While generators are typically beyond the scope of the average home inspection, it is still important for everyone to be aware of how to be safe while using them. We Ohio home inspectors do see them with more frequency than several years ago. Generator misuse can cause carbon monoxide deaths, injuries from close calls, and burns. All of those things happen far too often when a power outage or storm hits, especially since they are entirely preventable incidents. Allowing a generator to improperly run can kill you in as little as five minutes if the concentration of carbon monoxide gets high enough. The CPSC (or Consumer Product Safety Commission) has estimated that about 50 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning related to incorrect generator use. The good news is that by exercising common sense and following these simple rules, you and your family will not be included in that statistic.
Do not run your generator in an enclosed space or indoors. This includes sheds, basements/attics, and attached garages. A significant number of generator-related injuries and deaths are the result of placing the generator in an enclosed space or even inside the home. Enclosed spaces can hold deadly levels of carbon monoxide, which is why you should place the generator at least 15 feet from the house and away from doors and windows.
Do not allow your generator to run in the rain. The only exception to this would be if you covered and vented it. Model-specific tents can be purchased online and generic covers can be purchased at home centers and hardware stores.
If your generator is gasoline powered, turn it off and allow it to cool before refueling. Spilled gasoline on hot engine parts can ignite. The risk of burns is also reduced by allowing the engine to cool. You should also know to store your fuel properly. Only store gas in an ANSI-approved container in a cool, well-ventilated area. Do not store gasoline near any heat or fire sources nor inside the home.
If you don’t have a transfer switch you may use the outlets on the generator, provided you follow a few precautions. It’s safest to plug appliances directly to the generator. However, if you must use an extension cord, ensure it is a heavy-duty cord intended for outdoor use; and is rated in watts or amps to be at least equal to the sum of all connected appliance loads. Check that the entire length of cord is free is free of cuts and that the plug has all three prongs. This is critical in protecting against a shock if water manages to collect inside the equipment. It is also in your best interest to install a transfer switch. It will cost from $500 to $900 with labor for a 5,000-rated-watt or larger generator. A transfer switch connects your generator to your circuit panel, allowing you to power hardwired appliances while avoiding the striking safety risk of extension cords. The majority of transfer switches will also assist in avoiding overload by displaying wattage usage levels.
Finally: do not try to backfeed your house. Backfeeding is when someone attempts to power their home’s wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet, and is very dangerous. Not only does it present an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors on the same utility transformer; it also bypasses some of your home’s built-in circuit protection devices. Meaning, you could destroy some of your electronics or spark an electrical fire.
All of this sounds very alarming, but don’t let it scare you off generators entirely. If used properly, generators are a very useful and potentially life-saving tool. Just be smart!
Habitation Investigation company provides home inspections in the Central Ohio Columbus and home inspection in the Dayton Ohio areas, Hilliard, Powell, Pickerington, Pataskala, New Albany, Delaware, Gahanna, Westerville, Galloway, Grove City, Worthington, Dublin, Marysville, London, West Jefferson, Mechanicsburg and other cities surrounding Columbus, Ohio. His home inspection company is Habitation Investigation LLC. The website is: http://www.homeinspectionsinohio.com
Written by Kaitlyn Troth of Troth Media