There is usually a frantic rush in the final hour before a cyclone to acquire the last available portable gasoline emergency generator. Thousands of emergency generators are sold over the counter to well-intentioned homeowners who are unaware of the dangers of poor installation. Too frequently after a storm, a lineman is murdered by an illegally placed generator that is back feeding the power wires.
Improperly placed generators may endanger you, your family, and the employees working on power lines.
There are conditions in the aftermath of a tragedy that bypass standard safety protocols. Independent construction contractors are largely relied upon by utility corporations to swiftly repair power lines. Employees of private contractors are often unfamiliar with the area and the established utility company processes. On top of that, there’s the stress of working long hours in adverse weather and the pressure to restore electricity to thousands of customers, some of whom are in desperate need.
On the day of the storm, as an electrician, I am often approached for free advice on the installation of emergency generators. I say free because no one expects to pay for competent advice unless they are a doctor or a lawyer. Strangers often visit my house at weird hours seeking advice on electrical installations or difficulties. Of course, in the Deep South, such generosity is normally expected, and I am always prepared to provide free safety advice.
I strongly advise against plugging portable generators directly into the building’s electrical system. However, if you insist on using a generator, I usually advocate using a double-throw transfer valve to prevent the generator from back-feeding the utility lines. I also propose some trained and licensed professionals for a good and safe installation. My last comments are invariably a threat of criminal prosecution and culpability for risking the lives of electrical utility personnel. I am aware that in most situations when it comes to safety, my counsel is not taken seriously. The generator should be correctly placed prior to an emergency, not immediately before or after the next cyclone.
If you insist on connecting a generator to your house or business’s current electrical system, you must utilize a double-throw transfer switch. The transfer switch is critical for the safety of the lineman trying to restore electricity. You may be held accountable for any deaths or property damage caused by back-feeding utility wires. Municipal and construction rules also demand a transfer switch or relay.
Here are some more precautions to take while installing and operating portable emergency generators.
- Read, comprehend, and adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Never use the generator indoors or in a confined location. Avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and fume igniting induced by fuel evaporation.
- Make sure the generator is not overloaded. Overloading the generator might harm it and create a fire danger.
- The generator must be properly grounded to prevent electrical shock. The grounding connection of the electrical service is the finest spot to ground your generator. A ground rod or a cold water line might be involved. Any connection within the electrical service panel should be made only by a certified electrician. No current ground connections should be opened.
- The National Electrical Code must be followed for all electrical connections. You may be held accountable for property damage or personal harm caused by an emergency generator that was incorrectly installed or used.
- Never ever plug your generator into a wall outlet. If the branch circuit is not big enough to accommodate the whole load, a fire danger occurs. It is not always the case. Then there’s the risk of an electrified male plug end. Most importantly, if the wiring is not separated, the generator will feed back into the utility lines.
- Operation in damp or possibly moist situations may result in electrical shock or electrocution. If you are wet or standing in water, avoid coming into touch with the generator.
- Inspect the generator cords to ensure they are in excellent condition, are rated for outside usage, and have the correct wire gauge size for the appliance load.
- Never store gasoline inside or refill a running generator.