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Keeping your loved ones safe with a generator in Michigan’s often changing weather may be on your mind. Generators offer a valuable backup power source during outages, but if they’re not used properly, they can also pose a serious safety risk. That’s why it’s important to know how to use a generator safely, so you’re ready for emergencies.

Protect your home and your family by following these safety tips:

  • Select the right generator. Generator safety begins at the time of purchase. Before you buy, you’ll first want to determine your wattage needs. Think about what items you need to use and add up the wattage. This is known as the “constant wattage.” Your generator should meet or exceed your constant wattage and “start-up wattage,” which supports motor-driven appliances like refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners. In addition, make sure the voltage rating on your generator matches the rating on the appliances you want to run. Consult a licensed electrician to help you determine which generator is right for you.
  • Never run generators, grills, camp stoves, and other gas-burning devices indoors, including in a garage, basement, or even a partially enclosed space. When generators are run in enclosed spaces, they emit dangerous carbon monoxide (CO), which can lead to CO poisoning and even death. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 700 people have died from CO poisoning by generators between 2010 and 2020. Before operating a generator, you should remember to:
    • Place your generator outside (the Electrical Safety Foundation recommends at least 25 feet away from your home), and point the engine exhaust away from windows and doors.
    • Make sure you have properly working battery-powered CO detectors. Test your CO detectors once monthly and remember to change the batteries at least twice per year. A helpful tip is to change the batteries as you set your clocks back for daylight saving time, once in the fall and once in the spring.
    • Learn how to recognize symptoms of CO poisoning so you can get help right away. Carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless and can be fatal in just five minutes. If you’re experiencing symptoms like dizziness, headache, nausea and tiredness after running a generator, go to an open area with fresh air immediately. Do NOT wait.
  • Don’t plug your generator into the wall. Plugging a generator directly into a wall outlet can cause something known as “backfeed.” Backfeed is when the generator begins feeding electricity back into the power lines. As a result, you could cause damage to both you and your neighbor’s homes, and seriously injure those who may be working on the lines to restore power. Instead, use one of the following hookup methods:
    • Have a qualified electrician install a transfer switch. A transfer switch closes the path of electricity between our power lines and your main electrical panel and opens the path between the panel and the generator.
    • If you don’t install a transfer switch, connect all appliances you want to use directly to the outlets on the generator using “UL certified” heavy-duty extension cords. Avoid overloading by prioritizing your most important equipment, staggering operating hours and turning on appliances one at a time when starting the generator.
  • Keep your generator in a dry location. Make sure you and your generator are in a dry location, and your hands are dry, before starting it. Avoid using a generator in wet conditions and keep it away from pooling water. There are canopy-like tents you can buy that are made specifically for keeping generators well-protected and ventilated.
  • Let your generator cool before refueling. When adding fuel to a gas-powered generator, turn it off and let it cool down before adding more fuel to minimize the risk of burns and fire hazards. Always keep children and pets away from a generator as most parts are hot enough to burn you.
  • Keep extra fuel on hand and store it in a safe place. If you need your generator for an extended period, you’ll want to have extra fuel available. Gas should be stored in an approved container that’s designed for its contents and is well-vented. You should also keep gas away from any heat source, like matches, water heaters or cigarettes, and store it outside of the home.

When handled with caution, generators can be a valuable resource in providing you and your family with the power you need to keep your routine on track during an outage.

Want to learn more? Download this infographic on portable generator safety from the Electrical Safety Foundation International.