Nailing It Down — Remind yourself how to safely use a generator

Who knows what this winter’s weather will include — especially after the winds and rain last week! But, if we end up with storms that knock out the power, it’s good to be prepared.

Many folks around here have prepared themselves by purchasing a generator. Now we’d like to remind you to take a moment with us to review how to safely operate a generator. It would be a shame if the very thing that you purchased for the safety and comfort of your family also became the cause of disaster.

While a generator can provide the energy to bring heat, light and refrigeration, operators must first be very aware of the possible risks for the generator to cause carbon monoxide poisoning, fire, electric shock and other potential hazards.

The folks at the Aberdeen Fire Department have given us some tips to pass along to help keep our community safer and healthier.

A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the importance of carbon monoxide detectors. If you haven’t purchased one yet, give yourself an early Christmas present for safety’s sake.

Another risk with generators is the need have some extra fuel for that emergency in the future. “It can be treacherous for us to go into a house and find that gasoline is stockpiled in a back room,” Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard said.

It is critical to store any fuel in a smart way — far from anything that could ignite it. (By the way, that also goes for lantern fuel and anything else combustible!)

Here are some other safety tips for using generators:


• Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines.

• Always operate generators outside, away from doors, windows and vents.

• NEVER use generators inside buildings or partially enclosed areas, even with ventilation. (Carbon monoxide fumes released by the generator are colorless and odorless and can quickly overwhelm you indoors.)

• Know how to stop the generator quickly in case of an emergency.

• Make sure your home has a working carbon monoxide detector. (Check the battery, annually.)

• Use appropriate sized and type power cords to carry the electrical load. Overloaded cords can overheat and cause fires.

• Plug appliances directly into the generator or use a heavy-duty outdoor-rated extension cord. Make sure the entire extension cord is free of cuts or tears and the plug has all three prongs.

• Never run cords under rugs or carpets where heat might build up or damage to a cord may go unnoticed.

• Always run an extension cord out to the generator; never plug the generator into a wall outlet because power will feed right back into the line, which could easily electrocute you or utility workers. It’s not only terribly unsafe, but it’s also illegal.

• Keep children and pets away from the generator while it is running.

• Don’t make modifications to the fuel or exhaust system. That can add stress to the original equipment, possibly resulting in exhaust leaks.

• Keep the area around the generator unobstructed for cooling and exhaust.

• Dry your hands before touching the generator.

• Operating in dry conditions isn’t always possible. But, avoid operating the generator near a pool or sprinkler system. Also, avoid operating it with wet hands, feet or clothing. Heavy moisture or ice can cause a malfunction or short circuit in electrical components that could result in damage to the unit or even electrocution.

• Operate the generator on a firm, level surface away from dusty or sandy conditions.

• Do not smoke or allow sparks in the area when refueling.

• Never refuel while the generator is running. Refuel the generator with the engine stopped and cool.

• Wipe up spilled fuel before starting the generator. The engine produces enough heat at the exhaust system and the generator produces enough static electricity to ignite the fuel vapors.

• Remember that most generators people buy are small and not intended to keep the whole house running, just one major appliance or a TV and a couple lights. Don’t overload it.

• Store fuel outside of living areas in clearly labeled, non-glass containers, away from fuel-burning appliances.

• Remember that carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms can be easily mistaken for the flu. If you have headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, or dizziness while a generator is running nearby, consider the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning. (Get fresh air immediately and call 911 if symptoms are severe.)

If you have questions on how to safely run your generator, don’t wait until an emergency, call your local fire department or the PUD during their normal business hours.

Or, call the retailer or manufacturer of the generator. Other good sources of information can be found on a web search.

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks® of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County.

Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.