Home Generator Safety

Power outages can happen at any time, but they are especially dangerous during cold weather. In February of 2021, the entire state of Texas lost power, and some areas were out for an extended period.

Home generators can literally be life savers, but they are not without risks. Helping clients understand and manage the risks of home generators is another value-added service of the professional insurance agent. There are two main types of generators for home use – portable and permanent or standby.

They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from small moveable units designed to power just the essentials, to whole house generators. It is important to pick the right size / type for the power needed. Consultation with a professional electrician before purchasing and installing a home generator is recommended. Generator sales in the United States are predicted to increase from $6.10 billion in 2023 to $8.96 in 2030 (fortunebusinessinsights.com).

The most common risks of home generator use are carbon monoxide poisoning, electrocution, and fires. According to nbcnews.com, 70 people per year die in portable generator accidents. These can be reduced or eliminated by following proper safety measures. Keep the generator dry and avoid using in wet conditions. Use a canopy or tarp during inclement weather. This will lessen the risk of electric shock or electrocution. Never run the generator indoors or near windows or doors, which could allow exhaust to get into the structure. Maintain a clear space of 3-4 feet around the generator. If possible, the unit should be 20 feet away from any building with people or animals inside. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, and illness or death can occur within minutes. Every home should have carbon monoxide detectors on each level and near sleeping areas.

Never plug the generator directly into the home’s system, such as a dryer outlet. This can result in backfeeding, which reverses the normal flow of electricity. Backfeeding can damage your house and appliances as well as injure utility workers who may not know the wires are “hot” during a general power outage. Backfeeding is illegal. A transfer switch is required. It isolates the power supply by breaking the connection between the utility and the home.

Before refueling, turn off the generator and let it cool down. Store fuel in approved safety containers, in secure areas away from the living quarters, and away from fuel-burning appliances. Check local regulations as to how much fuel can legally be stored. Common fuels are gasoline, diesel, propane, or natural gas. In addition, solar powered units are also available. Some generators allow users to switch types of fuel. Attention to the user manual instructions is essential.

Generators – particularly whole house generators – are quite an investment. Their value should be included in the home’s insurance policy. Depending on the type of system, this could be buildings / other structures or personal property. Portable generators are often considered appliances. Whole house generators that are permanently installed would be part of the building.
As with a car or other motorized equipment, routine maintenance is essential. This may mean changing the oil, checking or replacing the battery, and testing the system on a regular basis. Attention should be paid to how long the fuel has been in the generator. Gasoline has a shelf life of 3-6 months, whereas diesel can be stored up to a year without degrading.

Home generators can be a welcome addition in times of power failures. However, there are safety concerns. Helping clients understand the benefits and risks of generators is another sign of the true insurance professional.

This article was previously published in Insurance Advocate® magazine and is provided courtesy of MSO®, Inc. (The Mutual Service Office, Inc.) for non-commercial use only. For any other licensing requests or permissions, please contact squimby@msonet.com. © MSO®, Inc. 2024

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