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Use generators carefully, for safety's sake and your own

Whew! The winds of winter certainly have made themselves known lately!

In our blog last week, we talked about how to report power outages and how to stay safe in windy weather. Since then, hundreds of people in Grays Harbor were without power because of a major windstorm. We’re glad we were able to give you some basics about generator safety because it looks like more than a few of you needed to rely on generators this past week!

While we aren’t weather forecasters, we’d place our bets that we haven’t seen the last of the windstorms for the season. So, today we will add some more safety tips on operating generators.


Used properly, generators can mean light, heat and comfort during a storm or power outage. They can be true lifesavers. However, used improperly they can be life-takers.

So, if you own a generator, take some time before the lights go out (or go out again) to review the generator’s manufacturer’s directions so that you can plan ahead where to safely position and how to safely operate your generator. Even if you’ve already used yours this season, giving yourself a refresher on all the safety concerns will be time well spent.

The major key, of course, is to take special care so that the unit is placed so that exhaust cannot enter your home and cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

That reminds us to remind you that every home – especially those that might use a generator – needs to have a working carbon monoxide detector. If it has been awhile since you checked your carbon monoxide detector, take some time to do that now. While you’re at it, test your smoke alarms.

It’s important that each household that has a generator connected into the home’s electrical system in any way ensures that it has a UL-approved transfer switch that isolates the PUD’s equipment from the homeowner’s. 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.

To be clear -- if you plug a lamp or your refrigerator or another appliance directly to an extension cord that is directly energized by the generator then no switch is required. If the generator powers an appliance through the electrical power box you must have an isolation switch installed and inspected. Without this switch, the generator will “back feed” active electricity back to the transformer – the lines work both ways! Therefore, someone turning on their generator without such a switch will send energy to the transformer at 120 volts and come out at 7,200 volts – causing injury or even death to PUD crews working on the lines!

In addition to risks of life and limb, an improperly installed generator can also be ruined when the PUD personnel fix the outage and the power begins flowing through the lines again.

Once your generator is properly installed, here are some tips from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). For preventing a fire, carbon monoxide poisoning or other disaster in your home because of improper generator use, this is what you should do:

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

  • Always use generators outside your home, away from doors, windows and vents. One generator can produce as much carbon monoxide – an odorless, colorless gas – as 100 cars! Even using generators inside partially enclosed areas is courting disaster.

  • Do your best to keep the generator dry. Place the generator on a stable, dry surface under an open, canopy-like structure.

  • Dry your hands before touching the generator every time you touch it.

  • 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.

  • 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 fatal – shock.

  • Before refueling your generator, turn it off and let it cool. Never refuel the generator when it is running or hot! (Fuel spilled on the hot engine could 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.

  • In addition to carbon monoxide detectors, make sure to also have a dual sensor smoke alarm in your home This device will sound quickly for both a fire that has flames and a smoky fire that has fumes without flames.

  • Prepare an escape plan and practice it with those who live in your household twice a year. Talk with family members about the escape routes – should be at least two from each bedroom – as well as the predetermined meeting place outside of the home.


Not all of us have generators, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t review what to do when the power is out. Next week we’ll have some more tips for preparation and safely living through a time of power outages.


NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor is always looking for new contractors to bid rehab work. We never discriminate and payment is guaranteed. Call or e-mail us to find out more.

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