Safety tips for generator users

Posted at 2:59 PM, Jan 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-21 15:00:53-05

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on in October 2015

If your generator is working as it should be, you’ll hear its engine run for about 20 minutes once a week.

That test run keeps the machine lubricated and ready to go in case of an emergency, said Tim Paciolla, who owns PowerHouse Generator of Maryland with his wife, Jessica.

Like this weekend's possibly historic snow storm. 

“People don’t think about these things until the last minute, of course,” Paciolla said.

A blizzard is expected to hit the area beginning Friday, and Gov. Larry Hogan said it could be the worst snow storm Marylanders have experienced since the twin blizzards in February 2010. 

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“It’s nice just to have a backup system because the power grid is completely overwhelmed,” Paciolla said.

When Hurricane Irene hit Maryland in 2011, some central Maryland residents were without power upwards of a week.

That can pose a genuine threat to people who have medications that need to be refrigerated, such as insulin.

It can also lead to a refrigerator and freezer full of spoiled food, or, in a worst case scenario, a flooded basement if a power outage leads to a sump pump failure.

“If your generator doesn’t kick in, your basement will flood,” Paciolla said.

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He urges homeowners to keep several safety tips in mind if they’re planning on using a generator during the storm:

  • Don’t add fuel to a generator while it’s running.
  • Keep it 20 to 30 feet away from the house.
  • Don’t run the generator in your garage or basement. The machines emit carbon monoxide, which can kill you in minutes. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says one generator produces as much CO as hundreds of cars.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 430 people die every year in the United States, so get a CO detector and change the batteries every six months.   
  • Check your oil levels—most generators can only hold a quart or two of oil, and it’s good to have extra fuel on hand, plus a pair of spark plugs handy.
  • Make sure the cords you are using are grounded, and having new cords is important.

Take common sense precautions, Paciolla said.

“People just don’t use common sense until it’s too late,” he said.  

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