Home Generator Tips for After a Hurricane

Nobody wants to be left without power after a hurricane. It’s why so many people purchase a generator – for when big storms temporarily knock out electricity to the home. Just 1-2 days without power can be hugely disruptive: no A/C, radio, TV or computer, no cellphone charging, plus lots of spoiled frozen and refrigerated foods. And, for Floridians with serious health care needs, a generator is a must to be able to operate certain medical equipment like a CPAP, patient lift, home dialysis machines and more.

Installed vs. Portable Generators

There are two main types of generators. One is installed by a contractor or electrician and the other is smaller and designed to be moved from place to place as needed. Installed generators are already connected to a standalone gas/propane fuel tank and there is nothing you need to do to get it to work; it operates automatically when power is lost. Portable generators, on the other hand, are manually operated – and this is where things often go deadly wrong.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is responsible for numerous hospitalizations and deaths following tropical storms and hurricanes. Just last year, more than 40 people in Florida died from carbon monoxide poisoning in the first 2 weeks after Hurricane Ian cut a devastating path through the state. Unsafe generator use is believed to be the culprit. In addition, there were more than 500 cases of CO poisoning following Hurricane Irma’s assault on the state in 2017. Sadly, these illnesses and deaths were almost entirely preventable.

So, what is CO poisoning? Carbon monoxide is a toxic byproduct of burning fuel. It’s in the fumes produced by cars, outdoor grills, gas stoves, fireplaces/furnaces, and even lanterns.

Breathing in too much of it can become fatal in mere minutes. CO cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are described as being “flu-like” and include headaches, nausea/vomiting, dizziness and confusion. It can kill you, your family and your pets.

Using your generator safely and installing battery-operated CO detectors on every floor of your home, especially near sleeping areas, can help prevent deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. Should the alarm sound on your CO detector, immediately move outside toward fresh air and call 911.

Use Your Generator Safely

Carbon monoxide poisoning is not the only thing to be careful of when using portable generators. Without proper generator safety, electric shock, burn injuries, fire, and even electrocution may occur.

To Avoid CO Poisoning

To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, use your generator outside only – and NOT in the home, basement, garage, carport, outdoor shed, or any enclosed space. Place the generator at least 20’ from any home. You’ll also want to direct the exhaust away from the house and keep any nearby doors or windows closed while the generator is running.

While most portable generators are fueled by gasoline, some newer models use battery or solar power, which will not produce toxic fumes (carbon monoxide) and may be used in areas not otherwise recommended for generators powered by flammable liquids. Consider switching to one of these types of generators to reduce your risk of CO poisoning.

To Avoid Shock, Electrocution

There are several ways to avoid possible shock or electrocution when using your portable generator.

First, ensure your portable generator remains dry. It should only be used on a dry surface and under an open, canopy-like structure protecting it from moisture. Don’t touch the generator if you are wet or standing in water.

Second, plug appliances directly into the generator or use appropriate, heavy-duty outdoor extension cords rated (in watts or amps) to handle the electrical load of the appliances you’ll be powering. If the appliance uses a 3-pronged plug, use a 3-pronged extension cord.  

Third, never plug the generator into a household wall outlet. This is called “backfeeding” and could cause an electrical surge in your home, which can wreck other electronic devices and hurt you or your loved ones. The surge may also travel to nearby power lines and potentially harm, or even kill, a utility worker.

To Avoid Fire

To avoid a fire, don’t overload the capacity of your generator. When refueling, it’s important to do so outside (not in the house or garage), and only after the generator has been turned off and has cooled down; gasoline accidentally spilled on hot surfaces could ignite. Store fuel and other flammable liquids (gasoline, propane, etc.) outside of living areas and away from heat sources. Never leave a running generator unattended.

Are You & Your Generator Hurricane-Ready?

If you’re using a generator, make sure you’re using it safely. You should also make sure your home and treasured possessions are covered in case of the worst-case scenario this hurricane season. Call your Edison agent to make sure you’re appropriately covered. If you’re not already an Edison policyholder, get a quote now to find out how much you can save at Edison.

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