Can a Portable Generator Kill You?

Can a portable generator kill you? Let’s explore the causes of this deadly gas and learn how to prevent it from happening to you. Carbon monoxide is a dangerous byproduct of gas combustion, and sustained exposure can cause unconsciousness and disorientation. Even in cases where survivors survive, carbon monoxide can damage the brain. Since 2005, more than 900 people have died after using a portable generator, according to the federal government. One such incident happened in Clarksville, Tennessee, when five people, including a pregnant woman, died when a generator produced 438 parts per million carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide

You probably have heard about the dangers of using a portable generator, but what you might not know is that carbon monoxide from the fuel used in a generator can kill you. This gas is poisonous and can kill in as little as 30 minutes. The National Fire Protection Association has detailed information on how CO poisoning affects people in the U.S., including symptoms and recommended measures. Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms include dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, nausea, and fatigue. The danger is greatest when the exposure to CO is at 400 parts per million or higher.

The dangers of carbon monoxide from a portable generator are real and preventable. Portable generators must be located outside and be well-ventilated. They should also be located far away from windows and doors. A battery-powered carbon monoxide alarm should be installed outside every sleeping area, as well. The alarm should be positioned near the generator so it can alert you in an emergency.


Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and deadly gas that can kill you at certain levels. Portable generators produce as much carbon monoxide as 450 cars. Seifer was alone at home when she was exposed to the gas. Fortunately, she was at home alone and a utility company worker found the problem. Although deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning have decreased significantly since the 1990s, hundreds of people have perished from the effects of this deadly gas.

While portable generators are a common part of a home’s electricity supply, they can be particularly dangerous during natural disasters. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, a study of 11 confirmed deaths from generators attributed to the storm found carbon monoxide emitted by portable generators was responsible for 11 deaths. The EPA estimates that carbon monoxide from portable generators can be as high as 50 gallons of carbon dioxide per minute.


The federal government recognized the dangers of portable generators more than two decades ago, but has failed to protect the public. The agency that regulates the manufacture of portable generators has repeatedly been blocked by a statutory process that empowers manufacturers to set their own safety standards. This lack of oversight has resulted in limited safety upgrades and continued deaths. The federal government is now trying to regulate portable generators through the use of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

To minimize the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, make sure your portable generator is positioned 20 feet away from your home and pointed away from windows and doors. If you have any of these issues, take immediate action. If you suspect a poisoning, seek emergency medical care immediately and remove yourself from the affected area. Similarly, avoid using the generator in enclosed areas or close to flammable materials. It’s always better to position the generator as far away from your home as possible.

Proper maintenance

If you don’t properly maintain your portable generator, you could end up with an electrical fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a colorless gas that can kill you without warning. Water can also be an electrical hazard when a generator gets wet. Always protect the generator from water or make sure that there’s a canopy covering it. If water does get on the generator, remove the rags and seek medical attention right away.

In order to protect your portable generator’s engine from damage, clean the air filters and replace old ones as required. Clean the filter regularly and replace it when it becomes ineffective. Also, check the coolant level in your generator, which should be changed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure that the fuel is topped up at every maintenance check. You should also clean and replace worn or corroded connections and wiring.

Proper positioning

The most common hazard associated with portable generators is the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. The best way to protect yourself from this fatal hazard is to position a portable generator far enough away from other people and objects to avoid putting yourself at risk. If you’re not sure how to safely position a generator, read this informational page from the Methuen Fire Department.

While the warnings about the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning aren’t always heeded, there is no reason to put your generator inside your home unless absolutely necessary. Even in a garage or carport, generator exhaust fumes can kill you. If you’re unsure of how to properly position your generator, a qualified electrician can help you. When starting a generator, be sure to always position it outside the building.