If you own a gas-powered portable generator, then you have provided some security towards having power during a time it is needed the most.
A generator is not something you should need to run very often, and even if you do use it for the occasional weekend project, the generator will typically sit in the corner of a garage or other utility room until the time comes when you have to use it.
If and when the time comes when you need to run it, like when the power goes out at your house, you will no doubt be grateful you own a generator; the question is, are you using it in a safe environment?
The Dangers of Running a Generator in an Enclosed Space
With any item which runs on gas, there are always some dangers involved. For a generator, there are a variety of precautions you need to take to safeguard you and your loved ones against the thing which should be providing you relief.
One of the leading hazards of a gas-powered generator are the emissions produced while it is running. This means your generator, while in use, cannot be located in some obviously poor choices, like a crawl space or a shed.
In fact, a majority of the areas within your living space are not recommended to house a running generator due to a lack of ventilation. This includes the garage.
A gas-powered generator can emit enough carbon monoxide, where if it is in an enclosed space, can kill a human within five minutes of exposure.
When you power on your generator, you should always have a carbon monoxide alarm or meter next to it. This way, you can tell pretty quickly if the levels are escalating and can take the appropriate action of turning it off and finding somewhere else to run it.
It is also not recommended for the generator to be near any standing water, as that can produce some electrical shocks which could either shock the generator or yourself, causing even more damage.
Every year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are close to 70 deaths due to carbon monoxide inhalation from a running generator (https://www.consumerreports.org/generators/generator-safety-tips-to-get-you-through-a-storm/). Although this is not a big number in comparison to other types of deaths, 100% of these deaths are fully preventable.
Often times, when you are already stressed out while dealing with a crisis, people go for the easy solution, rather than the right solution.
If you own a generator, then it is essential to have a pre-planned solution centered around the best areas to run a generator.
Safe Places to Run a Generator
The garage seems to be the go-to place when it comes to running a generator, but even a garage is not always the safest place.
If you do run a generator in the garage (not recommended), you need to ensure the big garage door is open, and that all the doors to the house are closed.
Even with a big garage door open, there is no guarantee this is enough ventilation, as the air coming from outside typically pushes the air into the garage, meaning there will be a pocket of air which is full of carbon monoxide in and around the generator or even blowing towards the inside of the house.
If, after you review all possible scenarios of the safest places to run a generator and the garage is still one of those, then you need to take every safety step possible to make sure the area can be fully ventilated.
For example, you can have portable fans nearby which can plug into the generator to help push the exhaust in a different direction, or install windows in the garage which can be opened to let the carbon monoxide fumes out.
The best place to put a generator when running it is outside, somewhere around 15-20 feet from the house. If possible, it should sit on a concrete slab, or concrete stepping stones, so it is not sitting down in a yard that might be soaked or have standing water.
You also want to set the generator up so the exhaust and carbon monoxide coming out is facing away from your house. In addition, the carbon monoxide exhaust should not be facing a neighbor’s house, or any other area where there might be a fence or a wall nearby.
If it is raining outside, then you do not want to put your generator in the rain; however, you can buy a cover for your generator at a local hardware store which will both cover your generator and is breathable so there is good ventilation.
If you do not have this possible space in and around your living area, then you need to find where the best ventilated area is within your living space. Once again, this will not be a crawl space, a basement or any room which has no windows.
No matter where you pick, you will want to make sure there is some outside ventilation, and that the generator’s carbon monoxide output is facing the ventilation to give it the best chance to escape.
You will also want to invest in a carbon monoxide alarm and stick it on a wall close to your chosen spot, so you can be alerted if there is are escalated levels of carbon monoxide well before there is a serious issue.
In conclusion, if you own a generator, it is not safe to run the generator inside a garage or any space that is fully enclosed.
Because you typically only power on a generator when you need it, you have ample time right now to plan accordingly.
Find the best 2-3 options of where to run a generator and make certain those areas are fully prepared. You’ll already be dealing with one crisis; there is no need to self-inflict another crisis because you are unprepared.
The better prepared you are now, the easier it will be to have power when you need it most while also making sure you and your loved ones are kept safe from the hazards posed by of a running gas-powered generator.
I have a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies…I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house.