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A backup generator is a lifesaver, especially in emergencies like storms, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. You can use a BISON generator to power your entire house for days. In addition to residential use, generators are also very useful in construction, workplaces, camping, RVs, and more. While Mobile generators (or any other type) look and work simply, they can be very dangerous (sometimes life-threatening) if you don’t take the necessary safety measures. The apparent hazard associated with generators is electric shock. But that’s not what we’re talking about here today.
Here we discuss the hazards of highly toxic carbon monoxide (CO) gas produced by fuel combustion in generators.
This guide talks about a common by-product of using portable generators, carbon monoxide. First, we’ll look at some basics of generators and how they work. Then we’ll take a look at the dangers of carbon monoxide. We will also answer a common question many generator owners ask: “How much should the generator distance be from home?”.
We don’t want you to feel intimidated or worried about using a generator, but we point out that powerful machines like generators can be deadly if misused.
If you’re new to generators or planning to purchase your first generator, we hope this guide to placing generators around your house helps you avoid mishaps.
What is a generator?
A power generator is an electromechanical device that uses mechanical energy to generate electricity. The source of mechanical energy is usually an internal combustion engine fueled by a fuel such as gasoline, diesel, propane, or natural gas.
Today’s climate is unpredictable. We face severe droughts, storms, floods, blizzards(How To Winterize A Generator), etc., lasting days or weeks. In such emergencies, the electricity infrastructure or simply the grid is first affected.
Using a portable (or backup) generator as backup power makes perfect sense. During an extended power outage, you can start a generator and use it to run electrical and electronic equipment.
When it comes to appliances, you can power lighting, heating, cooling, medical, and other essential devices. That way, you don’t have to worry about food spoiling, freezing overnight, or medical equipment not working.
The two basic types of generators are portable and backup. As the name suggests, portable generators can be easily carried from one place to another. It has small wheels and a handle to carry around.
You can use it at home, in your garage or workshop, with your RV on camping trips, and more. Although they are “portable,” I don’t think they’re small or less powerful. You can easily get a powerful portable generator that produces 12,000 to 15,000 watts of continuous power. If you’re not familiar with wattage ratings, you’ll need many wattages to run multiple large appliances.
Next, we have backup generators. They are usually fixed in some permanent location around the house. You can co-exist the generator wiring with the remaining one currently off the grid.
In a blackout or power outage, you can switch to a generator as your primary power source. Some unique systems and devices automatically start and switch to generators during a power outage.
How does a generator work?
The job of a generator is straightforward. The two essential parts of a generator are the engine and the alternator. The internal combustion engine is the source of power for rotating machinery.
When an engine starts up and starts running, it creates rotational force. When we connect an alternator to this rotating mechanism, it generates electricity. Many things are also going on in an alternator, such as electromagnetism, rotating magnetic fields, etc.
But most importantly, the engine generates rotational force, which the alternator converts into electricity. We can extract a stable 120V 60 Hz or 240V 60 Hz AC power from the generator with some special equipment and circuits.
The next important thing to understand is the type of fuel we use to power our engines. Since it’s essentially an internal combustion engine similar to the ones we use in cars, motorcycles, etc., we think of a few things when we say the fuels are gasoline and diesel.
As expected, these two fuels are standard for portable and backup generators. However, the small generator sets we typically use in our homes, garages, workshops, RVs, etc., run on gasoline. Large commercial generators that power larger objects use diesel fuel.
In addition to these two, there are two fuel options: propane and natural gas. It is becoming increasingly common for generators to run on these alternative fuels, mainly propane.
Generators and carbon monoxide
No matter what fuel your generator uses, burning the fuel produces carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO). While fuel combustion releases other gasses, these two are the main products we must be aware of and wary of.
Again, between carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, the latter is far more dangerous.
Carbon monoxide is an unwanted by-product of fuel combustion. While normal combustion produces small amounts of carbon monoxide, it can be harmful if the fuel doesn’t burn completely. In this case, the amount of carbon monoxide released is considerable.
