A portable or “whole-house” electrical generator can be a big help after a hurricane. But AARP’s Florida state director urged Floridians to take care when using electrical power generators for backup power during power outages, citing at least four deaths in incidents in Central and South Florida in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Three died in a home near Daytona Beach and another four were rushed to a nearby hospital, according to news reports. One man was found dead in his home in Miami, authorities said. Another person died in a suspected carbon monoxide poisoning case in Orlando. In two of the cases, early news reports cited power generators running inside homes.
‘’If your neighborhood ‘goes dark’ in the aftermath of a hurricane, having a generator can be a lifesaver. It can help keep food, liquids, and medications cool,” said Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida state director. “But like any other power tool, we must learn how to use generators safely.”
Scores of thousands of Floridians now own backup power generators. Many generator purchasers may not yet be familiar with using them. Officials urged generator users to consider:
• Ventilation. Electrical power generators create exhaust fumes that contain carbon monoxide – an odorless, invisible gas that can disable an adult in minutes and kill quickly. Generators always should be positioned outdoors, never in a garage or sunroom, and away from doors or windows of your home or your neighbor’s. Also, residents should avoid placing generators under or close to the air intakes for your attic or intakes for air-conditioning or other ventilation equipment.
• Carbon monoxide monitors. Since carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible, the only sure way to know if your home is at risk is to install carbon monoxide monitors in each sleeping area of the home. These devices are available from many hardware and home improvement stores from about $45 to $70.
• Fuel storage. Generator fuel must be properly stored away from sparks or other fire risks. If possible, store fuel in a tool or storage shed not attached to your home or another major structure, to reduce risk if there is a fire. In addition, consider adding liquid fuel stabilizer to gasoline or diesel fuel that will be stored for a month or more. The stabilizer not only helps keep fuel from going bad, it also keeps the fuel system of your generator operating properly. Trying to start a generator with a clogged fuel system in Florida’s hot weather can bring on risks to your heart, particularly for older generator users.
• Power overloads. You can damage your generator and possibly other equipment by attempting to run more electrical equipment than your generator can handle. To learn the power demands of commonly used electrical equipment, go to https://energy.gov/energysaver/estimating-appliance-and-home-electronic-energy-use or ask your power company to perform a power audit of your home.
• Power cords. To avoid shock and minimize the risk of fire, use the heaviest gauge power cords available – preferably 10- or 8-gauge cords or heavier. (The smaller the gauge number, the heavier the power cord.) Don’t run power cords under rugs or carpets, and check the cords when in use to make sure that heat in the cord doesn’t build up to unsafe levels.
Carbon monoxide poisoning created by electrical generator use is a national concern. In a 2015 study, the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission found 702 deaths associated with generators in a 10-year period ending in 2014. Generators were involved in 81 percent of all deaths involving engine-driven tools of any kind. Most fatalities occurred when the generator was placed inside a home or other structure.
To learn more about generator safety, users should carefully read the owners’ manual that came with their generator, or contact the manufacturer for a replacement manual if the original has been lost. Consumer Reports, a publication of the Consumer Federation, published a recent update on generator safety here: https://www.consumerreports.org/generators/generator-safety-tips-to-get-you-through-a-storm/