This is only the first week of December, but already crews in southern states are working to repair the damage left behind by the ice storm that paralyzed travelers and left hundreds of thousands without power. The storm has headed northeast with snow, sleet, and freezing rain from the Lower Mississippi Valley to New England.
Winter storms that carry ice, freezing rain, and sleet followed by subfreezing temperatures like this storm are also the most likely to leave residents and businesses without power. Freezing temperatures and ice-laden trees hinder work crews as they travel to and from areas with outages and encounter ice crusted equipment and fallen trees or limbs, which only serves to prolong outages.
Portable Generators for Emergency Power
People without power often turn to portable generators when the power goes out, and that certainly makes sense. Portables are less expensive than standby units that operate automatically, but their portability makes them prone to certain risks when misused or when adequate caution is not taken. Used properly, portable generators provide a safe supply of electrical power.
If you use any kind of generator—portable or standby—to supply emergency power, install carbon monoxide detectors in main living and sleeping areas in your home. Locate portables at least 10 feet away from the home and never near a door, window, or vent. Be especially cautious of extension cords that enter the home through a window―the difference in air temperature can cause exhaust fumes to enter the home undetected. Position the unit so the exhaust is moved away from the home instead of toward it. Remember that your generator’s exhaust can affect your neighbors as well; take care that exhaust won’t enter their home.
Never operate a generator or other internal combustion engine inside your home, basement, garage or any enclosed space. Carbon monoxide from the exhaust can sicken or kill within a very short time.
Working with electrical cords in the rain or freezing rain is dangerous. If you have to run your portable generator while it is raining, place the unit under a canopy without sides. Position the generator where it won’t stand in pooling water. Make a few patio blocks part of your setup and use them to keep the generator off the ground.
Plug extension cords or dedicated power cables into the generator when it is turned off. Then start your generator and turn the main breaker on after you have made all the connections.
Read the owners manual and make sure your generator is properly grounded when used as a source of emergency power for your home.
You can eliminate the need for extension cords by having a manual transfer switch and inlet box installed by a qualified electrician. The transfer switch will allow you to run the essential circuits you need along with a few lights or small television and it is permanently wired to the inlet box. All you need is the dedicated power cable to connect the generator to the inlet box.
An inlet box with a manual transfer switch allows your furnace to operate to keep the house warm and pipes from freezing in below-freezing temperatures. At the same time, it isolates your home’s electrical system from the electric utility. This protects utility workers from electric shock and prevents damage to your generator when the power is restored.
A portable generator can literally be a lifesaver when used properly. Take the time to plan for its use in an emergency; install a transfer switch and inlet box, have an easy-to-erect canopy to protect the generator, and store at least a few days worth of fuel to keep it running along with enough oil and maintenance supplies to last several weeks..