Buying and using portable generators safely

By Keith Boles - bio | email feedback

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The possible chance of severe winter weather coming on the anniversary of last years ice storm has driven many to buy portable generators.

They are indeed a great tool but need to be used safely to prevent damage to your home and possibly power line repair people.

Tuesday morning at the Home Depot, a truck was delivering 25 more generators in response to the demand.

I purchased mine Monday night and the first question I asked was, How big of a generator do I need?

Ken Philpot a electrical technician told me, "Depending on how much you want to run in your house. Like if you want a refrigerator, freezer going while you have lights going and say a small electric heater. Then the bigger would be the better."

An easy trick is to check out the box. It shows how many watts many items will draw vs. how much the generator puts out. A simple bit of addition should get you into the ball park.

So besides the generator itself what are you going to need?

Well something to hold gas in for sure. 5 gallons or so should keep it running for several hours. And oil is very important it is possible to burn up an engine without oil. Fill up the gas, fill up the oil.

Now, what about powering items in my house. Are extension cords the way to go?

Philpot, "You can plug in this dual circuit generator cord which would give you two different circuits on 4 different outlets. "

That plugs into the 240 outlet, but what about regular extension cords?

Ken showed me on the generator 4 plugs.

"You can plug extension cords to here and run them through your house where you want a lamp or refrigerator or whatever."

And many of you like myself are going to be first time generator owners and you may be thinking, "Hey, I can hook it up to my house so I don't have to run a bunch of extension cords." Well I'm not going to tell you how to do that. but there are some things that you really need to know to keep you and the people who work on these electrical lines safe.

Some houses just have meters. Some have a meter and external cut off places where you might be tempted to hook up your generator.

Jonesboro City Electrical Inspector Steve Chaplain showed me the inside of my box where people often hook generators up. Unless we have a long lasting condition like last winter he doesn't recommend this approach by a homeowner.

"If you're not a qualified electrician, feel confident of what you're doing. Better safe than sorry. better find a qualified electrician to come in and do this for you."

However there will be those who insist on attaching their generators this way. Make sure that you have unplugged your meter or thrown the breaker to isolate your house from power coming in off the grid. This is important for safety.

Chaplain, "Your neighbors could use part of your power. But more importantly if a lineman, a worker was working on a line somewhere and did not know this was on. You could get someone electrocuted or hurt."

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