Power Out? Safe Tips for Generator Use


Gayle Finkelstein is the Northern New England Poison Center Vermont Educator, and Poison Outreach Educator at Fletcher Allen’s Community Health Improvement Office.

When the power goes out, many people use portable generators to supply their homes with electricity.  However, generators can put families at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning if they are not used safely.

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a harmful gas that you cannot see or smell.  You can breathe in carbon monoxide and not even know it.  If you breathe in carbon monoxide, you may start to feel like you have the flu.  You may get a headache, have trouble breathing, feel very tired or feel sick to your stomach.  If you breathe in a lot of carbon monoxide, you can get very sick.  You could have a heart attack, go into a coma or even die.  It can happen very quickly.

Five Tips for Safe Generator Use

To keep your family safe from carbon monoxide, use your generator safely:

  1. Only use the generator outside.
  2. Do not use it in the basement or attic.
  3. Put it more than 15 feet away from your house and your neighbors’ houses.
  4. Point the exhaust away from houses.
  5. If you are buying a portable generator for future power outages, have an electrician help you choose and set up your generator.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors Save Lives

A carbon monoxide alarm will let you know if you have carbon monoxide in your home.  As of 2005, Vermont law requires carbon monoxide alarms to be installed in the vicinity of any bedroom for all new residential buildings and buildings that are sold or transferred.  Put carbon monoxide alarms near your bedrooms, with at least one alarm on every floor of your home.

Read the directions that come with the alarm.  They will tell you where to put the alarm, how to use it and how often to check the batteries.   Put batteries in all your alarms. Have a plan for replacing the batteries every year such as on a major holiday or your birthday. Plug-in alarms and alarms wired directly into your home electricity will not work without batteries if the power goes out.

If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off or if you think you have breathed in carbon monoxide:

  • Get everyone, including pets, to fresh air right away
  • Call 911 or your local fire department right away.
  • Call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 for further advice.

If you have questions about how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning during a power outage call the Northern New England Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Gayle Finkelstein is the Northern New England Poison Center Vermont Educator, and Poison Outreach Educator at Fletcher Allen’s Community Health Improvement Office.

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One Response to Power Out? Safe Tips for Generator Use

  1. Stuart F says:

    These are great guidelines and cover all of the common mistakes that people make when using a generator. Exhaust fumes are a killer. I think I will advise my customers of these tips and general safety guidelines too. Thanks for the great idea!

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