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10 Things You Need to Know to Safely Use a Generator

Generators can save your life, but only when they are used properly.

As recent tragedies in Louisiana and Texas have shown, improper use and inexperience with generators can make them extremely dangerous. If you don't understand what you are doing, electrocution and carbon monoxide can be life-threatening dangers.

Never operate a generator too close to your home.

Generator manufacturers will warn you repeatedly about the dangers associated with carbon monoxide poisoning. Unfortunately, every year, there are reports of deaths of people who use their generators too close to their homes or garage. Manufacturers aren't joking. Your generator cannot be run in your garage even when you keep your doors open. Even so, you can't run it inside your home. Yes, it's not easy to move the unit from your house or use longer extension cords. Yes, it will be difficult to refill the unit. However, it's better than the possible disastrous alternative.

Never 'Backfeed' Power Into Your Home

There are many articles on the Internet explaining how to "backfeed power into your home using a dual male-ended extension cord. This is terrible advice, and you should not follow it. Backfeeding is illegal, and with good reason. Every year, it can and does cause the death of family members, neighbors, and power company workers. A transfer switch is a cost-effective way to get rid all your extension cords. Then hire an expert to install it. This is the safest alternative to multiple extension cables. Period.

Allow the generator to cool down before refilling

The generator fuel tanks are placed on top of the engine to "gravity-feed gas" to the carburetor. If you spill gas while refueling your hot generator, this setup can quickly become a disaster. Imagine this: If you pour fresh gas on a hot engine, and it ignites it, there are eight additional gallons of gas above the fire. Talk about an inferno! Injuries caused by this mistake have been common over the years. It's easy to spill if you don't have a flashlight and refill at night. You can survive without power for only 15 minutes. So, cool down while you wait.

Securely Store and Pour

Local residential fire codes restrict the amount of gasoline that you can store in your house or attached garage. Usually, this is 10 gallons. To cut down on refills, you might be tempted to purchase a large gas can. Don't. You can't safely store 60 pounds of gas at 6 pounds per gallon. You also have a higher chance of filling your generator tanks with too much gas. Buy two high-quality 5-gallon cans. You might also consider purchasing a steel gas can with a trigger valve, which is more expensive.

Run Your Generator on a Level Surface

Many small generators come with "splash" oil lubrication systems that have crankshaft "dippers" which scoop up oil and spray it onto the moving parts. This system works best if the unit is placed on flat ground. If the generator is parked on a slope, the dippers won't reach enough oil, and the engine parts will dry out. This is a recipe for disaster. Pay attention to the warnings of your manufacturer and ensure that your generator is placed on a level surface. Make sure you have a level place. This advice is valid even if your system has a pressurized lubrication system.

Make Sure You Have Enough Motor Oil and Filters for an Extended Outage

After 25 hours, most generators require their first oil change. You'll need to empty the old oil and refill it every 50-60 hours. Extended outages can cause your generator to run for too long without needing an oil change. After a major storm, don't expect to find the right oil filter for your generator. Buy extra oil and filters before the storm comes.

To Prevent Appliance Damage, Limit the Length of the Cord

Generators can be loud so it is best to keep them away from your home. This is fine as long as the extension cord you use is 12-gauge and outdoor-rated. Even a 12-gauge cord can have its limitations. The maximum length from the generator to your appliance should not exceed 100 feet. An appliance motor or compressor that is subject to voltage drops can fail prematurely if it is run for longer periods.

Prevent Theft

The only worse thing than hearing the engine roar outside your bedroom window is the silence that follows the theft of your generator. Digging a hole, securing a grounding rod, and attaching an eye hook in cement will provide security. The whole thing should be enclosed in 4-in. Attach a 4-in ABS or PVC drainpipe with a screw-on cleaning fitting. Next, chain your generator to the anchor and lock it. To secure your chain, you can use ground anchors if you don't wish to put a concrete pier. Ground anchors can be purchased at your local hardware store.

Avoid Running Out of Gas

Some low-cost generators that have economy voltage regulators can continue to produce power until the generator runs out of fuel. However, this can cause the generator's residual magnetic field to be drained by the house's electrical load. Of course, it will start up if you fill it with fuel, but it won’t produce power. It will need to be taken to a shop to have it repaired by a professional at a cost. To avoid the hustle, switch off the electrical load and turn off the generator before it runs out of fuel. Allow it to cool. Refill it, then turn it on again and reconnect the load.

Bad Fuel Can Stop You in Your Tracks

All small gas-powered engines with small displacements are susceptible to starting issues because of a lack of fuel. To minimize fuel breakdown, varnish, and gum buildup, every generator manufacturer recommends that a fuel stabilizer be added to the gas. However, they cautioned that this is not a guarantee against future problems. Many manufacturers and repair shops recommend draining the fuel tank, then running the carburetor dry. Once you have passed the storm season, run the engine until it stops. If the unit has a drain petcock for the carburetor, allow it to cool down before draining it manually. You can either dump the gas in your car or take it to a recycling center. Use fresh stabilized gasoline in your generator at all times.

To make sure that your generator is working efficiently, feel free to call our team of experts at Ingersoll's Air Conditioning and Heating Inc. at 251-928-9392.

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