Exercise Caution When Using Generators For Emergency Power

Lynn M. Hannaman  |  6/11/2005 1:48:57 AM

News Release Distributed 09/03/04

Emergency generators are popular items in the aftermath of a hurricane or tropical storm that strikes southern Louisiana, but safety when using them is a major consideration, experts caution.

"Generators can be the answer to saving food in freezers and refrigerators, but they may also be dangerous if not used properly," stresses Dr. Lynn Hannaman, a professor in the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.

The capacity of a generator usually is stated in watts, Hannaman explains, adding that the typical one may be a 2,000-watt generator. "That’s the same as a 2 kilowatt generator, because 1,000 watts is equal to 1 kilowatt," he elaborates.

Hannaman explains that the watt is an electrical term determined by multiplying volts times amps. For example, if you have an appliance that requires 120 volts and uses 10 amps, the appliance requires 1,200 watts.

Such information can be found on the nameplate of the appliance, the LSU AgCenter expert says. Using the formula of volts times amps, the owner can determine what can be run on the generator.

"An appliance that requires 1,200 watts and an appliance requiring 600 watts could be run on a 2,000 watt generator," Hannaman says. But he also points out that appliances with motors require more current to start than they do after to run.

"To be on the safe side, when in doubt about a generator's capacity, start a refrigerator, allow it to begin running and then plug in additional appliances," Hannaman advises.

Hannaman also offers these reminders for generator safety and prolonged use:

  • Remember that a generator produces electricity, which can cause electrical shock.
  • Gasoline-powered engines, such as the ones on generators, produce carbon monoxide, so don't run them in an enclosed area.
  • After a long period of use, regularly check the oil level in the engine.
  • Let the engine cool off before refueling.
  • Because of engine heat, keep the generator a safe distance from structures.
  • Place the generator on a level surface to keep oil at proper level in engine.
  • Remember that water will damage generators as well as produce an electrical hazard. So keep everything dry.
  • A voltage drop may occur if too long an extension cord is connected to the appliance or if a cord with wire too small for the electrical load is used. If the extension cord becomes very warm, it is inadequate.
  • Connect the generator directly to the appliance. You should not try to hook generators to your home electrical supply box.
  • Ground the generator as stated in instructions that come with the unit. You should also use an extension cord that has a ground plug when hooking up the appliance.
  • Have the engine of the generator running before turning on the A.C. circuit on the generator or before you plug in an appliance.
  • An appliance that has a heating element, such as a toaster or hair dryer, consumes a large amount of current. Avoid using these items, if possible.
  • If an appliance has gotten wet or damaged, it may not be in good working order. Using the appliance may damage the generator.
  • Some generators have the ability to produce 115/120 volts or 220 volts. Select the outlet that corresponds to the voltage requirement of the appliance.


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


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