By Bud Coburn
Homeowners may use a generator to supply electricity to their home in the case of a power outage, either out of necessity or convenience. Inspectors may want to know about generators and the potential hazards they present when improperly wired or utilized.
- They may be turned on manually, or they may be programmed to switch on automatically in the case of a power outage even when no one is home.
- Power may be supplied for extended periods of time.
- Hard-wired systems, such as a home’s furnace, well pump and air conditioner, may maintain continuous power.
- Uninterrupted power can be supplied to systems that must remain on continuously, such as medical equipment used for breathing, etc.
Disadvantages of standby generators are as follows:
- Installation may require a permit.
- A qualified technician, such as an electrician, is required to install the ATS and to determine the electrical load requirements for the circuits in a home.
- Routine maintenance is required.
- Standby generators may be prohibitively expensive.
- Portable generators are versatile. They may be used at home or transported and utilized in remote locations, such as a campground or a construction site.
- They do not require complicated installation.
- They typically do not require permits.
- Portable units are generally less expensive than standby generators.
Disadvantages of portable generators:
- Devices that are hard-wired into a home’s electrical system cannot be powered by a portable generator if no transfer switch is installed.
- Portable and standby generators produce dangerous carbon monoxide (CO) gas, which can be deadly if inhaled.
- Inexperienced installers are exposed to the risk of electrical shock. Only qualified electricians should attempt to install a generator.
- Overloading a generator may result in reduced fuel efficiency, damage to appliances or fire.
- Standby generators or their required transfer switches that are incorrectly wired (or missing) may result in “back-feed” — a hazardous condition in which an electrical current is fed back into the grid — which could potentially electrocute and kill homeowners, utility workers, and others who are using the same utility transformer.
- Connecting a portable generator directly into a home’s wall outlet can also cause dangerous back-feed.
- Generators that are exposed to water or that are not properly grounded can cause electrocution.
- Gasoline for portable generators is highly flammable and may cause a fire when exposed to an open flame or when spilled on the hot generator.
- Over-taxed cords attached to a portable generator may cause a fire.
InterNACHI inspectors may want to check for the following:
- Generators should never be used anywhere indoors, even if the area is ventilated.
- Portable generators placed outside should not be near doors, vents or open windows leading into the home.
- Carbon-monoxide detectors should be installed in case CO is accidentally released into the home.
- Portable generators should not be plugged directly into a home’s electrical receptacles.
- A standby generator hard-wired into a home should have a transfer switch installed to prevent backfeeding. An inspector can locate this device situated between
the generator and the main electrical panel.
- Generators should be properly grounded.
- Units should be dry and shielded from contact with liquid.
- Only heavy-duty electrical cords that are rated for outdoor use should be plugged into portable generators.
- Electrical cords should not have any punctures or exposed wiring.
- Cords running from portable generators should be kept out of the way of foot traffic and should not run underneath rugs.
- The total electrical capacity of the generator should exceed the power requirements of the devices that the unit is supplying.
- Fuel for portable generators should be stored away from the home and children in clearly labeled and durable containers.