How Close is Too Close - Transcript

[Music followed by Thunder & Rain]
When the lights go out during a storm, there’s nothing more welcome
than a portable gas-powered generator, or perhaps nothing more dangerous.
It’s hard to believe, but a single gas-powered generator can create as much
as one hundred times more poisonous carbon monoxide gas than a car’s exhaust.
And, if the generator is operated too close to a house, especially near a window or door,
the invisible and odorless toxic gas can easily enter the home, resulting in illness or death.
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
nearly half of the non-fatal carbon monoxide poisonings reported during the 2004
and 2005 hurricane seasons involved generators run within seven feet of a home.
The CDC study showed that consumers need clear guidance on where to position a generator
to prevent carbon monoxide from entering their homes.
Unfortunately, no one had done the research to determine what a safe operating distance is.
To help find that safe operating distance, the CDC teamed with building experts
from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST.
At first, the NIST researchers needed to do two things: collect data on the amount of carbon monoxide released
from a portable generator and build a computer model of a one-story test house
on the agency’s campus in Maryland where the testing was done.
The researchers then plugged the data they obtained into two sophisticated computer programs: one to calculate the flow of air
and gas contaminants outside the house, and the other to estimate the resulting gas concentrations in the house.
Their results, published in a recent NIST report, showed that positioning a generator 15 feet
from a house may not be far enough away to keep carbon monoxide out.
The researchers also learned that slow wind speed or lack of wind altogether increases the danger.
This was the worst case scenario because the carbon monoxide lingers near the house,
allowing more opportunity for the gas to enter.
While more research with portable generators is needed to define just what are the safe operating distances
for different situations, the NIST team does have some advice for those stormy winter nights when the power goes out.
You should keep your generators outdoors and as far from the house as possible– and certainly away from any doors or windows.
And be sure to install a battery-powered or battery backed-up carbon monoxide alarm inside your house near all the
sleeping areas.
Page last reviewed: November 19, 2019