Generators offer a reliable back-up source for electricity during an extended power outage. However, they must be installed and used correctly to avoid serious health and safety risks – not only to your household, but also to the linemen working to restore power. The best way to ensure you and co-op line crews stay safe when you are using a generator is to educate yourself and plan ahead.
Generators come in a variety of sizes. They can range from 500 watts up to several megawatts of output, and run on gasoline, diesel, propane, or natural gas. The size of generator needed can be determined by totaling the wattage of the lights, appliances, devices, etc., and then add about 20 percent for the increased start-up power requirements.
A whole-house generator – one that is tied directly into your wiring – must have a double-throw transfer switch installed at your breaker panel by a qualified electrician. Without the switch, a generator can backfeed 240 volts to the transformer, where it is then stepped up to 7,200 volts and sent down the lines, creating a life-threatening situation for the linemen trying to restore your power.
The double-throw switch makes it impossible to have both the generator and the power supplier service connected at the same time. It opens one in order to close the other.
Portable generators (usually with wheels) are smaller and can supply enough power for necessary applications but not the whole house. These generators also need a double-throw switch.
Another reason for having a qualified electrician hook up your generator is for the protection of everything you plan to have powered by it. Improperly connecting to the generator could damage all of your appliances, electronics, etc.
When weather threatens, generators can provide peace-of-mind, but they must be installed correctly. Please consider the following safety tips involving generators:
- Follow the instructions included with your generator.
- Make sure your generator is properly grounded.
- Never overload the generator.
- Never add fuel while it is running.
- Never use a generator indoors.
- Always keep a fully-charged class ABC fire extinguisher nearby.
- Turn off all appliances powered by your generator before shutting it down.