WISHA: Leave Electrical Generator Installation to Experts

"The potential for injury or death trying to connect a generator to a home system is higher than any other kind of do-it-yourself electrical installation a homeowner can attempt," said Ron Fuller of the Washington Department of Labor & Industries.

When winter blows in, the power can blow out. It's a temporary exasperation for most, but a serious danger to any homeowner trying to cobble together backup power with a portable generator and an extension cord.

"The potential for injury or death trying to connect a generator to a home system is higher than any other kind of do-it-yourself electrical installation a homeowner can attempt," said Ron Fuller of the Washington Department of Labor & Industries, and the state's electrical chief. "People want to get warm and keep their freezers running. But they need to prepare in advance, with the help of a very experienced electrical contractor."

Fuller said a homeowner could inadvertently injure or kill utility linemen — or even their neighbors and family — if power from their improperly wired generator unexpectedly surged back onto the grid. Or, they could accidentally poison family members with carbon monoxide by leaving generators running in the garage, inside the house, or too close to windows or doors. Using splitters on an extension cord to reach several appliances at a time could easily overload the cord and cause a fire. And even generators operating outside of the home pose an electrocution risk if they are not properly grounded, then end up in standing water.

"The dangers are too numerous to list," said Fuller. "The only safe way to install a generator or transfer equipment is to have it done by an electrical contractor who is familiar with this very specialized work." He noted that while hardware stores sell small generators that may be plugged into a single appliance, they are still hazardous if not used with a high grade extension cord. "Even then," said Fuller, "there are many other safety precautions that must be followed to avoid the potential for a serious injury."

Fuller said that state law does permit electricians and homeowners to install backup generators themselves, but only if they apply first for an electrical permit, then have their work inspected by an L&I electrical inspector.

To help consumers understand their options, L&I has prepared a detailed guide in this issue of its Electrical Currents newsletter: http://www.Lni.wa.gov/TradesLicensing/Electrical/files/currents/elc0710special.pdf.

"Still," said Fuller, "we always tell homeowners and businesses to find a really experienced electrical contractor if they want a backup power system. It's just not something you want to take a chance with."

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