By Lisa Kaplan Gordon
Portable generators are a godsend when a storm kills your power or your RV needs some juice to keep food cold.
But portable generators, if not operated or placed correctly, can be a curse, too. Carbon monoxide, an odorless and invisible killer found in fuel emissions, can lull you into a permanent sleep. In fact, carbon monoxide exposure is the chief cause of death due to poisoning in the U.S., according to the New York State Health Department; carbon monoxide from portable generators caused 800 U.S. deaths from 1999 through 2012.
Carbon monoxide is insidious and can sneak into your home through windows cracked a smidge to accommodate extension cords, under entry doors, and into HVAC vents and pet doors.
I wish I had known that when a freak storm battered our Virginia home a few years ago knocking out power for days. I purchased my first generator and dutifully placed it 10 feet from the house. What I didn’t do was close our garage door, where extension cords snaked into the house, or side windows, which we opened to exploit a rare breeze.
The generator could – and probably did – send carbon monoxide fumes into the house; we were lucky that levels didn’t build and sicken or kill us.
Take home lesson: Never run a portable generator in risky places, like the ones below.
Indoors: Don’t even think about running a portable generator inside, even if you throw open windows for increased ventilation, which will not protect you against deadly carbon monoxide accumulation. Inside includes garages, crawl spaces, attics, and basements. To be extra safe, install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector/alarm or a plug-in detector with battery backup, which can alert you to rising levels of the deadly gas. Some home security systems include a carbon monoxide detector that will alert you and its monitoring station of rising gas levels.
Outdoors Near Openings: Even parts of the outdoors are unsafe places for portable generators. Unfortunately, just how far your generator should to be from doors and windows is debatable. Some authorities say place the generator 10 to 15 feet from the house. However, wind direction, house and generator particulars all affect how much carbon monoxide could seep into your house. New research from the National Institute of Standards andTechnology indicates that at least 25 feet from a house is a safer distance. Wherever you put the generation, make sure 3 or 4 feet of space surrounds it to ensure proper ventilation.
Wet Weather: It’s ironic: Wet weather makes you need a portable generator; but you should never run portable generators in wet places, which could cause electrocution. The solution is placing the generator under an open-sided shelter or covering it with a GenTent canopy, which will keep it dry.
In/Near a Vehicle: You cannot operate a portable generator safely in an enclosed vehicle or even nearby. When tailgating, keep the generator as far away as possible, and direct exhaust away from you and your neighbors.
Portable generators are a great source of emergency power supply
when and where you need it. But they can also be a health hazard if not properly operated
or placed. Just be careful to place
generators in open areas and away from your home to prevent carbon monoxide
fumes from seeping into your house and causing harm or death.