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Gas-powered generators can leak carbon monoxide fumes into homes

January 7, 2007


The firing up of gas-powered generators or standby generators as the utilities workers are restoring power to customers after ice storms snapped power poles in the mid-west raised concerns for customers. Such gas-powered generators can leak carbon monoxide fumes into homes. Thus, there is some potential danger to firing up standby generators.

After more than 750 power poles snapped or were damaged, customes were without power in western Platte, Nance, Boone, Greeley and Wheeler counties. So when the power company urged customers to make arrangements for a long power outage by operating standby generators, others warned of the danger.

If the customer is using a motor-driven generator, they should make sure it is located in a well-ventilated area. It should not be close to the house and a window should not be cracked open for the cord. This could let the carbon monoxide fumes drift into the house. In addition, to prevent any electric energy produced by the standby generator from accidentally feeding back into utility lines, a standby generator installation must include an enclosed, double-pole, double-throw transfer switch between the meter and the standby unit.

As winter forces people indoors, with the furnaces cranked up and cars warming in the garage, worries about the risk for carbon monoxide poisoning climb. Experts recommend these ways to avoid CO buildup in your home:

  • Have your natural gas furnace and major natural gas appliances checked regularly by a qualified technician.
  • Check vents and chimneys to make sure they're clear and undamaged. Watch for loose mortar or bricks on the chimney that can slip and block airways.
  • Have wood-burning stoves and added fireplaces installed and vented by a professional.
  • Clear snow and ice away from outside vents to avoid CO buildup inside the home.
  • Don't seal off all the fresh-air sources in your home if you weatherize. Your appliances need to “breathe” to operate properly.
  • Never use your gas oven or range top to heat your home. This creates a serious fire hazard and could cause dangerous CO fumes.
  • Avoid operating gasoline-burning engines, such as a car or lawnmower, in unventilated areas such, as a garage, or where air may enter the home.
  • Consider purchasing a CO detector. It will alert you if there is a harmful CO level in your home, so you can safely leave and call a qualified professional who can determine the source of the CO buildup. However, don't rely on a CO detector in place of an annual furnace inspection. There are carbon monoxide detectors that can be plugged into a wall outlet or operate on batteries.

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