RVelectricity – Just Ask Mike (J.A.M.): Important generator carbon monoxide reminder

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By Mike Sokol

Welcome to my J.A.M. (Just Ask Mike) Session, a weekly column where I answer your basic electrical questions. If you’re a newbie who’s never plugged in a shore power cord (or ask – what’s a shore power cord?), or wonder why your daughter’s hair dryer keeps tripping the circuit breaker, this column is for you. Send your questions to Mike Sokol at mike (at) noshockzone.org with the subject line – JAM.


Dear Readers,

As part of my series on staying safe in cold weather (you should remember last week’s article on how to avoid electric space heater danger – Part 2 coming soon), it’s time to remind you all about the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from running a generator inside of – or even near – your house or RV.

Recent CO deaths

This isn’t just for RV usage since there have been several more families who died from exhaust fumes during Hurricane Delta last week. Because there are hundreds of thousands of homes without electric power from the grid, you can hear portable generators running everywhere. But all generators carry a hidden danger that can’t be seen or felt. Yes, it’s carbon monoxide poisoning, or CO poisoning for short.

First things first

So, first of all, does everyone have an operational carbon monoxide alarm in their house and RV? Your RV should already have an AC-powered version of this. If not, then get thee to a big box store and buy one TODAY, or you can also find one on Amazon here.

Remember that not only can a generator create a fatal dose of CO, anything that burns fossil fuel can create this colorless, odorless gas that will lull you to sleep and kill you while you’re dreaming. So even an improperly vented home furnace or a portable propane heater can generate CO gas.

Generator placement

The first rule is NEVER place any kind of generator inside of an occupied structure – and that includes the porch or attached garage. All generators create carbon monoxide, and it takes surprisingly little time for it to build up.

Keep your distance

Also, a portable generator should be kept at least 10 feet away from any windows on your house or RV. And never place it UNDER your RV while running to keep it safe from thieves and the weather (which I have indeed seen more than once). While this may seem impractical in some situations, especially if you’re worried about someone stealing your expensive generator, then consider the possible tragic consequences of sucking in exhaust fumes via an unsealed window or vent on your RV while you and your family sleep.

Don’t let it walk away

One possible solution that I’ve seen to keep your generator from walking away is to secure it in the bed of the tow vehicle by chaining it in place. Or put it in front of your truck on the ground and chain it to the bumper. Those would seem to be good solutions to the stealing problem if you have a towable RV, plus it locates the generator far enough away from your RV to prevent CO infiltration.

Just remember, anything that burns a fuel of any sort can generate deadly carbon monoxide gas, even catalytic heaters on propane if something goes wrong. So a CO alarm is one of the best lifesaving investments you can make to protect yourself and your family.

OK, everyone. Remember that electricity is a useful and powerful force, so we all need to pay attention to safety precautions while using it.

Let’s play safe out there….

Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.
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