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How will new portable generator rules REALLY affect RVers?

By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Last month the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced it was mulling over “rule making.” The rules could affect portable generator manufacturers. The agency is tasked with keeping citizens safe from the dangers of household products. CPSC sees death from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning associated with portable generator usage as a priority. Will the CPSC write new generator rules and, if so, how will RVers be affected?

More than just deaths

Roughly 70 people are killed each year by CO from portable generators. To many, this doesn’t seem like a significantly large number—unless one of those deaths is among your friends or family. While official statistics are easy to track down on deaths, injuries from CO poisoning are significantly larger in number.

The long-term effects of CO poisoning can really be something to reckon with. Survivors may suffer long-term memory, language, and cognition problems. Behavior and mood problems aren’t uncommon. Some even suffer from symptoms that might be seen in Parkinson’s disease patients. Making it all the more disturbing, symptoms may not appear for days—even weeks—after the initial poisoning occurs. While CO may not kill “too many” people, it could make life a walking nightmare for hundreds, if not thousands.

Voluntary changes

With this in mind, the CPSC approached the portable generator manufacturing industry some time back. They suggested industry might want to voluntarily undertake generator research and production. Goal? Reduce the likelihood of deaths and injuries from CO poisoning. Such a voluntary program would eliminate any chance of the CPSC making rules. Industry responded, developing a voluntary industry standard. At the heart of the standard are changes to portable generators that would, by industry’s testing, reduce the number of deaths by 99%.

How does the generator industry’s system work? Imagine building a CO detector into a portable generator. The detector constantly sniffs the surrounding air. If a danger level is reached, it shuts down the generator. A warning light then indicate what the problem is. Some manufacturers already have models with this safety equipment on store shelves.

Will it make generators safer for RVers?

Will that make RVers safer when operating a portable generator? That’s a big “maybe.” The government says the vast majority—95% or more—of CO generator deaths are associated with indoor generator incidents. Here’s a typical scenario. A major storm blows through a region, knocking out residential power. A homeowner sets up a generator in his attached garage. He fires it up, and it kills his family when the CO fumes migrate into the living area of the house.

In that scenario, an automatic detector/shutdown system is an excellent response. On sensing the build-up in the garage (or other enclosed space) of dangerous CO levels, it shuts down. Hopefully, the homeowner will put two-and-two together. He’ll move the offending equipment outside the home. But RVers, who are in the 5 percent or less range of being killed by CO, typically DON’T operate a generator inside an enclosed space. In anecdotal situations, where RVers have been poisoned by generator emissions, the “genny” has been set up too close to the RV. The invisible gas migrates in through a cracked window or door, snuffing out the unsuspecting occupants.

The fed’s view

What’s the alternative? How can RVers, and other users who set up generators outside, be protected? The CPSC says there are two ways to approach the issue. One way is the industry-supported detector/shut off approach. The other, simply decrease the amount of CO produced by the generator. One fact that upset some of our readers was the suggestion that portable generators produce relatively high levels of the toxic gas.

Statistics bandied about suggest that a single 5-killowatt generator produces as much CO as some 450 automobiles. This number was seen by some as being overblown. We asked the PGMA (Portable Generator Manufacturer’s Association), an industry trade group, about this. They simply referred us to data published by the CPSC. Those figures indicate a 5-KW generator produces somewhere around 1570 grams of CO per hour. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) indicates that 1990’s mid-size cars crank out an average of 4 grams of CO per hour. That’s a little less than 400 cars’ worth of CO per generator, but certainly significant.

Shrink down to your typically-used-by RVers 3.2 KW unit and the numbers are reduced to 600 grams CO per hour. Sound like a fairly insignificant amount of carbon monoxide? Imagine parking your RV in a nice, open space. Now park 150 idling mid-size cars around your campsite—will you sleep well? It does sound a bit far-fetched, but it certainly stresses the importance of not having your generator exhaust anywhere near your RV—or anyone else’s rig (or tent) for that matter.



So what’s better for RVers?

