Emergency Generators

Perhaps you’ve lost power to your home several times in the past year and ended up spending hours or days without electricity to keep the lights on and the heat running. You decide to invest in a portable generator to temporarily power your home when the next power outage occurs.

In an emergency, portable electric generators are useful when temporary power is needed. However, they can be hazardous if safety precautions aren’t followed.

Vital Protections for Your Family

The most common dangers involving generators are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, electrical shock or electrocution, and fire hazards. CO deaths associated with generators have spiked in recent years as generator sales have risen.

To help keep you and your neighbors safe, the Arlington County Fire Department recommends that you follow these guidelines:

  • Operate your generators in well ventilated locations outdoors away from all doors, windows and vent openings.
  • Locate the generator so that exhaust fumes cannot enter the home through windows, doors or other building openings.
  • Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with a battery back-up, according to the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Should CO enter the home and pose a risk, an alarm will sound.
  • Do NOT refuel the generator while it is running. The generator should be turned off and allowed to cool down before refueling is performed.
  • Never store fuel for the generator in your home. Gasoline and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in properly labeled safety containers. They should be stored away from any fuel-burning appliance such as a gas hot water heater.
  • Plug your appliances directly into the generator or a heavy duty outdoor-rated extension cord. The cord should be checked for cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin. Do NOT power your house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet.
  • If the generator must be connected to the house wiring to power appliances, a qualified electrician should install a properly rated transfer switch in accordance with the National Electrical Code® (NEC) and all applicable state and local electrical codes.

Noise Considerations

Generator noise is primarily comprised of two noise sources: engine noise and exhaust noise. Often, noise data provided by generator manufacturers will exclude the exhaust noise.

Emergency generators can easily exceed 100 decibels. County Code restricts noise levels to 55 decibels at night and 65 decibels during the day.

Quieter generators are available, which emit less than 60 decibels at 50 feet — versus 69 to 75 decibels for others. That’s roughly the difference between quiet conversation and a loud leaf blower.

Helpful Resources