Hurricane prep: How to safely use a generator when the power goes out

While generators can make living life after a storm easier, it does not come without dangers. Geoff Youngblood, from Tool for a Time, offers some generator safety advice for you and your family.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Pacific hurricane season got a running start with Hurricane Agatha. Now, remnants of Agatha could reform, kicking off the Atlantic hurricane season. Chances are better for depression formation, but either way, the circulation will bring rain to parts of Florida.

When I think back to previous hurricane seasons, what stands out most was the 11 days we spent without electricity. First was a five-day stretch, and then the following year was six days. Having a portable generator made the days and nights much more comfortable.

While generators can make living life after a storm easier, it does not come without dangers.

When the power goes out due to the power of Mother Nature, a generator can make life after a storm much more comfortable. (WJXT)

Geoff Youngblood, from Tool for a Time, offers some generator safety advice for you and your family.

When the power goes out due to the power of Mother Nature, a generator can make life after a storm much more comfortable. However, if used incorrectly it can also kill you. On average, 70 people are killed by generators yearly. In 2020, the leading cause of death from hurricane Laura was generators.

Before the power goes out, look around and think about the appliances you will need. If you are like me, don’t forget the coffee pot.

Next, add the power requirements of the appliances and devices you will want to use. Check the back and sides for the manufacturer’s label with this info. If you plan on using lamps, add up the wattage of all the light bulbs you will use. To find the total amps you will need, divide watts by volts.

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It is always best to leave some room for a power surge or choose a generator that produces more amps than you need.

Those steps will help you decide whether a portable generator will suffice. If your need is greater than a small, portable generator can supply, then you may need a whole house generator.

Now let’s talk safety. Generators can make living without power much more comfortable, but with misuse, it can injure or kill you and your family.

Avoid hazards from carbon monoxide poisoning and electrocution.

Carbon monoxide

The primary hazard to avoid when placing a generator is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from engine exhaust.

The generator should never run in your garage. Even with an open door, the risk of carbon monoxide or fire is too great -- don’t chance it!

The primary hazard to avoid when placing a generator is carbon monoxide poisoning from engine exhaust. (WJXT)

Place your generator at least 6 feet away from your home, away from any door or window, with the exhaust facing away from your home.

An open canopy like a carport or a well-secured tarp or quick tent could be options to keep the generator dry while operating.

Electrocution

Avoid electrocution by keeping the generator dry and never operating in rain or standing water. Operate on a dry surface.

Check all connections and extension cords for cracks, frayed plastic of exposed wires and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin.

For your safety, for the safety of your house and the safety of local line-workers, never plug the generator into a wall or dryer outlet. This is called “backfeeding” power. (WJXT)

Connect appliances directly into the generator panel by using a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cord that is rated at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance load.

For your safety, for the safety of your house and the safety of local line workers, never plug the generator into a wall or dryer outlet. This is called “backfeeding” power. Don’t do it.

Refueling

At some point, the fuel in the tank will run out. Use extreme caution when refilling the tank.

Never fill a hot or running generator. Be sure to turn the generator off and let it cool to the touch before refueling. The area around the filling spout and tank should be cool enough to touch.

Speaking of fuel, always store fuel in an approved fuel storage can. Store fuel outside of living areas in a locked shed or other protected areas. To guard against accidental fire, do not store fuel in a garage.

Always store fuel in an approved fuel storage can. (WJXT)

Safe use

Appliances can be plugged into the power source as needed. It may be necessary to stagger the operating times for various appliances to prevent overloads.

In our house, for instance, we have a portable AC that draws about as much power as a refrigerator. Using the proper extension cords, we alternate between powering one at a time. Remember a chilled refrigerator will stay cool for several hours with the door closed.

Other things to consider. Will your generator start now if you needed it? When was the last time it ran? When was the last oil change? How much fuel can you safely store?

Generators can make living without power much more comfortable, but with misuse it can injure or kill you and your family. (WJXT)

It’s good practice to give the motor and the generator a spin before it’s really needed. If you can’t remember the last time the oil was changed, change it now. Also, have a quart or two handy to top off the levels between operation.

My hopes are the same every year. I will go through all of these practices in the hope I will not need my generator. If I do, I know it’s ready to go and my family will be as safe and comfortable as can be expected following a storm.


About the Author:

The Morning Show forecaster, comic foil, culinary expert, home improvement expert and beer connoisseur.