In practical terms, for RVers it would seem that the actual reduction of CO emissions would be a safer bet than a “sniff and shut down” system. Under the CPSC’s potential rule, portable generators of all sizes would be limited to emitting no more than 150 grams of CO per hour.

Of course, making any sort of change, be it the industry-suggested “sniff and shut down” or the CPSC’s “emission control,” will cost the manufacturers money. How much? In an email a representative of the generator manufacturers’ association told us, “Specifics as it relates to pricing is part of each individual manufacturer’s strategy, which an industry association group like PGMA cannot speak to. We can say that changing to a lower CO approach is costlier than the CO shut off approach.”

The CPSC says that the “lower CO approach” would cost about $115 per unit. While industry is mum on the cost, we can safely assume that every dime will be passed along to the consumer. If CPSC’s estimate is true, then the price of a Honda 3,000-watt unit would rise a little less than 5 percent, based on a present-day $2,350 price for a EU3000iS1AN model.

How much will you pay?

The million dollar question is this: Will the CPSC impose generator rules? The generator manufacturers’ group doesn’t think so. “We think, in the end, there will not be a mandatory standard because there is a voluntary standard, ANSI/PGMA G300,” writes the group’s representative. That standard “effectively addresses the issue and there will be substantial compliance by the industry.” If industry “substantially complies” with their own voluntary standard, then CPSC has no footing to write new rules on generator safety.

At this point it’s a bit like watching a poker game. The CPSC sits on one side of the table, the generator manufacturers on the other. Nobody is showing their cards and, at this point, it just might be who can bluff the best. It’s dead certain that financially, generator costs will go up. Depending on who “wins” the generator rules game will dictate just how much more the price dealt to the consumer will be.

Bottom line

While none of us want to watch more dollars fly out of our wallets, there is one thing to be said. Being the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning is something we’d probably be glad to be pay money to avoid. Death or serious, permanent damage to ourselves or our loved ones is not something to scoff at.

But as we’ve preached before, regardless of the outcome of this generator rules game, spend a little money now for peace of mind. Invest in a carbon monoxide detector for your RV. Install it, keep the batteries fresh, and mind the “expiration date” on the device. We installed one in a rig of ours—even though we didn’t have a generator at the time. One night, that piercing shriek shook us out of sleep. Our water heater was malfunctioning and pumping CO back into the rig through a siding defect. Without that $35 detector, you might not be reading this article right now.

##RVT1043b

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Dennis
5 months ago

I see the creation of a new industry….electric powered generators!

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
5 months ago
Reply to  Dennis

😆 Thanks, Dennis. Have a good evening/night. 🙂 –Diane

SUSAN M
6 months ago

With lots of people in a confined space it improves everyone’s lives if the things we share (think air, water, roads, neighborhoods) are kept clean and safe. Since the old days (and that can mean even just in my lifetime) the world’s population has greatly expanded. With more and more of us rubbing up against each other, what we do in our towns, our neighborhoods, and even in rural and remote areas (campgrounds, rest stops, even boondocking areas) affects other people. To smooth out our interactions and protect each other we’ve created laws and regulations (think traffic laws, building codes, neighborhood zoning, air and water quality laws, and, yes, even engine emission regulations).

The noise, the fumes, of generator use contribute to potentially dangerous situations that affect us all. I’m not against generator use for emergencies, but it seems better for us all if occasional or emergency use is what they are reserved for.

Patrick Ford
6 months ago

While I’m not totally convinced this is a major problem, since more people die falling off a ladder while changing a lightbulb than dying from CO poisoning from generators, it is time for a natural progression in building safer technology. Still, a quicker, cheaper and possibly a more effective solution would be to put a threaded end on the exhaust pipe of every generator and include (or offer as an inexpensive option) an extension for the exhaust pipe. Of course that could easily be mitigated simply by moving the generator away from the home/RV. My gut tells me this is more of an agenda to remove all ICE equipment, whether its a generator, a lawn mower, or a weed eater. I’m not 100% opposed to doing this, but the varying government entities should be honest about their goals and provide either a long transition period or rebates to incentivize people to make the transition. I use generators often, but keep them in the open air away from the work site or home. It’s not complicated.

