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Why Do You Need an Emergency Generator, and How to Choose the Right One for Your Home


While many people believe a backup generator is reserved only for hospitals and construction sites, more and more people are beginning to turn to electric generators for power in the case of an environmental emergency. As Mother Nature continues to pummel different regions throughout the United States, generators are becoming an increasingly popular method of insuring that your home is powered during an outage.


In January 2009 alone over 1 million Americans were left without power for upwards of 7 days during what has been dubbed the “Worst Ice Storm in a Decade”. Parts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana, Oklahoma, Illinois, and Ohio were among many of the states affected by this devastating ice storm. Portable and standby generators have been used throughout this region in an effort to stay warm during the sub zero temperatures.


Everyone recalls the tragic events of Hurricane Katrina. People in New Orleans were devastated by this category 5 hurricane and left without food, water, and power for weeks on end. Portable generators were used throughout the Louisiana in order to battle the outages, and now more than ever, residents have purchased emergency generators in preparation for the next big storm.


The problem is, in the wake of these disasters homeowners are scrambling to buy generators at the first hint of a storm. While this is a well advised precautionary measure, unfortunately many people are buying the first generator they find, without researching or determining which generator is right for their specific situation. There are many key points to address when in the market for a generator such as the wattage, size, and even the type of generator you need. Since there are so many options and styles available, people tend to become overwhelmed and purchase the least expensive generator that they can find. While this may be wise from an economical standpoint, there is little use in spending the money of a generator if it was not designed with your specific needs in mind.





Electrical Safety and Generators

Preventing Electrocutions Associated with Portable Generators Plugged Into Household Circuits

When power lines are down, residents can restore energy to their homes or other structures by using another power source such as a portable generator. If water has been present anywhere near electrical circuits and electrical equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician.

If it is necessary to use a portable generator, manufacturer recommendations and specifications must be strictly followed. If there are any questions regarding the operation or installation of the portable generator, a qualified electrician should be immediately contacted to assist in installation and start-up activities. The generator should always be positioned outside the structure.

When using gasoline- and diesel-powered portable generators to supply power to a building, switch the main breaker or fuse on the service panel to the "off" position prior to starting the generator. This will prevent power lines from being inadvertently energized by backfeed electrical energy from the generators, and help protect utility line workers or other repair workers or people in neighboring buildings from possible electrocution. If the generator is plugged into a household circuit without turning the main breaker to the “off” position or removing the main fuse, the electrical current could reverse, go back through the circuit to the outside power grid, and energize power lines or electrical systems in other buildings to at or near their original voltage without the knowledge of utility or other workers.

Effects of Backfeed
The problem of backfeed in electrical energy is a potential risk for electrical energy workers. Electrocutions are the fifth leading cause of all reported occupational deaths. Following the safety guidelines below can reduce this risk.

Safeguards against Backfeed

  • Extreme caution must be exercised by persons working on or in the vicinity of unverified de-energized power lines. All persons performing this work should treat all power lines as "hot" unless they positively know these lines are properly de-energized and grounded. Because of the possibility of a feedback circuit, the person performing the work should personally ground all lines on both sides of the work area and wear the proper required protective equipment.


Important Generator Safety Tips

Things can be chaotic when the power goes out. Having a back-up source of power may have lifesaving benefits for your home, loved ones or business. If you plan on using an generator during emergencies and power outages, it is vital that you take the proper precautions when setting up and using your generator. Follow these simple guidelines to help protect you, those around you and your generator.

• Always read and follow the manufacturer's operating instructions before running generator
• Engines emit carbon monoxide. Never use a generator inside your home, garage, crawl space, or other enclosed areas. Fatal fumes can build up, that neither a fan nor open doors and windows can provide enough fresh air.
• Only use your generator outdoors, away from open windows, vents, or doors.
• Use a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector in the area you’re running a generator.
• Gasoline and its vapors are extremely flammable. Allow the generator engine to cool at least 2 minutes before refueling and always use fresh gasoline. If you do not plan to use your generator in 30 days, don’t forget to stabilize the gas with fuel stabilizer.
• Maintain your generator according to the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule for peak performance and safety.
• Never operate the generator near combustible materials.
• If you have to use extension cords, be sure they are of the grounded type and are rated for the application. Coiled cords can get extremely hot; always uncoil cords and lay them in flat open locations.
• Never plug your generator directly into your home outlet. If you are connecting a generator into your home electrical system, have a qualified electrician install a Power Transfer Switch.
• Generators produce powerful voltage - Never operate under wet conditions. Take precautions to protect your generator from exposure to rain and snow.
Information and recommendations are compiled from sources believed to be reliable.


Published by The National Safety Council 04/ 09 . The National Safety Council makes no guarantee as to and assumes no responsibility for the correctness, sufficiency or completeness of such information or recommendations. Other or additional safety measures may be required under particular circumstances.


See also Safe Generator Use | American Red Cross

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