BACKUP GENERATORS can literally and figuratively save your bacon when
storms or rolling blackouts temporarily knock out electrical service to your
home. But when you buy a generator, be sure to get one that will deliver
enough power for your needs.
To determine the wattage you will need, look at the labels on lighting, appliances and equipment you plan on powering with the generator. The data plates
on these appliances will usually specify the number of volts and amps they
require. Multiply volts by amps to get the wattage. Many appliances list both
“run wattage” and “surge wattage.” As the term suggests, run wattage is the
amount of electricity required to continuously run appliances. Surge wattage
is the higher amount of electricity required to start electric engines. Choose a
generator that produces more power than you will actually use because of the
big draw when these devices are initially turned on. If you get stumped, ask an
electrician to determine how many watts your generator should deliver.
While generators can be lifesavers when your utility power is out, improperly operating a generator can result in carbon monoxide poisoning, shock or
electrocution and fire. The following tips can help you avoid these hazards.
For more information about
backup generator safety,
visit the following sources
• The United States Fire Administration,
generators.htm; (301) 447-1000
To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
• Always use the generator outdoors, away from doors, windows
• Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
• Install battery-operated or plug-in (with battery backup) carbon
monoxide alarms in your home; follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
• Frequently test carbon monoxide alarms and replace batteries
• The American Red Cross,
• The Consumer Product Safety
To avoid electrical hazards
• Keep the generator dry and operate on a dry surface under an open
• Dry your hands before touching the generator.
• Plug appliances directly into the generator or use a heavy-duty
outdoor-rated extension cord. Make sure the entire extension cord
is free of cuts and tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially
the grounding pin.
• Never plug the generator into a wall outlet. This practice, known as
backfeeding, can create an electrocution risk to utility workers and
others served by the same utility transformer.
To avoid fire hazards
• Before refueling the generator, turn it off and let it cool. Fuel spilled
on hot engine parts can ignite.
• Store fuel outside in properly labeled, non-glass containers and away
from any fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural-gas water heater in a
garage. Local laws may restrict the amount of fuel you can store and/or
where you store it.—Will Fifield