Tuesday, September 26, 2023


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.


Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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?

    • 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.

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

  13. 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!!!

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

    • 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?

          • 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.

          • 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

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

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

      • 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…

        • 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! 🙂

  18. 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!

  19. If you put a generator in your house to run that’s just thinning the herd no amount of regulation will help them if their that dumb. There’s over 230,000 injuries and 360 deaths in the bathroom EVERY year in the USA life has risk it’s up to you to determine what you do is risky to your life. 4,000 people are poisoned by indoor charcoal bbq’s and 50 are killed a year. The point of all this is risk is everywhere and if your too dumb to figure it out you pay the price. If you need a reference book on this I hear Darwin wrote one a few years ago.

    • Many of the CO poisonings in houses are definitely a result of ignorance. Another reason is that people are afraid of having the generator stolen, so they run it in the garage or crawl space. After all, generators are a very valuable commodity in areas devastated by hurricanes/tornadoes. Others reasons for bad placement include use of extension cords that are too short, and having the generator near open windows, so they can hear it. As long as you can hear it, it hasn’t been stolen.

  20. What about the generators permanently installed in most Class A motorhomes. Mine exhausts directly below two sets of windows. I realize CO is heavier than air and most exhaust will dissipate down and away from the windows but might still pose a potential hazard.

    • RVs with permanently installed generators come with CO detectors so I don’t see why there would be any additional requirement. Pretty sure all RVs with fuel gas appliances come with CO detectors now as well.

    • Actually it is a myth that CO is heavier than air. Building code does not set a height location for CO detectors since it easily mixes with air.

  21. Dont believe the Car facts of 400 cars equal 1 generator on Co. So what are the Co numbers for lawnmowers and leave blowers ?
    The only generator deaths I have seen were people running them inside their trailers

  22. Seems like many government programs are essential and even loved and honored. National Parks, forest and wild reserves, Medicare, the military just to start, (social benefit programs for USA and earth). It also is evident that hoping for the best in the future has had mixed results or dumb luck…to potential worldwide disaster (global warming). Ice fields in Greenland and polar regions crashing. I believe proper regulations for increased usage is warranted. You can bet manufacturers will ‘Get’ their money in against regs. That should make us ask why? There’s reason to doubt their wholesome intent. Let’s contribute our opinions. And learn about the real or nonexistent danger for short and longer terms that we can effect. Cows are 1000Xs worse. Ready to eat vege-burger? Maybe a poll and even a petition on RVT newsletter for law and regulations creators. Wait and see seems like a gamble and the RV & Generator makers and sellers are the ‘casino’s house”. Just my gut feeling. TS

  23. This seems a bit short sighted considering that there are far more lawn mowers, pressure washers, leaf bowers, weed trimmers, etc etc etc. Will I need to get a new lawn mower next? Not sure who uses their generator inside… but that seems like an education issue for operator error. Hard to fix stupid.

    • ^this. You can’t fix stupid and you can’t save everyone. You will always have that guy who ignores all the warnings and sets up a turkey fryer in his living room or somehow ends up bathing with a toaster. Education is the key and this is only going to jack up the prices of generators. It will potentially defer people from buying them which I believe is the government’s ultimate goal.

    • No smoking indoors. Regulation on automobile pollution. Tickets for speeding. Vaccines required for school and the military. Seat belts. Is this all a problem for you?

  24. Anytime a government agency gets involved the outcome isn’t good. If you don’t know you shouldn’t run fossil fuel equipment in a building. Your dumber than a door knob. and shouldn’t own the equipment.

  25. Haven’t heard from the “can’t tell me what to do crowd”. Maybe they are the ones who run generators in their garages. Problem solved unless they are right next door to my RV 3 feet away with the exhaust aimed right at my RV. Had it done to me.

  26. The amount of pollutants a generator puts out should be reduced, even if there weren’t any deaths. Generators (and campfires) contribute to global warming and human health problems such as emphysema and lung cancer. Some {bleeped} running a generator in an enclosed space is a different problem. Let Darwin solve it.

  27. I am still not convinced by the 400 to 1 ratio of CO production but if both genset & auto manufacturers are telling the truth, what is the difference? Cat Converters, O2 sensors?

    I would support changes to cut CO if it is a pollution issue. H20, CO2, is no doubt better than CO for the planet but what else is going on if we clean up all small engine exhaust?

    Does CO have a half life? What happens to it after we produce and release it?

    I support & would pay for clean air if it has long term value. This did seem to work for vehicles…

    • Tim, it’s a question of the engine technology in generators vs. cars.

      Cars have computer designed and controlled fuel/air/spark systems that maximize combustion efficiency, so less unburned hydrocarbons. They have catalytic converters on the exhaust to minimize CO and NOx. Generators & small engines typically don’t have this technology.

      Testing by the DOE shows that cars at idle produce the most pollution vs when they are driving. So basically, a generator without any of the modern technology applied to cars and burning gas/diesel is the worst possible scenario for CO and NOx. So a 450-1 ratio sounds crazy but is probably spot on.

      We can fix this, but like with cars, generators will cost more. Good news is that generators should become more efficient in the process & produce more power (more kw – longer run time)

      Or solar panel/batteries costs could go down and efficiency go up, then maybe gennies won’t be needed.

      BTW – Wikipedia says CO life is 2 months in the atmosphere.

  28. Very good article. Most of the C O detectors will do more than just carbon monoxide. While Dry camping My alarm woke me up to the smell of sulphur. My batteries were being overcharged and the gas was getting in the R V. Thanks to my detector my wife and I are ok.

  29. Well I would think with government ways of thinking they will force manufacturers to put catalyst converters on them so thieves won’t get dirty crawling under vehicles to cut the cats off, now they’ll be able to stand up and cut it off. It might be a solution to take a common sense test before buying to determine if a person has enough common sense to operate a generator. Anyone who sets one up inside a building is proving they don’t have the intelligence to operate it. I have one installed on the back of our TT, it’s out in the open air, we have enough common sense not to open the windows, it’s used to run the A/C so windows are closed, duh! The exhaust is directed down and away from the trailer, this is no more than government “nanny” program to protect stupid people from themselves. You can’t fix stupid and the world would be better off without them, oops saying that where would we get politicians?

  30. Purchased an LP generator. Problem solved. And there are adapter kits that attached between the carb and engine that allow one to run either LP or gas.

    • I thought exactly the same thing. “Inside” forklifts in large warehouses are LP fueled just for this reason. The bonus is LP fuel doesn’t go bad like gasoline, this really minimizes fuel related issues. Does my diesel gen produce that much CO? I know the smell of diesel is not great, but I did not see any data on diesel generators…

  31. Excellent article! The writers obviously put a lot of time, effort, and thought into Part 2 of this story, which I do appreciate. Thank you.


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