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Don't Generate Disaster in your House: Use Generator Wisely

We sure hope our brand new year – 2018 – comes in quietly.

However, it’s more than just a possibility that sometime this year that generator you have might be put into service. When the power is out, generators can be a great source of energy to at least save your investment of food stored in the refrigerator or freezer; provide some lights; maybe even for a heating device. The big ones, when sized and installed right, may be able to run the whole house and come on automatically!

However, that same device wrongly installed or wrongly used can create deadly disasters of its own.

For generators it’s important that people have a UL approved transfer switch that isolates the PUD’s facilities from the homeowner’s – and vice versa. This needs to be installed by a qualified electrician or by the homeowner and permitted and inspected by the officiating electrical inspector serving your area.

If this doesn’t occur, the generator will “back feed” active electricity back to the transformer – the lines work both ways! So, if someone fires up their generator it will go into the transformer at 120 volts and come out at 7,200 volts, causing injury or even death to PUD personnel working on the lines.

In addition to risking injury or death to workers, a generator that isn’t properly installed can also be at risk and ruined when the PUD crews fix the outage and the power begins flowing through the lines again. Safety first!


Once it’s properly installed, a generator also needs to be properly used.

Here are some safety tips from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) for preventing a fire or other disaster in your home due to improper generator use.

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

  • Always use generators outside your home, away from doors, windows and vents. Using generators inside buildings or even in partially enclosed areas – even with ventilation – is courting a disastrous run-in with fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. (One generator can produce as much carbon monoxide as 100 cars!)

  • Keep the generator dry. Place it on a dry surface under an open, canopy-like structure.

  • Dry your hands before touching the generator.

  • Plug appliances directly into the generator or use a heavy-duty outdoor-rated extension cord. Ensure the entire cord is free of cuts and tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin.

  • Never plug the generator into a wall outlet. This can cause utility workers and others using the same transformer to receive an injurious or even deadly shock.

  • Do not refuel the generator when it is running or hot. Before refueling, turn it off and let it cool. (Fuel spilled on the hot engine cold burst into flame.)

  • Store fuel outside of your living area in clearly labeled containers. (Not glass!). Make sure the containers are kept away from fuel-burning appliances.

  • Place battery-operated or plug-in (with battery backup) carbon monoxide alarms in your home. Make sure to test the carbon monoxide detectors often and replace batteries as needed.

  • Make sure to also have a “dual sensor smoke alarm” in your home. This device can sound fast for a fire that has flames and a smoky fire that has fumes without flames.

  • Prepare an escape plan and practice twice a year. Talk with family members about the escape routes – should have at least two – from their bedrooms.


In addition to the risks a poorly installed generator has to lineman and its fire risks, if a generator is used incorrectly it can be a carbon poisoning monoxide risk.

Any fossil fuel – think people bringing barbecues or a kerosene lantern inside their home – can cause a severe risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In the storm of 2007, and in storms since then, many people locally have been affected by the dangerous inhalation of carbon monoxide.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, headache, confusion and nausea.

Unfortunately, because most of the carbon monoxide cases occur in the winter, often people confuse the symptoms with the flu.

If you or a loved one might have been exposed to carbon monoxide, get those lungs outside! It’s critical to get fresh air in your lungs as soon as possible and call 911 immediately.


Carbon Monoxide alarms are now required to be in every rental, hotel, apartment, and remodeled home as well as all new residential construction.

That means that the powers that be recognized the life-saving ability of the relatively inexpensive device.

With the average age of the housing stock on the Harbor somewhere around 80 years old, likely many homes around here don’t have a carbon monoxide detector.

Don’t let your home be one of them! Start the New Year with that extra bit of assurance. (They cost about $30 to $50.)

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks® of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County. Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.

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