Power outages are not uncommon in Virginia, especially during hurricane season. One of the most frustrating things about them, of course, is that you never know how long they will last. Depending on the situation, you could be without power for days!
Cool drinks and old-fashioned fans might be enough to get you through a few hours, but after that, the sweltering heat and inconvenience might start to become uncomfortable. As a result, many people in the area have invested in backup power generators to keep things running in the event of an outage.
While this piece of modern technology can be very helpful, we need to remember that generators can also be dangerous when not used properly. If you’re planning to use one, here are some tips for using your backup power source safely.
Know the Risks
You may be more likely to experience a power outage during hurricane season, but they happen often during winter storms, too. That means that, if you’re planning to use a generator, you face risks year-round. Because of this, it’s important to understand how to protect yourself, your family and your home.
Sadly, generator misuse contributes to carbon monoxide-related deaths (an average of 66 per year!), burns and other injuries. Worse yet, these tragedies occur when weather conditions are bad and the power is out, leaving people with fewer resources to manage the critical situation. That’s a very dangerous combination.
Most people don’t use generators regularly enough to become familiar with their use and may overlook basic safety measures that are necessary to stay safe. As a result, things can go wrong very quickly, especially when we are distracted by other things (such as the howling wind battering our homes!).
Never Use a Generator Indoors
The first rule is, by far, the most important thing to remember when using a generator. No matter what, never run a generator in an enclosed space or inside of your home. Even partially enclosed spaces should be avoided! Why? Because the lack of ventilation will dramatically increase your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Always be sure that your generator as at least 20 feet from your home to avoid having any of the engine exhaust seeping inside of your doors and windows. Additionally, use a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector to ensure the air that you’re breathing is safe.
Keep the Generator Dry
With your generator outdoors, and a hurricane approaching, there’s a good chance it will be raining too. You should never, however, leave it exposed to the elements. There are tents, canopies and tarps that are designed to protect generators and avoid them becoming wet.
To reduce the chances of electrocution, never touch a generator with wet hands. This is incredibly important because it’s a mistake that could cost you your life.
Be Smart When Refueling
When using a generator, eventually you’re going to need to add fuel — but be careful! The generator itself could be hot, causing burns, and if you try to add gasoline and spill any onto the hot engine parts, it can ignite! When your generator is running low on fuel, the best thing you can do is unplug it and let it cool before topping it up. A few minutes without electricity is worth the safety!
Be sure to stock up on extra gasoline, but make sure it is stored in an ANSI-approved container. This might sound obvious, but gasoline should always be kept in a cool, well-ventilated space away from people. Some local laws might limit how much fuel can be kept, so check with your fire department for recommendations.
Avoid Electrical Hazards
Before storm season begins, have a transfer switch installed. This provides a direct connection between your generator and your home’s circuit panel, allowing you to power larger appliances without using dangerous extension cords. A transfer switch will also display wattage usage levels, which can help prevent overload.
Without a transfer switch, the best thing you can do is plug appliances directly into the generator to minimize risks. If you absolutely must use an extension cord, opt for the heavy-duty kind designed for outdoor use.
Can a Generator Power Your Air Conditioner?
Portable generators can help keep you comfortable during a lengthy outage, but can they also cool the air in your home? The answer to this depends on several factors, but generally speaking, you’ll need a generator with a lot of power.
Basically, you’ll need to know your generator’s starting wattage and running wattage capacity before you can determine whether it’s safe to use your central air conditioning unit — especially if you’re using the generator to provide electricity to other elements within your home. This can be complicated, of course, so you may want to reach out to a professional for help.
Contact W.G. Speeks
We’ve been working with residents in the Greater Richmond Region for more than 75 hurricane seasons. Our NATE-certified technicians can provide guidance for managing your HVAC unit during power outages and keeping your home safe. Call us today for a free consultation. When you’ve got problems, we’ll help you find the solution!