Portable generators must never be used indoors or placed too close to the house; they generate deadly carbon monoxide gas. Improperly maintained wood stoves, furnaces and fireplaces also generate deadly carbon monoxide. Review these safety tips for portable generator use (LINK TO important safety tips…) and ways to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide buildup (LINK to Preventing Carbon Monoxide poisoning)

You wouldn’t start your automobile in the house, don’t run a generator in the house or near air intakes.

Important safety tips for Portable Generators

Carbon monoxide deaths associated with generators have spiked in recent years as generator sales have risen.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 81 percent of all CO-related deaths between 2004 and 2013 were linked to generators alone; another 6 percent involved generators and another product.

Most of these fatalities occurred during power outages.

Avoid Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (known as CO) is a deadly gas produced by the incomplete combustion of fuel. Because you can neither see, smell or taste it, CO can build to deadly levels without your knowing it.

Generators are powered by gasoline and, therefore, generate CO. Never operate a generator indoors, including in a basement or garage or in areas with ventilation. Operate generators at least 5 feet from windows, doors and vents that could allow CO to enter your home.

Generators emit far higher levels of carbon monoxide than an automobile. Opening doors and window or using fans will not prevent CO build-up in the home.

The initial symptoms of CO poisoning resemble ordinary flu symptoms. If you start to feel sick, dizzy or weak while a generator is in use, leave the house and get fresh air immediately. Call 911.

Every home should be equipped with CO alarms that sound when levels of CO build to unsafe levels. They are available in home supply and hardware stores.

Avoid Electric Shock and Electrocution

To avoid the danger of electrocution or shock when using a generator:
  • Plug in only the wattage the generator is rated for, using three-pin grounded cords designed for outdoor use. Never plug a generator into a wall socket; this can lead to electrical damages to the house and generator. Worse, it may cause electrocution of utility workers or others using the same utility transformer.
  • Because portable generators produce electricity, they should never be used in rain or standing water. Operate on a dry surface under an open, canopy-like structure. Never touch a generator while standing in water or with wet hands.
  • Grounding is essential for all models, even those equipped with Ground Fault Interrupters. If the generator is not grounded, the GFI might not function at all. Refer to the owner’s manual for the proper sizes and materials recommended for grounding.

Avoid Fire Hazards

To avoid the threat of fire:
  • Before refueling, always turn the engine off and allow it to cool completely. Fuel spilled on hot engine parts can ignite.
  • Invisible fumes from fuel can travel and become ignited by other appliances, such as the pilot from a gas water heater. Store gasoline, kerosene, propane or any flammable liquid outside living areas in labeled containers.

While portable generators can be useful in filling the need for temporary power, great care should be taken before and during use. Thoroughly read and follow the manufacturer's directions to ensure that you understand how to use a generator safely.

Preventing Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas. It is a common byproduct of incomplete combustion, produced when fuels (oil, gas, coal or wood) burn. Because you can't see, taste or smell it, carbon monoxide can make you sick—or even kill you—before you know it's there.

Carbon monoxide robs the body of oxygen. When you inhale CO, it bonds with the hemoglobin in your blood and displaces oxygen, producing a toxic compound called carboxyhemoglobin (COHb).

We're all at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning but some groups are especially vulnerable: children, the elderly and people with heart and lung problems. Poorly maintained homes or apartments are susceptible to CO problems.

Where Does Carbon Monoxide (CO) Come From?

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas produced by the incomplete burning of solid, liquid or gaseous fuels such as oil, kerosene, coal and wood. It can be produced by gas or oil appliances such as furnaces, clothes dryers, water heaters, ranges, ovens or space heaters. It is also produced by fireplaces and wood burning stoves.

If appliances are working properly and your house is vented correctly, CO should not be a problem. But a clogged chimney, improper venting or an appliance malfunction can cause a buildup of CO. In some cases, problems arise even if appliances are working properly due to problems such as the re-circulation of exhaust, backdrafting and lack of fresh air in the home.

The National Fire Protection Association provides detailed information on carbon monoxide poisoning in the U.S.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

One of the problems with CO poisoning is that initial symptoms are not serious enough to signal a life-threatening issue. The symptoms are often flu-like and include headaches, dizziness, weakness and fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, confusion and irritability.

CO is measured in parts per million (ppm). At low levels, victims experience mild, flu-like symptoms. Symptoms become more serious as the level of CO increases or if the time of exposure lengthens. Victims may experience vomiting and unconsciousness and, eventually, death. Exposure of 400 ppm for three hours can kill you; so can longer exposures to lower concentrations of CO.

If you experience any of these symptoms and suspect CO may be a factor, open the windows and doors to let in fresh air, turn off combustion appliances, get out of the house and call 911. First responders will try to pinpoint the problem; if CO is the culprit, the problem must be fixed before you can return.