People everywhere have been experiencing unseasonable temperatures and fierce episodes of Mother Nature expressing herself — such as heavy rains, which can lead to flooding. Floods are one of the most dangerous, damaging and deadly natural disasters, according to the National Geographic Society. One useful tool to have handy during a flood is a portable generator. It can help maintain electricity for important items when the power goes out. However, it’s important to know how to properly purchase one and safely operate it.

Flooding isn’t fun

Floods can lead to many dangerous and life-threatening situations. They can cause power outages, damage roads, overrun sewers, ruin crops, trigger landslides and more. National Geographic offers helpful safety tips on preparing for rising waters and what to do once a flood has begun.

Prepare for power outages

Heavy rains, hurricanes and flooding are unpredictable. One way to prepare for flooding is to have an alternative source of electricity if the power goes out. This is important in times when flooding doesn’t require evacuation.

A portable generator can help keep essential items powered, such as refrigerators, cooking appliances or home medical devices. They can also be useful in keeping your smartphone charged, so you can call for help, contact loved ones or just keep spirits high while waiting for the power to be restored.

Ken Boyce, principal engineer director of UL’s Energy and Power Technologies division recommends, “When shopping for a small generator, consumers should first assess what they want powered to understand their potential power needs. This will help determine the right portable generator to buy.”

Purchasing a portable generator

After you’ve determined your potential power needs, it’s time to jump online or head off to the store. When shopping online, be sure to read the product specifications and reviews or ask a store representative help you choose the right generator.

“If you have a portable generator as part of your disaster supply kit or are looking to buy one, make sure it’s UL Certified,” Boyce said. “UL certification means the generator’s performance requirements mitigates carbon monoxide poisoning. Consumers should look for the UL holographic label and Enhanced Mark on the product.”

Portable generators that are certified to UL’s standard UL 2201 must have an automatic shutoff when carbon monoxide reaches a certain level and its engine must significantly reduce carbon monoxide emissions: a two-pronged safety approach.

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Boyce went on to say, “Most deaths associated with portable generators are caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas. This means people won’t know they have been overexposed to carbon monoxide, which is why so many deaths occur from carbon monoxide poisoning. If you start to feel sick, dizzy or weak after your generator has been running, turn off the generator, move to fresh air and call 911.”

Using your generator safely

“Generators should only be used outside and 20-feet away from any living space,” Boyce said. “People should avoid using generators inside a garage or any other attached living space or space where people will congregate.”

Portable generators are not all created equal. Check if your generator is fit for all-weather usage. Generators that are not weatherproof can increase the risk of electrical shock when operating in wet conditions. Water and electricity don’t mix. They are a dangerous and deadly combination — so always keep them separate. Lastly, be sure to read the owner’s manual in detail to learn proper operation.

Storage and maintaining your generator

Always reference the owner’s manual on correct use, storage and maintenance of your generator. Planning ahead on how you’re going to use the generator will help you determine what needs to be done to proactively prepare for its safe use. Also, make sure you always have your generator’s fuel on hand. And of course, safe storage of the fuel is key as well. For added safety, store fuel outside of the home and use UL Certified containers. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has important guidelines for portable generator use available here and here.

With ongoing climate change, it’s wise for individuals and communities to be more prepared for natural disasters at any time. A portable, safe, UL certified generator is one item that can be a powerful tool in these situations.

Learn more about UL’s work with certifying safer portable generators.

Safe Bee® Top Three:

  1. Portable generators should be used outside and 20 feet away from living spaces. Avoid using near open windows and doors or inside a garage.
  2. Look for a certified generator, like one that show the UL Mark.
  3. Plan ahead and be prepared before flooding occurs.