BATON ROUGE, LA — Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning caused one death and more than 60 emergency room visits in Louisiana parishes most severely hit by Hurricane Lili, the state’s health officer toldThe News. Home generators that operated during storm-caused power failures are being blamed. (Lili struck Louisiana Oct. 3.)

Dr. Jimmy Guidry said those numbers may understate the problem; his figures were only from reporting hospitals in four parishes. He said he surveyed hospitals in Lafayette, Iberia, Acadia, and Vermilion parishes. The one known CO-caused death occurred at Crowley, in Acadia parish.

Home generators most commonly have internal combustion engines fueled by gasoline or natural gas, which produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct of burning. If they are operated indoors or even outside near open windows, doors, or air conditioning units, the carbon monoxide can enter the home and poison building occupants.

Generator manufacturers warn owners to operate the units only in well-ventilated areas. (See Honda’s warning, for example, in the sidebar below.) Dr. Guidry said if generators are operated in a garage or other inside space, carbon monoxide levels can quickly become dangerous.

“In the northeastern states, we know the generators are sometimes located in basements,” another potentially dangerous location, he added.

Dr. Guidry said he is investigating how air conditioning units may have become conduits for CO. Such units are not usually operating during times of limited power, he said.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is warning the public about safe operation of portable generators, Dr. Guidry said, through press statements and other means. His department is also notifying hospitals to alert their communities. If the danger of CO poisoning related to home generator use warrants it, some action through the federal government’s Consumer Product Safety Council might be needed, he said.

Norland is a freelance writer with many years of experience in HVACR topics.

Sidebar: Safe Use Of Portable Generators From Honda

Blackouts, rolling brownouts, what are the options? There is no quick fix to the situation facing many areas of the country as power demand continues to outpace the available resources.

Many homeowners are investing in small-output portable generators for recreational and other uses and are now adapting them for use as temporary home power. This versatility is one of the many advantages of portable generators; however, everyone should consider how to safely apply the power from the portable generator in a residential situation.

While portable power is ideally distributed through a professionally installed transfer switch, homeowners can easily and safely use a smaller output portable generator to power essential home appliances. There are several safety considerations anyone using a generator should be aware of when powering home appliances. Always read the owners manual before operating your portable generator for back up power.

Never operate an internal combustion engine inside your home, basement, garage, or any other enclosed area. The generator needs a minimum of 3 to 4 feet of spacing on all sides (including the top). A generator needs an unlimited supply of fresh air for proper cooling during operation. Since combustion engines create carbon monoxide, which can be lethal, good ventilation is critical.

Keep the generator dry and always operate it on a level surface.

Never add fuel to your generator when it is running, and always store additional fuel in approved gasoline containers.

It is very important that you never feed power from your portable generator into a wall outlet. This is commonly called back feeding and causes several safety concerns. This causes a very dangerous situation as power back feeds into the Power Company lines and can cause severe injury or death to linemen working on power lines. In addition when the Power Company restores power, it can feed directly into your generator causing severe damage to your portable generator.

Another problem associated with back feeding is that the generator may be capable of producing more amperage than the individual household circuit can safely handle. This can cause overheating in your home circuits and create a fire danger.

The safe application of power to your home is achieved simply by using a quality extension cord and surge-protected power strip from the generator directly to the appliance that you want to power. Using a power requirement chart, you can determine which appliances can be powered safely.

During power outages, the main concern is for powering sufficient light for the safety of your family. If power is out for several hours, you will want to power your refrigerator and freezer to ensure that no food spoilage occurs. Remember that it is not necessary to continually power these appliances if your generator has a small power output. Power management will allow you to utilize a small generator to power several appliances safely.

Portable generators over 2,000 watts can be used to power microwave ovens, as well as toaster ovens and other electrical cooking devices for meal preparation.

The new Honda EU3000is inverter generator is idea for homes without 220-V emergency requirements. If you own a higher output generator with 220-V capability, you should consider having an appropriate manual transfer switch professionally installed in your home for your added convenience and safety.

The Honda EM5000 is a great choice for homeowners with larger power requirements such as deep well water pumps.

Once you master the art of “power management,” you will discover that a small portable generator can safely provide many of the conveniences you count on everyday. And when the power comes back on you will be able to take and use your generator at the park, at the lake, on the boat, tailgating before the big game, as well as many other applications around the home you may never have thought of.

For more information, visit (website).

Publication date: 10/14/2002