Spring is a busy time on the meteorological calendar in Texas—peak tornado season and just weeks before hurricane season begins in June. The U.S. counted 22 extreme weather events in 2020, defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as causing at least $1 billion in damage. Last year, there were 20 such events.
Unfortunately, extreme storms can lead to power outages, which recently have spurred some folks to resort to portable generators—sometimes to tragic effect. After the awful February 2021 winter storm, at least 10 people in Texas died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by improper portable generator use. A single generator can emit as much deadly gas as 450 cars, and all told, generators kill an average of 70 people in the U.S. each year, sending thousands more to the hospital.
Some 1,400 Texans were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after the polar vortex event. While malfunctioning furnaces and other gas-powered appliances can also lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, no other consumer product has caused more carbon monoxide deaths than generators, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Many models lack crucial safety features such as automatic shut-off switches that detect high levels of carbon monoxide or even clear instructions for use.
With that in mind, I’d like to share some important ways to stay safe in the event you decide to use a portable generator. You might have seen similar reminders in this magazine before, but we at Magic Valley Electric Cooperative would rather repeat ourselves if it saves just one family from tragedy.
Position your generator outdoors and at least 20 feet from your home. Even if your generator has a carbon monoxide detector and shut-off switch, if it’s situated near an open window, the sensor is unlikely to detect any buildup even though the gas may be infiltrating your home.
Don’t mislead yourself that running a generator in a partially enclosed structure, like an open garage, is safe. Fatal levels of carbon monoxide will build up in those settings too.
If your home doesn’t have a carbon monoxide detector, install one. MVEC wants you and your family to be safe while you ride out whatever weather comes our way in the months to come.