Electrical inspectors’ meeting offers timely advice on use of portable generators

Published on September 19, 2006
Homeowners often unaware of life-threatening risks

September 19, 2006 – Mark W. Earley, P.E., Assistant Vice President/Chief Electrical Engineer with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) warned about the dangers of improper use of portable generators at the Western Section Meeting of the International Association of Electrical Inspectors’ Association (IAEI) held this week in Traverse City, Mich.

“Recent natural disasters have created a significant increase in the number of homeowners who have purchased portable electric generators,” said Mr. Earley. “Yet homeowners often ignore or are unaware of the proper way to safely use the generator.”

The most common dangers associated with portable generators are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, electrical shock or electrocution, and fire hazards.

James W. Carpenter, executive director and CEO of IAEI echoed concerns but stressed there are simple ways to avoid harming yourself or your property. “Some homeowners are running the risk of electric shock or electrocution, and creating potential fire hazards but there are ways to minimize risk and sufficiently power your home during an emergency situation.”

NFPA, publisher of the National Electrical Code®, (NEC) and the IAEI recommended the following tips for proper use of portable generators.

  • Generators should be operated in well ventilated locations outdoors away from all doors, windows and vent openings.
  • The generator should be located so that exhaust fumes cannot enter the home through windows, doors or other building openings.
  • Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with a battery back-up in your home according to the manufacturer’s installations instructions. Should CO enter your home and pose a risk, an alarm will sound to warn you.
  • Do not refuel the generator while it is running. Turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling.
  • Never store fuel for your generator in your home. Gasoline and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in properly-labeled safety containers. They should be stored away from any fuel-burning appliance such as a gas hot water heater.
  • Plug appliances directly into the generator or use a heavy duty outdoor-rated extension cord. Make sure the cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin. Do not try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet.
  • If you must connect the generator to the house wiring to power appliances, have a qualified electrician install a properly rated transfer switch in accordance with the NEC and all applicable state and local electrical codes.

IAEI has provided an unbiased forum on electrical safety since before 1928. The mission to promote uniform and consistent application of electrical codes and standards to installations and systems has been a hallmark of the association. IAEI brings the unique prospective of code enforcement to the Code Making process as well as providing educational opportunities for its members and others in the electrical industry. The Western Section includes Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

NFPA has been a worldwide leader in providing fire, electrical, building, and life safety to the public since 1896. The mission of the international nonprofit organization is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training and education. NFPA publishes the National Electrical Code®.

Contact: Lorraine Carli, Public Affairs Office: +1-617-984-7275