Thinking of a portable generator in order to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous Washington, D.C. weather?? You might want to think again, says US NIST. This is one of those situations where the cure is potentially worse than the problem - with the carbon dioxide fumes produced by these generators causing significant deaths and sicknesses. According to an article in Forbes, Power Outages are Bad; Portable Generators are Worse:
Portable gas generators emit large amounts of an invisible, odorless gas called carbon monoxide (CO) – more than an idling automobile. Operating generators in any enclosed space is a virtual death sentence. Indeed, even in partially-enclosed or ventilated spaces, enough CO can accumulate in the air to poison anyone who breathes it. CO can kill within minutes.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and others are concerned about the hazard of acute residential carbon monoxide (CO) exposures from portable gasoline powered generators that can result in death or serious and/or lasting adverse health effects in exposed individuals. As of June 2010, CPSC databases contain records of 542 deaths from CO poisoning associated with consumer use of generators in the period of 1999 through 2009, with nearly two-thirds of those occurring between 2005 and 2009 . Typically, these deaths occur when consumers use a generator in an enclosed or partially enclosed space or outdoors near an open door, window or vent. While avoiding the operation of such generators in or near a home is expected to reduce indoor CO exposures significantly, it may not be realistic to expect such usage to be eliminated completely. Another means of reducing these exposures would be to decrease the amount of CO emitted from these devices. In order to support health-based analyses of potential CO emission limits, a computer simulation study was conducted to evaluate indoor CO exposures as a function of generator source location and CO emission rate. These simulations employed the multizone airflow and contaminant transport model CONTAM, which was applied to a collection of 87 dwellings that are representative of the U.S. housing stock. A total of almost one hundred thousand individual 24-hour simulations were conducted. This report presents the simulation results in terms of the maximum levels of carboxyhemoglobin that would be experienced by occupants in the occupied portions of the dwellings as a function of CO emission rate for each indoor source location.
Bottom line? “Regardless of housing type or location, generators that release as little as 27 grams of CO per hour continuously for 18 hours cause 80 percent of the modeled cases to result in an exposure predicted to reach dangerous levels."
Power outages in Northern Virginia rarely last that long. If you want a good solution that wont kill you, consider a universal power supply battery backup system - something that will provide you a little electricity for a short period of time. Also consider a solar power generator that can be used to recharge phones and other small devices. Of course my favorite is a bicycle electric generator.
Final thought: If you must buy a generator - dont be a schmuck. Dont drop the generator right on your property line next to your neighbor. All the health issues listed above, you will be imposing on your neighbor. Many of these generators are very noisy (the quiet ones are much more expensive). And finally, you may be in violation of local zoning by dropping the generator next to the property line.