A generator is an invaluable piece of equipment for homes, offices, and workplaces which becomes extra prevalent in the aftermath of natural disasters such as storms. The power outage that follows after a storm can make us feel extremely frustrated as running out of phone battery makes you feel like you have returned to the era of no electricity.
In that sense, a generator will return you to the current era until your power outage issue has been resolved. Although a great piece of equipment, the generator can often become hard to deal with because of the cleanup work that awaits the user which is why knowing how to operate and maintain a generator is of the utmost importance for anyone looking to own a generator. Make no mistake neglecting the safety procedures of generator maintenance. According to NPR, About 1000 people have died of carbon monoxide poisoning while thousands got injured using portable generators in the last decade.
The misuse of generators leads to injuries, burns even deaths which tend to happen in the presence of power outage. The biggest culprit by far is the Carbon Monoxide poisoning that portable generators produce in great amounts. Even worse is the fact that carbon monoxide doesn’t have any color, smell, or taste. It can kill you in a very small timeframe, 5 minutes is all it takes if the level of CO is high enough. Here I discuss the 9 most important generator safety tips you must follow.
Never Run Generators in Enclosed Areas
The first thing that you should never do is run a generator in a closed area. Most of the accidents happen due to CO poisoning which is a result of keeping the generator in living space and enclosed areas. Keeping the generator indoor can have horrible consequences places like the garage and basement can hold deadly levels of Carbon Monoxide especially if there are no wide openings. Place the generator at a suitable distance from your house and redirect the exhaust on the opposite direction of doors and windows.
Refuel the Proper Way
When the time comes to refuel your generator, let it cool off first. Turn it off and let it rest for some an hour or two. If the generator is relatively hot it ignites any spilled gasoline and letting it cool also prevents you from getting accidental burns while refueling.
Keep away from Rain
If you own a portable generator do not run it in the rain. It’s dangerous for more than a few reasons. There are tents specifically sold for generators that can keep them shielded when it’s raining. For other options, you can look into waterproof covers and generator shields all of which serve the same purpose.
Buy a Transfer Switch
It connects the generator to the circuit panel and allows you to power things like hardwired appliances. It increases safety and eliminates the need of using any extension cords. The cost of a transfer switch depends on the generator and its power rating to some extent. For a 5000 watt generator, the cost will be somewhere around $500 with labor. Most of the transfer switches will aid you in avoiding things like overloading while also displaying usage levels for extra convenience.
Be careful of Electrical Hazards
It’s best to plug equipment directly to the generator if you do not own a transfer switch. Follow the precautions and if you have to opt for an extension cord, try to get a Heavy-duty cord (Suitable for outdoor use) that is rated equal to the sum of all the connected utilities and equipment. The entire cord should be free of any cuts and make sure the plug has three prongs. It is critical for safety as it protects against shocks if water has accumulated inside.
You should be careful when and how you use a ground rod. For starters do not use a ground rod when you plug loads directly through an extension cord meaning, forego of the grounding rod when you are plugging a heavy-duty cord into the generator while connecting that to an appliance.
Use a ground rod when you have a working transfer switch by connecting it from the grounding lug on the generator to the ground road itself using a piece of copper to wire the same gauge like the heaviest wire present in the circuit you are willing to power. For an estimated 240volt electronic device you might need around 8 gauge of wire used for grounding the generator.
Quality of Fuel and Safety
As I mentioned earlier, do not refuel a generator while it’s still hot or in the presence of anything flammable. Store the fuel away from the generator and keep the containers in relatively cooler spaces. Do not buy too much fuel at once in bulks. They degrade over time and you will have to use a fuel stabilizer to slow the degradation. Only do it out of necessity and have a fuel stabilizer if you end up doing so. Clean your generator and remove the fuel from it by running it dry and consider draining the gas out of the carburetor as well as the fuel lines as fuels, especially the ones that are deteriorated, leave residue harmful for the generator. This is a good reason you should try buying fuels of somewhat decent quality. The cheapest ones are rarely any good when you consider the long run.
Do test Runs
It goes without saying that things might not go perfectly as planned so, the only actual way of ensuring proper system operation is to test it after the initial setup. Run it for an hour right after setting it up. Finding problems beforehand is a big plus as an emergency won’t consider your generator problems. The issue can be a small one which may take some minutes to fix but when an emergency emerges that problem can prove to be extra irritating and this is just another good reason to look for problems in the test run. The most common problems are
- Tripped Breakers
- Tripping GFCI outlets
- Device Incompatibility
If you have tripped breakers it simply means you need better power management. You get tripped breakers when you overload something. It implies there was a mistake in your calculation on the power consumption of the connected devices. This is where a generator power calculator comes in handy as it does most of the calculation for you. It works pretty simply, accounting for the number of devices that you will plug and their separate power requirements and summing them up with various other factors to come up with good measurements. Things like pump motors require more power than most of us think. Compartmentalizing the power drawing devices will help you further. You don’t want devices that can have self-harming tendencies when they receive less than adequate power. In this specific scenario that would be a water pump. When it receives under-voltage, it will eventually get damaged because of the huge contrast in its big load and low voltage.
Tripping GFCI Outlets
Most electrical systems after 2010 should already have decently well grounding in place so the chances tripping GFCI outlets indicating a grounding fault is pretty low. It can imply that you have an incompatible transfer switch. If it’s a 2-pole transfer switch, installing a 3-pole transfer switch in most cases should solve your problem. However, if your problem persists then the problem lies in your grounding which you might have to track down.
The issue can be caused by different factors like a bad installation of the transfer switch to your generator or, a deficiency in the generator itself or even a faulty circuitry. Non-branded generators and some of the generators from unheard companies/brands tend to be of lower quality. People buy into these kinds of trade because they cost less. More often than not it’s better to stick to known names when you decide to buy a generator. Inexpensive ones may produce 120 volts but the consistency won’t be there. These inexpensive ones also tend to be smaller in size and having bad electric flow consistency bundled with smaller chassis makes the whole situation worse.
Why is this so bad? You may ask.
It’s bad because the poor power delivery from the generator can harm your home electronics. Most mass-produced consumer products do not have high-quality DC circuitry that can power filter efficiently. It makes the consumer products vulnerable to low-quality power delivery, causing permanent damage through power surges. Most well-known electronic companies will have a safety feature against these accidental occurrences and that’s why a well-trusted name carries so much weight. Better to be safe than sorry.
Don’t Back feed Your House
Trying to power your house wiring by plugging a generator to the wall outlet is called back-feeding. A dangerous practice and a reckless act to say the least. It comes with electrocution risks to utility workers and your neighbors who are using the same utility transformer. Furthermore, it tends to bypass built-in household circuit protection devices. The outcome? You not only end up frying your electronics devices but also risk starting a fire.