Rik
6 months ago

For those who commented without fully reading the article, you should at least go back and read the last couple paragraphs.
I’m always amazed at how some people are so against anything the government does. It’s not all bad. Been to a National Park lately? Driven your RV on roads? It makes me wonder what these people would do if the President came out in favor of toilet paper.

chris
6 months ago
Reply to  Rik

Have we always had citizens this uptight?

Joseph Cox
6 months ago

Good article. My understanding is California wants to ban all small 4 cycle motors. Lawn mowers weekenders. Again more about the green movement. Interesting not including motor cycles. ( people would not put up with that.) If you are from out of state one can use the generator in California.( another good reason not to be based in California) I believe that the legislation has already been passed and is set to go into law in 2024. Might make for a good article, if indeed it is true and Not dust in the wind.
Thanks
Joe

joe willy
6 months ago

I recognize the air safety concerns. Personally, I am just sad these are becoming more prevalent. People swear how quiet they are which is true if you are inside your trailer with the AC on. For the rest of us it is noise pollution.

SJS
6 months ago

Ron White said it best: “You can’t fix stupid.”
Anyone using a portable generator has the responsibility to read and understand the warnings.
The federal government has far better things to focus on than trying to protect the irresponsible from themselves.

rollin mckim
6 months ago
Reply to  SJS

Our Nanny State says otherwise.

Bob K
6 months ago
Reply to  SJS

I agree. If you are dumb enough to run an engine in your house, we don’t need you in the gene pool.

Peter
6 months ago
Reply to  SJS

Darwin called it “Natural Selection”

Kevin
6 months ago

Government gets involved you are talking more expensive generators guaranteed.

Patrick Ford
6 months ago
Reply to  Kevin

More likely, you’ll see the end of ICE powered generators.

Kevin
6 months ago

While I’m sympathetic to those who died from the effects of CO and the family’s they left behind. I fail to understand how the government can get so involved, yet turn a blind eye to legalizing smoking pot and or cigarettes. How many lives have been destroyed? How many people must live with the loss of a loved one? I’m sure it’s more than 70. I guess money talks! Sorry as I realize this is a generator article but no amount of laws or Government involvement is going to fix stupid.

Mike Medrano
6 months ago
Reply to  Kevin

Bingo!

Jim G.
6 months ago
Reply to  Kevin

Add to that legalized CBD and the detrimental health effects that causes.

chris
6 months ago
Reply to  Kevin

Lives are destroyed by pot? CBD is detrimental? How old are you guys?

tas
6 months ago
Reply to  chris

Old enough to know that is a fact!!!

rollin mckim
6 months ago
Reply to  chris

How old are you?

chris
6 months ago
Reply to  rollin mckim

Old enough to recognize nonsense when I hear it. The one drug that’s probably killed/injured more people and done more harm to this country is alcohol. And none of this has anything to do with gas generators.

Last edited 6 months ago by chris
Patrick Ford
6 months ago
Reply to  chris

Whataboutism is never a good argument.

chris
6 months ago
Reply to  Patrick Ford

You mean like what Kevin did?

BILLY Bob Thronton
6 months ago
Reply to  chris

Listen, Smoking FILTERED cigarettes was determined to cause cancer, emphysema, and a whole host of terrible deseases, from inhalents of multiple compounds chemicals. The campaign went on for a few decades before it became common sense, smoke in your lungs is BAD.

Pot is now being legalized in state after state, which again is inhaling multiple compound chemicals with no FILTER, and not a mention of the damage.

[bleeped] in government will always be the rule of the day. This is no different.

Last edited 6 months ago by RV Staff
chris
6 months ago

Nobody smokes a pack of joints every day. Do you really want pot smokers in jail?

Last edited 6 months ago by chris
PerryB
6 months ago

No one I know smokes pot anymore. Mostly gummy’s.
I did have a beer today though.

PerryB
6 months ago
Reply to  chris

They believe what they want to believe. Notice they don’t talk about alcohol that destroys thousands of lives a year.

rollin mckim
6 months ago
Reply to  Kevin

Spot on, spot on!

