After Hurricane Laura struck Louisiana this year, over half the deaths attributed from the storm were from improper generator use. People are often unaware of the hidden dangers of portable generators. Portable generators are intended to offer convenience during outages, but should they be installed incorrectly, they can be fatal to you, the public and linemen restoring your electricity.
One significant way that generators pose a risk is through “backfeeding.” Backfeeding occurs when a generator is plugged directly into a home’s electrical panel or through a wall outlet instead of a regulated transfer switch. This practice is illegal in multiple states because it allows power to bypass the home’s built-in electrical safety features and “back-feed” into utility lines. Linemen working to restore power can be electrocuted when this happens. In this type of situation, the homeowner could be held responsible for injury and be criminally prosecuted.
To prevent backfeeding from occurring, generators must be installed correctly in one of two ways. The first is with a power transfer switch, which separates power from the utility and the whole home generator and only allows one source of power to the home. The transfer switch should always be installed by a qualified electrician. The second option is to plug in home appliances, not exceeding capacity, directly into the portable generator with heavy-duty extension cords.
Other hazards of using a portable generator include carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust and the possibility of fire, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA warns that most deaths and injuries associated with portable generators are caused by CO poisoning when generators are used indoors or in partially enclosed spaces.
Portable generators are a viable option to keep your home or appliances functioning during an outage, just make sure that the generator is installed or used correctly to keep your family, the community and lineworkers safe.