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Generators require correct care, usage
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Many Mississippians turn to gasoline-powered generators to provide power and warmth during winter's electrical outages, but improperly maintaining or using generators can make a difficult situation even worse.
Generators need upkeep throughout the year, and incorrect usage can be fatal, explained Herb Willcutt, agricultural engineering and safety specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. Without proper maintenance, the generator that has been gathering dust for most of the year may not work when it is most needed.
"Most people buy a generator for emergencies, use it for a few days or weeks, and then turn it off and leave it the rest of the year. If gas is left in the tank, it will go stale and varnish, and then the generator will not run when you try to start it," Willcutt said. "All generators need preseason maintenance, regular run periods of 10 to 30 minutes every two to three months and the addition of fuel stabilizer into the gas tank."
When a generator is not in use, it is best to leave the gas tank empty. Unfortunately, most generators do not have a fuel tank drain, so getting the gasoline out of the tank can be tricky.
"Crank your generator and see if it works. If not, the tank likely needs to be emptied and cleaned. Find a small engine repair shop to repair it long before it may be needed," Willcutt said.
Proper ventilation is vital for all alternative heating sources, including generators. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, carbon monoxide poisoning from fuel-burning appliances kills more than 200 people each year and sends about 10,000 to hospital emergency rooms for treatment. Always use generators outdoors.
Another important safety concern is the refueling process. Turn off the generator and allow it to cool down before adding fuel. A generator is only useful as long as there is gasoline to fuel it. Check the generator's oil level often. With a little planning, it is possible to conserve fuel and still be comfortable.
"To make the fuel last, avoid using the generator to supply power to televisions and water heaters. You can use a blower on a heater to better circulate warmth, or use a fan to help circulate heat from a radiant-type heater -- one that uses natural or propane gas," Willcutt advised.
Before using a generator to power a refrigerator or deep freeze, check the frequency on the generator to protect appliances.
"The generator's frequency should be 60 cycles. Less than this may damage refrigeration equipment and electronics," Willcutt said. "You don't have to have a large generator to stay comfortable. Run items alternately a few at a time."
Generators need to be grounded and extension cords need to be treated properly. Do not wedge the cords in tight spaces or crush them under doors. This will damage the cord's insulation and could lead to a short or electrocution.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's U.S. Fire Administration recommended these safety guides for generators:
- Follow all of the manufacturer's instructions and guidelines:
- Use all fuel-powered machines outside the home.
- Use appropriate power cords to carry the electric load.
- Keep rugs or carpets off of power cords to avoid heat build-up.
- Never connect generators to another power source, such as power lines.