Here’s a plea to everyone about to be affected by yet another Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power shutoff: stay safe. Notice was given that, due to weather conditions, a shutoff could start sometime today, so there will be a bunch of people turning on their generators.

We’ve heard some concern that while shutting down a local grid to prevent it from starting a fire might make sense, the growing plethora of small, gas-powered generators adds back in some risk. 

Some area generator dealers ran out of inventory during the last shutoff, as residents in more-fire-prone areas realized that PGE is serious about switching off the electricity and will likely do so several times per year. It’s all up to the weather pattern, and you never know how often there will be shutoffs or how long they’ll last ... if you’re in a fire-prone area, you could be without PGE power for days. Hence, lots of people are dealing with gas-powered engines that emit carbon monoxide, heat up to dangerous levels, and generate electricity.

A Consumer Reports story says that more than 900 people died of carbon monoxide poisoning, and thousands were injured, while using portable generators from 2005 to 2017. They say that since people rarely use generators, they more easily overlook safety measures. Most deaths involve CO poisoning from generators used indoors or partially enclosed spaces. They also can cause fires and electrical shock.

It’s not that hard to safely operate a generator; and they can be life- and property-saving devices. But there are some practical tips offered online by an array of publications and trade groups:

– Make sure the equipment is in good working order, and follow the manufacturer’s directions.

– Never place a generator in your garage or inside your home or in a building – it needs to be a safe distance from any structure that could pull outside air in.  It’s suggested that if you have a gas-powered generator near a building that you invest a little extra and install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home.

– Store gas in recommended containers and keep it well away from structures and heat sources. Don’t add fuel to your generator while the engine is hot. 

– If you need to use an extension cord, make it an outdoors-approved, heavy duty one.

– Consider installing a transfer switch to connect the generator to your circuit panel. 

– Don’t plug a generator into a wall outlet. Backfeeding – powering your home’s wiring by plugging the generation into a wall outlet – is very dangerous and presents an electrocution risk. You also run the risk of frying your electronics or starting an electrical fire.

– CR reports that installing a transfer switch should cost from $500 to $900 with labor. It connects the generator to the circuit panel and lets you power up hardwired appliances while avoiding the dangers of using extension cords.

– Don’t run a portable generator and use extension cords in the rain.

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