Mike Jackson of Morgan City, Louisiana, got extra gas tanks, multiple generators, and a portable air conditioner while he and his family prepared to ride Hurricane Ida on August 28.

How to use the generator safely during a power outage

“When a storm hits and the electricity goes out for an extended period of time, people will buy a portable generator to run their home or pull one they already have,” said Nicolette Nye, a spokeswoman for American Consumers. Product Safety Authority.

Emergency Medical Services in New Orleans mentioned Twelve patients suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with portable generators were taken to hospitals on 1 September. The city is still experiencing power outages due to the storm, and officials say the outage could last for weeks.

If you’re short on power and considering a portable generator, here are seven tips for doing so safely.

1. Install battery-powered carbon monoxide alarms

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas produced when fossil fuels — coal, crude oil, or natural gas — are burned by furnaces, portable heaters, generators, vehicles, stoves, grills, gas ranges, or stoves. Depending on the power capacity of the generator, carbon monoxide can emit as much carbon monoxide as a few hundred parked cars.
Inhaling large amounts of carbon monoxide can cause symptoms including headache, upset stomach, dizziness, weakness, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Depending on how much you inhale and your health condition, you may faint or die.
Nye said installing and testing a battery-powered carbon monoxide monitor with a digital readout that shows the level of carbon dioxide concentration is a critical way to find out exposure levels for carbon monoxide.
A battery-powered smoke detector may indicate if it is also equipped with a carbon monoxide monitor. Levels higher than 1 to 70 parts per million can cause symptoms.

As the carbon monoxide sinks, it’s important to have a screen in the basement. But the potential for exposure on every floor means that you should have screens in or near the main living areas and bedrooms so they can wake you up with an alarm while you sleep.

2. Disconnect the natural power source

The CDC advised, even if you lose electricity, you still need to disconnect the normal power supply by turning off the mains breaker or fuse before connecting the generator to a household circuit.
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If you don’t, “the electrical current can reverse, back through the circuit to the external power grid, and energize power lines or electrical systems in other buildings to or near their original voltage without the utilities or other workers knowing,” the CDC warned.

This feedback can electrocute utility workers or people in nearby buildings, said Paul Hope, home and garden editor for Consumer Reports.

3. Know where and how to place it

The generators are for external use only, away from any physical structures. The National Weather Service said You should keep the generator at least 20 feet from doors, windows, and vents, and never operate it indoors or in the garage, even if the doors and windows are open.

A very common fatal scenario, Hope said, is when rainy weather causes people to put generators in their garage and possibly open their garage door, letting exhaust into the home.

“Often, this kind of desperate situation is in the immediate aftermath of a storm — people who haven’t used the generator probably have no idea how serious it is or think the warning is exaggerated. And it really isn’t,” he says.

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Also, make sure your alternator is properly grounded to help prevent shock and electrocution, which you can do by referring to US Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines.

4. Keep the generator dry

Operating the generator in dry environments and on dry surfaces is also important to prevent hazards. If you are wet or standing in water, dry yourself and/or stay away from the water before starting the generator.

If the weather is rainy, you can use an umbrella-like structure to protect the generator from water.

5. Connect the equipment directly to the generator

To connect equipment such as refrigerators or laptop chargers directly to the generator, “use heavy-duty outdoor rated extension cords that are in good working order and have a wire gauge that can handle the electrical load of any connected devices,” the US Office of Energy Management advised.

Hope said the generator owner’s manual should indicate the gauge you need. He added that when you shop, know that “the lower the number (the gauge), the thicker and thicker the wire, the more electricity it can safely carry.”

Do not connect one extension cord to another. If you use a flimsy, thin wire, you can send a lot of electricity through it and start a fire.

And remember: thicker, outdoor-rated extension cords are made to protect against the elements, but the generator itself must still be kept dry.

6. Take care of your fuel

If you need to store fuel, consider how much and how long you can store it, because gasoline or diesel fuel that has been saved for more than a month may need additional chemicals added to remain usable.

Check with your generator supplier or manufacturer’s instructions for guidance, or purchase a fuel stabilizer at a hardware store or gas station, which will allow you to store it for another 18 to 24 months, Hope says. Store fuel in American National Standards Institute or OSHA approved containers, and in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place, away from all potential heat sources.

Before refueling, turn off the generator and let it cool down. If the generator is hot during refueling, any gas that spills from the outside can catch fire, Nye said.

Additionally, “if there’s a really big storm, like the last hurricane, and the gas stations themselves don’t have power, it becomes even more important to prioritize what you want to power it,” Hope said. “Things like medical equipment, usually cooling, phone chargers, laptops, anything you might need to communicate for safety — these are all really cool things to run.”

7. Regularly check and maintain the generator

Caring for your generator includes regularly checking above-ground storage tanks, pipes, and valves for cracks and leaks, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If anything is damaged, replace it immediately.

If the alternator is in good condition, keep fresh fuel in the tank and run the alternator intermittently so it is ready for emergencies.

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