When property installed and operated, generators offer a safe, convenient mans of powering equipment when electricity is unavailable. However, improperly installed generators can be dangerous to you, your neighbors, and the cooperative’s line personnel.
An improperly installed generator can create a “back feed.” Back feeding is very dangerous. Electricity from your generator flows back through your electrical panel and into the cooperative’s electrical system. Back feeding can occur when a generator is connected to your home wiring system without disconnecting from the cooperative’s power. The most common way this could occur is if you directly connect a generator to your electrical panel or to a circuit in your home. If you feed power back into the utility system during an outage, you will energize the transformer serving your home. This poses an electrocution hazard for the cooperative’s line crews and for your neighbors, who may not realize the lines are energized. If the cooperative’s power is restored while your generator is back feeding, your generator may be severely damaged and cause a fire.
How can you use your generator and still prevent back feeding? The simple answer is to always keep generated power and the cooperative’s power isolated from each other. Two typical ways to accomplish this are:
1. Permanent generator installations: Have a qualified, licensed electrician install a transfer switch between the generator and the electrical panel. The transfer switch allows power to be fed from only one source at a time, thus always keeping the generator and cooperative system isolated from each other. A transfer switch is required for permanently installed generators.
2. Portable generators: If a transfer switch is not installed, appliances will need to be plugged directly into the generator using an extension cord. As long as the appliances are not hard-wired to the building’s electrical panel, there is no path back to the panel to cause a back feed onto the power lines. DO NOT plug the portable generator into any outlets in your house or any electrical panels. This will cause a dangerous back feed condition and can damage your electric system and cause a fire.
Before installing your backup generator, follow all instructions in the manufacturer’s written documentation, and all local building codes, especially regarding placement of the unit and safe electrical connections. Not following these precautions may result in hazardous conditions, including the possibility of a fire, carbon monoxide poisoning, or electrocution.
In addition, never connect a generator directly to your home’s electrical system without a proper isolation device (transfer switch), a switch that disconnects your house from our power lines while your generator is operating, and vice versa. This applies to both portable generators and permanent stationary units. Unless our lines are positively isolated from your home, operating a generator connected into your home’s wiring system could start a fire and/or electrocute anyone coming in contact with them, including lineworkers working to restore your power. To have a transfer switch installed, contact a qualified electrician. If you would like to use a transfer switch model that installs between the meter and meter base, such as those manufactured by Generlink, please contact us. We will be happy to install these switches for you.
Exhaust from backup generators, both portable and stationary, contains a high level of carbon monoxide (CO) gas, which can be dangerous or even fatal if inhaled. Follow these steps and view the diagrams below to ensure you are properly operating your generator and avoiding contact with deadly CO:
- Read and follow the operator’s manual closely before operating your generator
- Locate the generator outside of your home and far away from windows, doors, and vents. NEVER LOCATE A GENERATOR INSIDE YOUR HOME.
- Direct exhaust away from windows, doors, and vents.
- Do not operate a generator in partially enclosed spaces, even if using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation.
- Install CO detectors/alarms throughout your home to ensure you are aware of the presence of CO gas. You cannot see, smell, or taste CO.
Direct generator exhaust away from your home:
Do not operate a generator in any of the following locations:
Backup generators can pose a risk of shock and electrocution, especially if they are operated in wet conditions. Because generators must be operated outdoors, it is important to pay special attention to weather and environmental conditions to prevent electrical accidents.
Follow these important electrical safety tips at all times when operating your backup generator:
- Operate the generator on a dry surface where water cannot reach it, or puddle or drain under it.
- Dry your hands, if wet, before touching the generator.
- If you must use a generator in wet conditions, protect the generator from moisture (as described in the owner’s manual) to help avoid shock or electrocution hazard. This should be done without operating the generator indoors or near openings to any building that can be occupied in order to help avoid CO hazards.
- Be careful not to overload the generator. Check that the wattage of all items connected to it is less than the rating of the generator.
- Turn off all equipment powered by the generator before shutting it down.
- NEVER try to power home wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. This will cause the dangerous back feeding condition previously described. This is extremely dangerous and presents an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors served by the same circuit. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices and poses a serious fire risk.
When connecting appliances to the generator using an extension cord, follow these steps:
- Use heavy duty extension cords that are specifically designed for outdoor use.
- Make sure the wattage rating for each cord exceeds the total wattage of all appliances connected to it.
- Use extension cords that are long enough to allow the generator to be placed outdoors and far away from windows, doors, and vents to the home or to other structures that could be occupied.
- Check that the entire length of each cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all three (or four) prongs.
- Protect the cord from getting pinched or crushed, and follow all cord safety labels including any limits on cord length.
- Make sure the appliance being plugged into the generator is not also hard-wired into the building’s electrical system.
Use care when handling and storing fuel for your generator to avoid potential fire hazards.
- Never store fuel for your generator inside the home. Gasoline, propane, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in properly labeled, non-glass safety containers. Do not store any of these substances near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater in a garage.
- Before refueling a generator, turn it off and let it cool down for at least two minutes before removing the fuel cap. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite. Never refuel a running portable generator.
- Always have a fully charged fire extinguisher nearby.
Using a backup generator presents the risk of CO poisoning or even death. Because you cannot see, smell, or taste CO, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of CO poisoning.
Symptoms of low-level CO poisoning can be similar to those of common illnesses, such as a cold, flu, or food poisoning. These include:
- Shortness of breath
If you experience any of these symptoms, get outside to fresh air immediately and call 911 for emergency medical attention. Very high levels of CO can cause victims to quickly lose consciousness before they can rescue themselves. DO NOT attempt to shut off the generator before moving to fresh air. Entering an enclosed space where a generator is or has been running may put you at greater risk of CO poisoning.