The worst thing about this gas is that it is colorless and odorless. If carbon monoxide is inhaled, it can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can have some adverse health effects.
Inhaling small amounts of carbon monoxide can cause severe headaches, vomiting, nausea, tiredness, and prolonged dizziness. However, if the number is slightly larger, it will cause severe illness and even death.
According to research by the centers for disease control and prevention (CDC), more than 50 percent of carbon monoxide poisoning cases are caused by portable generators.
How much should the generator distance be from home?
Now that we’ve seen how generators and the carbon monoxide gas they emit can affect our health, you’re probably asking how to use them safely. Or, more precisely, the right question is how far away the generator should be from the house.
The simple answer is that it should be as far away as possible. But that might not be possible in an installation because you have to deal with wiring, losses, and other issues.
Several organizations (CDC, NIST, local governing agencies, zoning, housing boards, etc.) have made various generator placement recommendations.
While there are no definitive numbers on how far a generator should be from a house, many experts at these organizations and agencies recommend at least 20 feet between the house and the generator.
This recommendation has some additional requirements. Some of them are:
- Follow the 20-foot distancing rule. If that’s impossible, try to place the generator at least 15 feet away from the house. Worst case scenario, don’t place your generator within 5 feet of your home.
- No worries about powering appliances with a generator at that distance. You can quickly get excellent quality generator-grade extension cords.
- Never place the generator near openings in the house, i.e., windows, doors, vents, etc.
- Always turn the exhaust side of the generator away from the house. Wind direction plays a significant role here. If you can estimate the wind flow near your home, ensure the wind is not blowing exhaust air into your house.
- Never use a generator in an enclosed environment such as a house, garage, or shed. Always make sure that the place where the generator is placed is well-ventilated.
- You can choose the generator exhaust extension fitting system to send the exhaust gas from the generator to different places. This accessory is handy, especially when placing the generator near the house or inside the garage or shed.
- Even if you use a generator exhaust extension, ensure the exhaust pipes aren’t blowing those gasses anywhere near the house. If possible, try to divert the exhaust into the air higher up with the help of an extension tube.
- Different generator manufacturers may have their recommendations for where to place the generator. Do proper research before installing a generator. This step is crucial, especially for backup generators, as they are more of a one-off and permanent installation.
- By following these safety steps, you can confidently use your generator in an emergency.
Factors to Consider When Placing a Home Generator
Just like some considerations must be considered when shopping for portable and backup generators, some factors must be considered when placing a whole-house generator. We list some of them below.
Some manufacturers give specific instructions for generator installation. You must keep this in mind when installing.
The size of your whole house generator will determine how much noise you can expect to make and how much fuel you will need. Therefore, you must find a suitable installation location.
You also have to consider the size of the enclosure where the generator will be placed. You have to see if it can be placed on your property. Typically, larger-sized generators require large and thick concrete bases.
Local noise regulations
You must bear in mind the local noise regulations in your area. You must also follow homeowners association (HOA) rules when installing a whole-house generator.
Now the rules are different everywhere. What is acceptable in one region may not be so easy in another. Therefore, you must do thorough research and know the noise regulations that apply in your area. If your generator is too noisy, consider soundproofing it.
Applicable air quality regulations
Whole house generators usually require a permit before installation. Permits can only be granted if the individual demonstrates compliance with air quality regulations. It is vital to maintain these rules because generators emit carbon monoxide, which, if left unchecked, can undoubtedly affect human health.
Storage tank requirements
If you decide to run a whole-house generator with natural gas, you must consider the location of your existing utility lines. However, if you plan to use other fuels, you must use a storage tank, which is challenging in many ways.
Storage tanks come in various shapes and sizes, with varying capacities. Larger tanks have more extraordinary ability but require more space. It must be kept away from living areas to prevent explosions or fires, whether placed on the ground or underground.
You must know how to hook up a generator to your home. It can be done with an extension cord or a transfer switch. An automatic transfer switch is the best option since you don’t need multiple wires. So it’s no hassle to lug multiple cables and run them through your home.
