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Step-by-step guide: How to safely use and store your generator

Expert breaks down what to know when buying, using machines

ORLANDO, Fla. – Generators are a great resource to have in the aftermath of a hurricane, when used correctly.

The machines can keep a refrigerator running so that hundreds of dollars worth of food isn't lost, among other things, but when used incorrectly, generators can be deadly.

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We want you to stay safe while using a generator, so we worked with electrical manager Dusty Herbert, of Complete Power Resources, to develop a step-by-step user guide that will be easy for you to keep on file and follow when the time comes.

Shopping for your generator

Before you can consider any of the following steps, you'll need to buy your generator. Herbert said there are a few things to keep in mind while shopping around for the right one.

When shopping for a generator, think about what items you need it to power. This is important, because the generator needs to be able to run the amount of wattage required for the items you want to keep on.

You'd hate to get home and realize that, after making such a big purchase, you still don't have what you need to safely use the machine after a storm. Once you've chosen the generator that's right for you, make sure you have the cords you need to run it.

Herbert said buying the proper cord for your generator may be expensive, but it's worth the cost.

"You don't want to take a chance of burning up anything in your house, especially bigger appliances, which are expensive," he said. 

While you're out and about, go ahead and purchase the gas you'll need to get the generator powered up. The amount of gas will depend on the size of your generator, Herbert said. Keep that in mind while shopping for the generator.

Storing your generator

You've purchased your generator and it's now at home with you. Now, let's talk about where you're storing it.

Herbert said location is key when it comes to staying safe while using a generator, and it's something he said homeowners really need to pay attention to.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that will seep through cracks in doors, windows and vents, often leading to death. More than 1,000 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning last year. The Consumer Product Safety Commission said 83 percent of those deaths were associated with the misuse of generators. 

"Don't put it close to the garage," Herbert said. "Place it farther away from your home so that the fumes will have enough space to dissipate and it doesn't run into the house."

Make sure the generator is at least 10 feet from your home and that the exhaust is pointed away from doors or windows.

Many generator owners worry about their costly investment being stolen. Herbert had a few tips on keeping your generator safely placed while minimizing the chances of it being stolen.

Herbert recommends chaining the generator to something heavy, to make it harder for the thief to steal it. He also said to remember that, if someone wants the generator bad enough, they will steal it no matter what you do.

Placing it inside your porch or garage is not the solution, according to Herbert. You're only putting yourself and others at risk, he said. Life is more valuable than a machine. Remember: The machine can be replaced. 

Before using your generator

Make sure you have enough gas for a few days of use. As we mentioned before, the amount of gas you'll need will depend on the size of your generator. Make sure the generator is off before fueling it.

Next, make sure the machine has oil in it. If your generator has been used before, Herbert recommends having an old rag handy to wipe the old oil off the dipstick, which is located in the oil port. Place the stick back in the port then take it back out to see where the oil is on the fill line, Herbert said. 

Never let your generator run low on oil, never let the oil get dark in color and make sure to change the oil before a storm arrives. 

Starting your generator 

Finally, it's time to start your generator and make sure it runs. Make sure the breakers are on and that you have the proper plugs and cords to run the machine.

After using your generator

Remember that the generator should be given time to cool down after running for several hours. Nighttime is the best time to keep a generator cool, because it's not during peak heating hours and the darkness will help cool off the machine, Herbert said.

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Keep your fingers crossed that you don't lose power but, if the time comes for you to fire up a generator, we hope this guide helps.

For more information about the dangers of carbon monoxide and other resources to use when preparing for the storm season, visit ClickOrlando.com/Hurricane.


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