How Close is Too Close for Portable Generators?


[Music followed by Thunder & Rain] When the lights go out during a storm,
there’s nothing more welcome than a portable gas-powered generator,
or perhaps nothing more dangerous. It’s hard to believe, but a single
gas-powered generator can create as much as one hundred times more poisonous
carbon monoxide gas than a car’s exhaust. And, if the generator is operated too close
to a house, especially near a window or door, the invisible and odorless toxic gas can easily
enter the home, resulting in illness or death. According to a study by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of the non-fatal carbon
monoxide poisonings reported during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons involved
generators run within seven feet of a home. The CDC study showed that consumers need clear
guidance on where to position a generator to prevent carbon monoxide from entering their homes. Unfortunately, no one had done the research to
determine what a safe operating distance is. To help find that safe operating distance,
the CDC teamed with building experts from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST. At first, the NIST researchers needed to do two things:
collect data on the amount of carbon monoxide released from a portable generator and build a
computer model of a one-story test house on the agency’s campus in Maryland where the testing was done. The researchers then plugged the data they obtained into two
sophisticated computer programs: one to calculate the flow of air and gas contaminants outside the house, and the other to
estimate the resulting gas concentrations in the house. Their results, published in a recent NIST report,
showed that positioning a generator 15 feet from a house may not be far enough
away to keep carbon monoxide out. The researchers also learned that slow wind speed
or lack of wind altogether increases the danger. This was the worst case scenario because
the carbon monoxide lingers near the house, allowing more opportunity for the gas to enter. While more research with portable generators is needed
to define just what are the safe operating distances for different situations, the NIST team does have some advice
for those stormy winter nights when the power goes out. You should keep your generators outdoors and as far from the
house as possible– and certainly away from any doors or windows. And be sure to install a battery-powered or battery backed-up
carbon monoxide alarm inside your house near all the sleeping areas.

8 thoughts on “How Close is Too Close for Portable Generators?

  1. Thanks for checking out our videos. Please add your comments and let us know what you think. We will be reviewing and then posting comments as long as they are on topic, respectful and do not promote specific products or services

  2. I never knew just how dangerous generators could be. I like your suggestion about the catalytic converter. I'm wondering if an aftermarket automotive catalytic converter could be installed and how it would effect the engine performance?

  3. This is an extremely informative easy to understand video. I wish the Northeast Generator Co. of Bridgeport CT had given us this link before they set up their gas powered generator inside our attached 2 car garage. This information should be readily available and mandatory upon delivery when renting a gas powered generator.

  4. Nice information for those who have the option of placing the gen away from the house. I'm sure generator thieves & extension cord manufacturers LOVE this video. For those of us with no other option and who have to keep the generator close for security, we'll have to settle for CO detectors. For what it's worth, my CO detector in that room never chirped once when the generator sat outside our front windows for 3 days. I will be paying more attention to wind direction next time.

  5. This is what I take away from the video: get a CO2 detector(s). On a windy day the CO2 gas will be dispersed more easily, but during windless days the chance of CO2 poisoning is more dangerous since it stays in the vicinity longer and mixes with the O2 that we breathe. The wind direction is also a factor. If the wind is blowing towards the house and towards any opened windows (some leaky closed windows too) then greater caution must be taken. Winds shift all the time so the CO2 detector is a must. Multiple CO2 detectors might be necessary as well. Thanks!

  6. Valuable info! Btw, my portable generator is under a small gazebo that I built for it to keep it out of the weather. It's in a fenced-in yard where there are no windows that go directly into the house. The generator exhaust disperses away from the house and towards a wide open fenced in area. There is a smallish enclosed back porch about 10 feet near the generator. The porch door leads to a kitchen door. Both are kept closed most of the time. Thanks to the video I now know that I need a CO2 detector for the porch and, due to its proximity, most likely the kitchen too. Since I have a natural gas furnace I've been using CO2 detectors in the living rooms and bed rooms for almost a decade.

  7. Thanks for the info.. My generator runs on propane and gas, which is better to reduce CO2 output?
    My house sits where the wind blows from one end to the other. it does not blow against the house.
    I got my generator set up to hook up to the breaker box so no windows will be opened.
    So can I set my generator closer to my house?

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