Safety first when using generators

Blowing snow, wind gusts from 20 to 30 mph, gusting to near 40 mph. That’s weather made for power outages.

Plummeting temperatures make it even worse.

Some are residents may utilize portable power generators or heaters in these circumstances. These items have their own set of dangers, however.

The Michigan Department of Community Health is urging residents who were impacted by strong wind storms to take proper safety precaution if the power is out.

Residents should be careful when using gas-powered generators, kerosene heaters or other alternative heating or power sources during power outages. If not used safely, they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, tasteless, and odorless gas formed when fuel is burned. The only way to tell if it is present is with a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide can build up to deadly levels within minutes in enclosed spaces.

Warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion, but not a fever. Carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to coma and in extreme cases death.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning when the power is out:

– Never run a generator inside your house or in your garage, and keep it away from windows and doors. (If theft is a concern, lock it to a tree or fence.)

– Never use charcoal or propane grills or camp stoves indoors.

– Do not use portable heaters powered by propane or kerosene inside.

– Always turn off your vehicle in the garage.

– Place a carbon monoxide detector in the hallway, outside bedrooms, or in all sleeping areas.

If you suspect you or a family member has carbon monoxide poisoning, get fresh air immediately and call 911.

Generator Safety

A generator usually costs between $400 and $2,000, depending on size and features. To determine the size of the generator you will need, total the wattage of the lights and appliances you need to power.

For example, a furnace (1/3 horsepower blower motor) takes 2,100 watts, a refrigerator, 1,800 watts; microwave, 700 watts; and two 100-watt light fixtures, 200 watts; for a total of total 4,800 watts.

A typical portable generator is rated at 3,000 to 7,500 watts.

Most household appliances are rated at 120 volts.

Some larger electric appliances (e.g., electric range, electric clothes dryer, well pump, air conditioner) are rated at 240 volts. If you want to power this type of appliance as well as smaller ones, you will need a generator that is rated at 120 to 240 volts.


Always read and follow all installation and operation instructions for your generator.

Some generators can be permanently connected to your electric system to energize your home’s wiring in the event of a power outage.

This type of installation requires a safety transfer switch. Before starting your generator, you must activate the switch. A transfer switch also eliminates the need for extension cords.

The switch disconnects your home’s wiring system from the electric company’s system and allows electricity to flow from the generator to your home’s circuitry.

The switch prevents the generator from back-feeding electricity into the power lines and possibly causing injury or death to unsuspecting utility workers trying to restore power.

Only a licensed electrician should install a transfer switch.

The Michigan Public Service Commission in the Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth offers and informative consumer alert that covers tips on how to determine the proper size of a generator to purchase, and how to install and use a generator safely. The consumer alert is available on the MPSC website.

Some tips include:

Never operate a generator indoors or in an unventilated area. The exhaust contains deadly carbon monoxide fumes.

– Do not store gasoline for a generator indoors. Gasoline should be stored in an approved, non-glass safety container.

– Extinguish all flames or cigarettes when handling gasoline or the generator.

– Always have a fully charged, approved fire extinguisher located near the generator. Make sure you have enough fuel to run a generator for an extended period of time – during a power outage, gas stations may be closed.

– Never refuel a generator while it is running. Shut it off and let it cool for 10 minutes before refueling to minimize the danger of fire.

– Parts of the generator are very hot during operation. Avoid contact especially with the muffler area. Keep children away at all times.

– Protect the generator from rain and other moisture sources to prevent shock.

– When not in use, store the generator in a dry location such as a garage or shed.

Safety experts also recommend that homeowners put together an emergency use kit for their home to prepare for power outages.

The kit should include:

– Flashlights.

– Battery powered radio.

– Extra batteries.

– Candles.

– Blankets.

– First aid kit.

– Nonperishable food.

– Battery operated lantern.

– Drinking water (one gallon per person per day).

– Some emergency cash.

You should also keep a list of emergency numbers near the telephone – including the number to the local electric company.

Unless telephone lines are down, landline telephone service should remain available during an electrical power outage. Cellular service may not work if power to the cell tower system is disrupted.