Local building codes
In addition to air quality regulations and local noise ordinances, local building codes must be followed. Local building codes include housing needs, local soils, climate, and more. So, be aware of building regulator regulations before installing a generator.
Required generator enclosure system
It is essential to have a whole-house generator enclosed within the structure. The enclosure you will build may be subject to its codes and rules, affecting the overall positioning and installation of generators throughout the house.
Some considerations for generators
If you are new to generators, consult an expert and professional. Please take all necessary steps, as it can be a matter of life and death.
- While power outages are significantly more likely during cold, windy winter months and during rain (Diesel Generator Running In Rainy Weather), you must be extra careful in these situations. Do not run the generator directly on rainy or windy days. The rain and low wind make it difficult for carbon monoxide gas to escape.
- If you must use the generator in such tricky weather conditions, use a tent-like structure to cover the generator while following all other safety precautions such as good ventilation, exhaust from the house, etc.
- Since carbon monoxide is a significant problem with portable generators, we recommend investing in a quality carbon monoxide detector, preferably a battery-operated one.
- Use these detectors in garages, near houses (within line of sight of generator and house), or even near generators. These devices are handy, primarily if you use your generator a little closer to the house or in your garage, shed, or basement.
- Some advanced modern portable generators have built-in carbon monoxide detection systems. These devices continuously monitor the level of carbon monoxide in the exhaust gas.
- If they detect critically high levels of carbon monoxide gas, shut down the generators. Check out these models and, if possible, invest in them.
- Fueling the generator is another essential but dangerous task. Before refueling, please turn off the generator and let it cool down properly. This step will not change for whatever type of fuel you use.
- While most of the safety tips we’ve mentioned here relate to using a generator in a home, you can still follow similar precautions when using a generator in your motorhome, RV, or camper.
- Locate the generator as far away from your RV as possible, and make sure the exhaust is not facing your RV.
- If you park your RV at an RV or similar campground, watch for nearby campers and other generators. While placing your generator away from your camper is imperative, don’t place it near someone else’s RV or blow exhaust into another camper.
- Have a friendly discussion with nearby campers and educate them on the hazards of carbon monoxide poisoning if they are unfamiliar. You can easily find common ground for generator placement.
- Watch for campfires, grills, gas tanks, and more. You should install carbon monoxide detectors in your RV.
- If possible, try to use shore power when you park your RV in a park or campground.
After a massive storm, a power outage is the first thing that happens. A portable generator is one of the easiest and quickest ways to provide backup power. In addition to emergencies, you can use your portable generator in your camper, garage, or workplace. But always ensure you keep your generator safe from your home or RV to avoid the dangers of carbon monoxide.
There are many articles and examples on using portable generators in an RV that guide size, fuel type, connections, and more. However, research has found little information on the distance between RV generators and the RV, so relying on the manufacturer’s guidelines seems to be the best direction.
Most people don’t realize that the closer a generator is to your house, the greater the danger it poses to your family.
Fumes from generators can be deadly, and you don’t want them seeping into your home.
Even if your generator is well-ventilated, you must consider the distance between the generator and the house.
The recommended distance is at least 20 feet, but even this may not be enough, depending on the size of the generator.
If you’re unsure, it’s still best to err on caution and keep the generator as far away from your house as possible.
Automatic transfer switches are a vital component of standby generator installations. It monitors utility power and automatically starts the generator if a power outage is detected.
It also diverts the electrical load to the generator and shuts off utility power. The distance the generator is installed from the house depends on the voltage available on site.
Up to 60 feet if voltage exceeds 170 volts. For installations below 170 volts, place as close to the generator as possible to reduce voltage drop over long wiring runs.
Generators can provide electricity during a power outage but can be dangerous if misused. Never use a generator inside the house or in partially enclosed areas such as garages, basements, porches, sheds, or in partially enclosed spaces such as garages or hallways.
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