It’s Electrical Safety Month: Generate Safely

GeneraterDuring a power outage, the only options used to be lighting a candle or finding a flashlight and patiently waiting by the fireplace. Today, homeowners unwilling to wait out an outage are installing backup power generators.

A generator converts energy from fuel—usually gasoline—into electricity. Provided the generator is large enough, it can run a few appliances and lights.

While a generator certainly makes it more comfortable to endure an outage, improper use can be deadly.

If you plan to use a generator, hire a licensed electrician to hard-wire a transfer switch adjacent to your existing circuit breaker box. Using a transfer switch eliminates the risk of electrical back feed into power lines, which can kill utility workers repairing downed lines, and damage the generator and any equipment connected to it.

During an outage, shut off the main breaker—isolating your home from power lines—and connect your generator to the transfer switch. Once the generator is running, choose which appliances and circuits you want to use by flipping the switches.

Because the transfer switch often is wired into more circuits than the generator can handle all at once, keep track of what is being powered. Running too many appliances at once can overload your generator. As a rule, the total running (rated) and starting watts of all the appliances used at one time should not exceed the generator’s wattage.

Here are some other tips to ensure you operate safely:

  • Place the generator on a level surface.
  • Use an appropriately sized extension cord. A long or undersized cord could damage the generator and appliances.
  • Don’t run a generator indoors or in an enclosed space, such as a garage or basement. Internal combustion engines produce deadly carbon monoxide gas.
  • Start items from the largest to smallest power usage.
  • To avoid the possibility of a voltage surge, unplug all cords in the reverse order in which they were plugged in (smallest to largest power user), then wait about two minutes before you shut down the generator.