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How to safeguard against carbon monoxide poisoning

8 sick after carbon monoxide poisoning in Roanoke
8 sick after carbon monoxide poisoning in Roanoke

Generators are emergency equipment that can be a life-saver during a power outage, but also a killer when improperly used. Consumer Reports explains what you need to know about the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning, and how to safeguard against that hazard.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says that from 2005 to 2017, more than 900 people died of carbon monoxide poisoning while using portable generators.

“A generator should never be used inside, or even in the doorway of an enclosed space,” said John Galeotafiore, a Consumer Reports Testing Expert.

To reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, some new generators feature a built-in sensor that triggers an automatic shutoff if CO gas builds up to dangerous levels in an enclosed space, like a garage or carport. And some portable models are now designed to emit less CO in the first place.

Consumer Reports recently tested five portable generators with this automatic shutoff. All of them passed CR’s new CO safety technology test, shutting down before carbon monoxide reached specified limits in this enclosed chamber. CR will now only recommend portable generators with an automatic shutoff for dangerous levels of CO.

“Each manufacturer has a different name for its shutoff system. So, if you’re shopping for a new generator, look for terms such as ‘CO Shield,’ ‘CO Sense,’ ‘CO Guard,’ ‘CO Protect,’ or ‘CO Detect,’” said Galeotafiore.

CR recommends these models:

  • Ryobi generator not only has automatic shutoff but has low CO output as well. Testers gave it Excellent scores for power delivery.
  • DeWalt portable received Excellent marks for power delivery, and also maintains its voltage well.
  • Generac has Good power quality and features a helpful fuel gauge.

All three have five power outlets and will run for 8 to 17 hours on one tank of gas, depending on the power level.

Never operate a portable generator indoors, even with a door open.

In addition, CR says you should always follow these safety rules.

  • Always place the generator at least 20 feet from your house, and make sure in advance that you have a generator power cord that’s long enough to reach.
  • Always direct the exhaust away from any occupied space so that carbon monoxide is not blown toward living spaces.