place to run your generator.
  • Offer Breathing Room: Make sure there are at least three feet of space around your generator to ensure it has adequate room for ventilation.
  • Install a Carbon Monoxide Alarm: If your smoke alarm in your home does not double as a carbon monoxide detector, install one to ensure proper air quality is maintained while running the unit. Also, be sure you regularly swap out the batteries.

During a winter power outage, to ensure snow doesn’t obstruct the exhaust system, it’s recommended one places a portable generator under an overhang or canopy outdoors.

Take Precautions to Avoid Electric Shock

Portable generators must be kept on dry, level ground, which can be difficult during a storm. Generators can create serious shocks or deadly electrocution if not properly maintained in a suitable environment. Other potential causes of electric shock include:

  • Check Extension Cords: Before connecting an extension cord or appliance to the generator, be sure they are not cracked or frayed and that their watt capacity is rated for the intended use.
  • Handle with Care: Never touch the unit with wet hands, and always ensure the generator is turned off before filling it with gas or performing other maintenance.
  • Use a Transfer Switch: Install a manual transfer switch on the outside of your home to avoid running multiple extension cords from your appliances to the generator and increasing the likelihood of electrical shock.

It’s also important to never connect your generator to a wall outlet. Dosing so is illegal, as it backfeeds power to the utility line outside, potentially endangering maintenance workers who are attempting to restore power. In this case, you will be held liable for their injuries.

Avoiding Portable Generator Fire Hazards

Another risk of connecting your generator to a wall outlet is that the circuit breaker or fuse in your electrical power panel no longer protects your home’s wiring, possibly resulting in an electrical fire. However, the biggest fire risk comes from igniting fuel. Always allow generators to cool outside before storing them away; otherwise, if the fuel inside the unit spills on hot engine parts, it could ignite, starting a fire or even an explosion. Alternatively, avoid storing a hot generator near other combustibles or smoking near a generating.

Understanding these safety tips for using portable generators can save you from potentially life-threatening disasters during the next winter power outage. While you’re busy ensuring your home stays heated this winter, don’t forget to confirm that you and your home are covered from other winter perils. At TJ Woods Insurance, our independent agents can help you obtain the ideal coverage through a homeowners policy, flood insurance, or whatever other protections you require. If you would like to discover how we can keep you and your family safe, contact us today.