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Hurricane Florence: Out of power? Beware: Generators can kill, too

Hardware supervisor Dwayne Shope, demonstrates features on a floor model generator at a Home Depot store in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, May 17, 2007. The federal government is now requiring that all new portable generators carry a warning about the hazards of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Hardware supervisor Dwayne Shope, demonstrates features on a floor model generator at a Home Depot store in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, May 17, 2007. The federal government is now requiring that all new portable generators carry a warning about the hazards of carbon monoxide poisoning. ASSOCIATED PRESS

So, you’ve lost power during Hurricane Florence and plan to power up with a generator.

Be careful, very careful.

From 2004 to 2014, 751 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning stemming from using a generator, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Running a generator the wrong way can kill you in 5 minutes if the carbon monoxide levels are too high, according to Consumer Reports.

All gas-powered generator engines emit carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can build up to fatally toxic levels.

If you live in a high-rise, do not run the generator on your balcony — it’s too close to your home and to your neighbors.

Make sure the generator’s exhaust does not enter your home.

If you’re going to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a generator, spend the extra $30 to $40 for a carbon monoxide detector. That’s a tremendous bargain for saving a life.

When operating a generator, Consumer Reports, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Miami-Dade County Hurricane Guide recommend:

Never refuel a generator while it is running or still hot. Turn it off and allow it to cool before adding fuel. Take extreme care not to spill fuel onto the generator or the surrounding area. Gas spilled on a hot engine can cause a major fire.

Do not run a portable generator in the rain. The only exception is if you cover and vent the generator.

Read your generator’s manual very carefully. Pay close attention to the electrical load rating.

Never overload the generator. Don’t try to run big items like the home’s air-conditioning unit, an electric stove and a hot water heater unless you’re certain the generator can handle the load. Online wattage calculators can give you an idea of the wattage of your appliances.

Do not connect the generator to the home wiring system, such as through a fuse box or circuit breaker, unless you have a transfer switch that has been installed by a licensed technician. Transfer switches connect the generator to your circuit panel, thus avoiding the risk of extension cords. They also display wattage usage levels, helping you avoid electrical overload.

Do not plug the generator into a wall outlet. This can lead to electrocution or frying your appliances. If you don’t have a transfer switch, use heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cords to plug appliances into the generator.

Let the unit reach operating speed before connecting electrical loads. Disconnect loads before turning off the engine. Don’t allow the engine to run out of gas while appliances are connected.

Make sure the generator is grounded. Connect a length of heavy-gauge wire between the generator grounding lug and an external ground source, or make your own by driving a length of copper piping into the ground.

Keep the generator dry. Units should not be operated or stored in wet or damp conditions. Don’t operate on top of metal decking. If possible, keep the generator elevated off the ground with plywood.

Always dry your hands before operating a generator.

Here are six important things to know before a disaster strikes.

STORAGE TIPS

Store the generator in a dry, well-ventilated area with the fuel tank empty.

Give it a good cleaning before storing. Remove traces of oil, dirt and other foreign matter.

Do not store near fuel supplies.

Do not store near appliances such as water heaters or pumps, especially if they are gas-powered.

When you pull your generator out after any storage period, inspect it carefully for broken or missing parts.

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