Power outages and Portable Generators

Image of a small portable generator

For most of us here in Maine, they are a fact of life. Many people have purchased portable generators to supply their basic electrical power needs during outages.

If you have or use a portable generator, you should be aware of the following: The exhaust from most portable generators contains poisonous carbon monoxide gas, an odorless, invisible killer. You should know that the amount of carbon monoxide from one portable generator is equivalent to hundreds of idling cars.

BE CAREFUL and BE AWARE, the carbon monoxide gas from a portable generator can kill you and your family in minutes. In fact in 2005, at least 55 people across the country died from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with portable generators. A majority (28) of those deaths occurred in the aftermath of the four major hurricanes that year.

Consumers are urged to follow the following safety tips when operating a portable generator after any storm or other event that has caused a power outage.

  • Never use a portable generator indoors, including in your home, garage, basement, crawlspace, shed or partially-enclosed area even with ventilation. Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent CO buildup in the home.
  • Only use a portable generator outdoors in a dry area far away from doors, windows and vents that can allow CO to come indoors.
  • Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home. Test the alarms frequently and replace dead batteries.
  • Get to fresh air right away if you start to feel dizzy or weak. The CO from generators can rapidly lead to full incapacitation and death.
  • Plug appliances into a heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cords and plug the cords into the generator.
  • If you are concerned about theft, secure your generator outside.

New warning labels with this information have been developed for generators manufactured since 2005. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has also adopted the same labels in its procedures for certifying portable generators. Any manufacturer that wants the UL certification has to place the new warning label on its generators. Generators must also have ground fault circuit interrupters to help prevent electrocution.

If you own an older generator that does not have these warnings, please print them off and post them on or near your generator. If your generator does not have a ground fault interrupter, please consider buying one of the inline types available at most hardware and electrical stores.