When power outages occur, usually as a result of severe weather events, people sometimes use alternative sources of fuel or electricity generation for cooking, lighting, heating and power.
Portable generators can allow some normal activities to continue during a blackout. However, it is important to use them with extreme caution.
Petrol or diesel-powered generators can produce carbon monoxide gas. They must only be operated in a well-ventilated outdoor area away from open windows and vents.
Carbon monoxide is invisible, and you cannot smell it. If it builds up in your home, garage or caravan, it can cause sudden illness, loss of consciousness and death. Think about your pets as well as your family.
Do not use appliances designed for outdoor use inside a home, basement, garage, caravan or tent. Do not even use them outside near an open window. Appliances such as power generators, grills, camp stoves, or other devices that burn petrol, liquid petroleum gas, natural gas or charcoal should only be used as specified by the manufacturer.
Portable power generators are very useful, but, if they are not used safely, they can lead to:
- carbon monoxide poisoning from the engine exhaust
- electric shock or electrocution
Householders must follow the directions that were supplied with the generator to ensure safe operation.
Purchasing a generator
Permanently installed stationary generators are best suited for providing backup power to the home. Only a licensed electrician is able to connect a permanent generator to electrical installations.
To prevent the generator from overloading, it is important to consider the generator’s rating (wattage). The total rating of appliances operating at the same time must be less than the rating of the generator.
Using a portable generator safely
Do not use a portable generator indoors. This includes inside a garage, carport, basement, crawlspace, or other enclosed or partially enclosed area, even with ventilation.
Other safety tips include the following:
- Operate the generator outdoors, away from windows.
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions before use.
- Do not overload the generator.
- Switch the generator off when refuelling or when not in use.
Opening doors and windows will not prevent carbon monoxide building up in the home.
It is a good idea to install battery-operated carbon monoxide alarms to alert you when carbon monoxide levels pose a health risk. Also be sure to test the battery frequently and replace it when necessary.
To avoid electrocution when using a generator:
- keep the generator dry, and do not use it in the rain or wet conditions
- protect the generator from moisture by using it on a dry surface under an open canopy-like structure, such as a tarpaulin held up on poles
- always dry your hands before touching the generator.
Refuelling a generator
Ensure that the generator is off and cool before refuelling. Petrol spilled on hot engine parts can ignite.
Store petrol outside the home in a locked shed or other protected area.
Do not store any fuel near a fuel-burning appliance (such as a natural gas water heater in a garage).
Using appliances connected to a generator
If you are returning to a property that has been significantly damaged by fires or strong winds, it is important to first check wiring and other electrical installations before connecting and turning on any appliances.
Additionally, you should:
- plug appliances directly into the generator via a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cord
- use short extension leads that are in good condition and plugs that have all three prongs
- fully unwind extension leads from reels or drums.
Do not try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. This can ‘back feed’ along the powerlines, and is extremely dangerous to you and your neighbours.
Carbon monoxide poisoning and prevention
Following these tips is very important to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Never use a gas-fuelled range or oven to heat a home.
- Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern or portable camping stove inside a home, tent or caravan.
- Never run a generator, pressure washer or fuel-powered engine inside a basement, garage or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented.
- Keep vents and flues free from debris, especially if winds are high, as flying debris can block ventilation openings.
- Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer or fuel-powered engine outside an open window, door or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.
- Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space such as a garage.
- If you start to feel sick, dizzy or weak, get to fresh air immediately and seek immediate medical advice.
For information about the safe use of gas or electricity, contact Energy Safe Victoria on 03 9203 9700 or visit www.esv.vic.gov.au.
For gas leak and emergency services in Victoria, call 132 771.
For information about the health effects of carbon monoxide exposure, seek medical advice from your local doctor.
For general health information about carbon monoxide, contact the department