Generators are very handy to have in the event the power goes out because of a storm or other natural event. They are a good backup system for heaters, freezers, well pumps, and lights.
Portable and permanent generators are very popular for those who need to run equipment away from electricity. Many are available for light-duty residential use, while others are rated for heavier commercial and industrial use.
Portable electric generators provide a good source of power during electrical outages, but if improperly installed or operated, can become deadly. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) and Blachly-Lane Electric Cooperative (BLEC) urges consumers to become more knowledgeable about electrical safety. These precautions can help keep you and your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning and electrical shock from portable electric generators.
Note: Opening doors and windows or operating fans to ventilate will not prevent CO build-up in the home. Even with a CO alarm, you should never use a gasoline-powered generator inside your home or in a garage.
Using Your Generator Safely
- Do not connect generators directly to household wiring without an appropriate transfer switch installed. Power from generators connected directly to household wiring can backfeed along power lines and electrocute anyone coming in contact with them, including lineworkers making repairs. Other tips include:
- Make sure your generator is properly grounded.
- Keep the generator dry.
- Make sure extension cords used with generators are rated for the load, and are free of cuts, worn insulation, and have three-pronged plugs.
- Do not overload the generator. A portable generator should be used only when necessary, and only to power essential equipment or appliances.
- Never operate the generator in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces. Use carbon monoxide detectors in nearby enclosed spaces to monitor levels. Generators can produce high levels of carbon monoxide very quickly, which can be deadly.
- Use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to help prevent electrocutions and electrical shock injuries.
- Turn off all appliances powered by the generator before shutting down the generator.
- Keep children away from portable generators at all times.
- Make sure fuel for the generator is stored safely, away from living areas, in properly labeled containers, and away from fuel-burning appliances. Before refueling, always turn the generator off and let it cool down.
Information courtesy of Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi).
Permanent generators are fully automatic, permanently installed units attached to a home or business in a fixed location.
These units typically can perform such functions as monthly self-tests and systems checks. They generally are directly wired into the main breaker panel and can operate the entire facility or a part of it in the event of an outage. In addition, some models can be configured to automatically turn themselves on when they sense a power failure.
Higher Cost But More Convenience
While these units are the most expensive to purchase, they are also the most convenient to operate. You can have the generator connected to your breaker panel, by a licensed electrician, through a transfer switch. If you choose to have the transfer switch installed the electrician will get the necessary permits for the job.
Very Important Notice: The main breaker on your panel does not qualify as a transfer switch under the National Safety Code. Using it in such a manner is illegal.
Transfer switches are required because electricity from the generator can be sent through the meter base and into the distribution lines. This could be life-threatening to workers, neighbors, children, or animals in the vicinity of a downed power line. Transfer switches prevent power from flowing back to your home when service is restored, seriously damaging or destroying a generator or causing physical harm or death.
Consult a licensed electrician if you have questions regarding permanent generator sizing and installation.