Be cautious with generators after a storm

Lynn M. Hannaman, Gautreaux, Craig  |  8/29/2008 9:38:33 PM

News Release Distributed 08/29/08

Homeowners face many issues after a hurricane. If the home has escaped major structural damage, one of the first problems encountered may be the loss of electrical power.

To help overcome the lack of electricity, many people have purchased generators to meet their basic electrical needs.

However, using a generator involves more than filling up the gas tank and starting the engine, experts say. Determining the appropriate size generator, using it efficiently and safety concerns are just some of the questions that need to be addressed.

The most common use of generators is to run appliances such as refrigerators and freezers to keep foods from spoiling.

Most refrigerator/freezer combinations operate at approximately 900-1,200 watts – a measure of electrical power determined by multiplying volts times amps. To find out the wattage needed to run your appliance, look at the nameplate that is usually found on the inside of the refrigerator.

If the nameplate indicates it requires 120 volts and uses 10 amps, for example, the unit requires 1,200 watts.

Lynn Hannaman with the LSU AgCenter says appliances with motors require more current to start than they do after they are running.

“It’s best to start a refrigerator and get it running before you plug in another appliance,” Hannaman said.

If an appliance has gotten wet or damaged from the storm, Hannaman said, it no longer may be in good working order.

“Using a generator on an appliance that is not functioning properly could lead to damage to your generator,” he said.

Generators have some basic safety guidelines to follow:

-- Because generators are combustion engines, they produce carbon monoxide and should not be operated in enclosed areas.

-- Let the engine cool before refueling. A generator produces heat so keep it away from flammable material and structures that may catch fire.

-- A generator should be placed on level ground to ensure oil is maintained at the proper level in the engine.

A voltage drop may occur if a long extension cord is used to connect the appliance to the generator, Hannaman said.

“If an extension cord becomes very warm, the gauge of the wire is insufficient, and it should be unplugged immediately,” he said.

Appliances with a heating element, such as an oven, toaster or clothes dryer, consume large amounts of electricity, and their use with a generator should be avoided.

Consumers can expect to pay from $600-900 for a typical generator. Generators that produce more electricity will cost more, but size is not the only factor involved in determining cost.

Some generators that produce moderate amounts of electricity but with minimal noise can be on the high end of the price range.

Another factor to consider is having fuel available to power the generator. Many generators will run upwards of 10 hours on a five-gallon tank of fuel with a half-load being pulled.

The amount of time you’re without electrical power can depend on many factors, including the ferocity of the storm, availability of repair crews and the remoteness of the location of the power outage.

These factors should be considered prior to a storm’s arrival. Because most gas pumps are powered by electricity, acquiring fuel could be difficult.

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Contact: Lynn Hannaman at (225) 578-2918 or lhannaman@agcenter.lsu.edu


Writer: Craig Gautreaux at (225) 578-5673 or cgautreaux@agcenter.lsu.edu

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