Scott
6 months ago
Reply to  Kevin

Follow the money Kevin…legalize pot and $$$$$$$ for the government slush fund. Keep smoking the stuff and we will have an epidemic stupid to fix

Bob Palin
6 months ago

One night, that piercing shriek shook us out of sleep. Our water heater was malfunctioning and pumping CO back into the rig through a siding defect. Without that $35 detector, you might not be reading this article right now.”

Yep, had the same experience, the water heater didn’t like being at 9000 feet in 15 degree temperatures. The CO detector almost certainly saved my life, but boy was it cold out there until I was satisfied the unit had been aired sufficiently.

Dennis G.
6 months ago

CO emissions was the reason we switched our Onan 5KW, in our RV from gasoline to propane. The other advantages are, no noisy electric fuel pump running, and that the carburetor no longer gums up from old gas.
The only down side is we need to fill up our propane tank more often.

Robert Beard
6 months ago

The reason why generators emit so much CO compared to cars is that they use primitive carburetors that always run rich, emitting excess hydrocarbons and CO. Modern cars use fuel injection, oxygen sensors and catalytic converters to precisely meter fuel, monitor completion of combustion and cook the remaining emissions. The solution is not to just hang some CO detection alarm and shut-off system, but to reduce the emission of CO itself.

Eric
6 months ago

Seems like a very reasonable and overdue response by government to the problem.

One question I have is: does a generator running on propane have a similar CO emission as a gasoline (or diesel) fueled generator?

Jeff Mattingly
6 months ago
Reply to  Eric

According to Mechanicology.com, in regards to generators, “Propane is a clean-burning fuel, and the combustion of propane produces a meager amount of harmful Carbon Monoxide (CO) compared to gasoline.” They don’t mention diesel but I’d guess it’s worse than gasoline.

If you mean the govt’s nudging the industry to do better, I would agree.

Propane conversion kits are available and I think they make more sense for RV’s than lugging around gasoline. A $35 detector seems like a great idea as well. Plug it in next to the bed.

chris
6 months ago

I noticed how those generators in the pictures are mostly the open-frame contractor specials that I never want to be camped next to.

Last edited 6 months ago by chris
BULL
6 months ago

Government!

When will they learn you cannot out think and out legislate STUPID!!!

The deadly nature of CO as a byproduct of internal combustion engines has been discussed, written about, observed for decades and unfortunately still CO deaths are experienced first hand by families each year.

So government decides because of 70 stupid people a year it is going to “Protect, Inconvenience and Deny” the other 300+ Million citizens in our country the ability to own and operate a fossil fuel powered generator?

Darwin was right!

It’s amazing that Darwin was right and so many of those animals that Darwin spoke about work for the GOVERNMENT!!!

Last edited 6 months ago by BULL
chris
6 months ago
Reply to  BULL

If more campers knew about inverters and solar, generator use would decline substantially – especially for watching TV.

Last edited 6 months ago by chris
Vincee
6 months ago
Reply to  BULL

You are right Bull. If, and that’s a big If, the government wants to get involved because of 70 deaths per year ( which out of 330 million people is a very small number) perhaps they should look to “voluntary” donations from the generator manufacturers for public service messages about Genset use and locations, broadcast in the natural disaster regions prone to hurricanes, tornados and the like.

What would be next, legislating crossing the street?

Bill Massicotte
6 months ago
Reply to  Vincee

What’s next is gas lawn mowers or trimmers or anything gasoline operated.

chris
6 months ago

Electric lawn tools are much better.

Truckman
6 months ago
Reply to  chris

Agreed! I take my electric power tools, ( weed eater, chain saw, pole trimmer etc)generator and don’t need to drag around a couple hundred feet of extension cords.

chris
6 months ago
Reply to  Truckman

My lawnmower has a 110v battery pack. Cuts as well or better than any gas mower.

