How to safely use generators and alternative heating sources
As freezing weather continues to paralyze the eastern U.S., the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety urges residents to remain cautious and prepare for the harsh conditions that are likely to last into the weekend.
The current severe winter weather is causing thousands to lose power throughout the southeast and into the northeast. With more snow on the way, the number of those impacted by widespread power outages is likely to increase.
"A combination of heavy snow and ice is a recipe for power outages," said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO. "We urge everyone at risk of severe winter weather to stay tuned to the National Weather Service advisories, and use IBHS guidance on what to do during a power outage throughout the winter storm this week. Taking care with generators and alternative heating sources is critical to preventing home fires and injuries, or even deaths."
IBHS offers guidance below on how to safely stay warm using alternative heating sources and generators. Additional severe winter weather resources are available at www.disastersafety.org/freezing_weather/.
Alternative Heat Resources
•Maintain at least a 36-inch clearance between the stove and combustible materials, such as furniture and clothing.
•Prior to using the stove, place a layer of sand or firebrick in the bottom of the firebox.
•Maintain a 36-inch clearance between the heater and combustible materials, such as bedding, furniture, wall coverings or other flammable items.
•Do not leave a heater unattended.
•Electric heaters should be inspected prior to use. Check the cord for fraying, cracking and look for broken wires or signs of overheating in the device itself.
•Use only heavy-duty extension cords marked with a No. 14 gauge or larger wire.
•If the heater plug has a grounding prong, use only a grounding (three wire) extension cord.
•Never run the heater cord (or any cord) under rugs or carpeting.
•Liquid fuel-powered devices (kerosene or oil heat)
•Never use gasoline or any other substitute fuel.
•Allow the heater to cool down prior to refueling.
•Regular cleaning will keep the fireplace free of obstructions and creosote. If you haven't had maintenance performed recently, use caution when operating the fireplace and never leave it unattended.
•Make sure the damper is open.
•Before use, inspect the chimney and fireplace area for debris and animals that could have taken up residence.
•Maintain proper clearance around the fireplace and keep it clear of combustible materials such as books, newspapers and furniture.
•Always close the screen when in use.
•Keep glass doors open during the fire.
•Use a fireplace grate.
•Never burn garbage, rolled newspapers, charcoal or plastic in the fireplace.
•Avoid using gasoline or any liquid accelerant.
•Clean out ashes from previous fires and store them in a noncombustible container with a tight-fitting lid. Keep the container outside and away from the house.
•Make sure the fire is completely out before closing the damper.
•Adjust the millivolt output.
•Keep glowing embers and logs clean.
•Inspect and clean air circulation passages and fan.
•Clean glass as needed. Avoid obstructing vents.
Portable Generator Resources
Facts About Portable Generators
•Portable generators are less expensive to purchase and install than permanent (standby) generators. Without a supplemental fuel supply, they have a relatively short run time and may need to be refueled several times a day during a prolonged power outage.
•Most portable generators are designed to work with a few appliances or pieces of electrical equipment that may be plugged directly into the generator without the use of a generator transfer switch.
•This type of generator could be especially useful, but it isn't recommended if you are operating sensitive equipment or have numerous large appliances or business machines.
•When using a portable generator, you also will have to purchase an electric power cord to feed the electrical equipment.
•This should be a heavy-duty outdoor-rated extension cord sized for the total electrical load (voltage and amps) you may need.
•Choose a cord that exceeds the total expected load in order to prevent excessive heat buildup and degradation of the power cord.
•Ensure the cord has three prongs and has no splits, cuts or holes in the external insulation covering.
•An overloaded power cord can potentially start a fire.
•Carbon monoxide poisoning from engine exhaust is a common and serious danger that can result in death if generators are used improperly, in particular, if the fuel is not burned completely.
•Because CO is invisible and odorless, business and/or building owners should install a CO detector to warn of rising CO levels, and test it monthly.
•Never use generators indoors or outside near windows, vents or air intakes that could allow CO to come indoors.
•Maintain plenty of airflow space around the generator.
•When using an emergency electric power generator, get fresh air immediately if you begin to feel flu-like symptoms, sick, dizzy or light-headed.
•Carefully follow all instructions on properly "grounding" the generator.
•Keep the generator dry. If needed, operate portable generators under an open canopy-type structure. Short circuits may occur in wet conditions resulting in the generator catching fire.
•Store fuel in an approved storage container or holding tank designed for such use, and only use fuel that is recommended in the owner's manual. Never store fuel indoors.
•Do not keep fuel near the electric generator while the electric generator is in use, as it could start a fire.
•Never refuel while the generator is running, and always keep a fully charged fire extinguisher located nearby.
•Keep cords out of the way to avoid injury, but in plain view to allow for visual inspections of any damage, such as fraying or cuts, that could result in a fire.
Avoid Back Feeding
•Do not "back feed" power into your electrical system by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. Back feeding will put you and potentially others, including utility line workers, at serious risk because the utility transformer can increase the low voltage from the generator to thousands of volts. Some states have laws that make the generator owner responsible for taking steps to make sure the generator's electricity cannot feed back into the power lines, and for notifying the local utility of the location of any commercial, industrial or residential generator.
•The exterior portions of a generator, even those operated for only a short period of time, can become hot. Avoid touching the generator without protective gear and keep debris clear to avoid a fire.
About The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety
IBHS is an independent, nonprofit, scientific research and communications organization supported by the property insurance industry. The organization works to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other risks on residential and commercial property by conducting building science research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparedness practices.