Joseph Cox
6 months ago
Reply to  chris

Electric mowers ect are great for Jonny homeowners not for a Gardner out of there truck. One might ask why are motor cycles not included in this bad?
.opinion because people would not put up with it. I am a dry camper 850 on the roof 400 ah lithium. 300 inverter,So I don’t use a generator. Let’s ban everything ( including motor cycles or nothing. Sounds like special interest crap

Stan
6 months ago

Ah, that’s already started in California!

Mike Medrano
6 months ago
Reply to  BULL

You are correct.

Ray
6 months ago

Although such a cut off switch is not a bad idea, I believe runaway inflation, a by-product of some brilliant governing, will ultimately kill more thoughtless people than generators. OMB used to conduct a cost/benefit analysis conducted for proposed laws. I wonder if they’ve ever done an analysis of that.

Bill
6 months ago

This is an excellent article. It sticks to facts. It gives the safety agencies and industry a fair hearing. It doesn’t try to fix stupid behavior or use stupid behavior as a way to counter argue the point of safety. It doesn’t engage in anti-government conspiracy theories. I trust the professionals more than some random genny jockey.

Mike Medrano
6 months ago
Reply to  Bill

It appears that “conspiracy theories” are the problem to you. Wake up. Many “professionals” and “experts” have an agenda. They are not just theories.

Sharon L Boehmer
6 months ago

Don’t let this stuff fool you, it can kill you even run outside. We carry an inverter generator in the back of our truck. One very, very hot night we cranked it up in the truck bed, turned the exhaust to go out the back of the truck and turned on our smaller ac unit in the bedroom. We just wanted to cool it off while we spent the night at a rest area, with all the other trucks running their engines. Within 15 minutes, our bedroom CO detector was going off. Shut everything off, opened a couple of windows and turned on 2 battery operated fans. It was a warm night for sleeping, but at least we woke up the next morning.

chris
6 months ago

Noise is just an irritant, but CO kills. No wind and being surrounded by gens is not a good idea.

Truckman
6 months ago

When running generator in truck bed I always have the exhaust pointed away from the RV.

Dennis Gregory
6 months ago

A death caused by something like a generator used improperly is a tragedy, for sure, but why should the deaths of 70 stupid mistakes affect the rest of the 330 million (minus 70) people who live in the USA? If our overly-protective legislators keep this up, we’ll be wearing helmets while taking a shower soon!

Joe Goomba
6 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Gregory

You’re sure quick to be ok with 70 people dying. What if it was 70 of your family members?

Andre Beverly
6 months ago
Reply to  Joe Goomba

Life is full of risk, Joe. If you drive, then you’re “okay” with over 30,000 deaths per year from driving. The reason is that the benefit to the whole of the population outweighs the risk to each individual. The value of generators far exceeds the risk that some people improperly use them. Why not put huge, airy, bumpers on all vehicles to protect jaywalkers? At some point there is a diminishing return to trying to eliminate risk to people who aren’t quite adept enough to know better, and you will never eliminate accidental death and injury no matter what you do. Check out some Tik Tok videos for proof…

Spike
6 months ago
Reply to  Andre Beverly

Very well said, Andre.

My wife and I always laugh at what is printed on the inside of those pop-open windshield covers for autos used to keep the sun from beating on the dash. “Remove before driving!” Well…duh! 🙂

Last edited 6 months ago by Spike
Mike Medrano
6 months ago
Reply to  Joe Goomba

Oh, please. Stupid is as stupid does.

Montgomery D Bonner
6 months ago

Ok, I get putting the generator in a place which it cannot be stolen from, especially true in crowded neighborhood. I can even see it in boondocking location still do not want it to walk away. SO, aside from making sure your RV is sealed good, having one installed by professional into RV prevents theft, but the CO detector is an absolute item even if no generator. We have two in our home. I have one in RV (OEM Install). But thinning herd is also a good idea. I have stated here, some people are just too stupid to RV. It is NOT a question of experience, it’s a question of preparation, “oh, I have driven Pickup for years, how hard can towing a trailer be?”. Lots harder than you think, mandatory endorsement on license from every state, classroom and practical training in how to drive and operate RV. YES!