Avoiding power outages with a portable generator

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SEATTLE -- Hundreds of thousands of people lost power during powerful windstorms and snowstorms over the last couple months.

The experts at PEMCO Insurance are offering advice about what to look for when purchasing a portable generator and how to use one safely when the power goes out.

First, make sure to pay attention to the wattage.

"Different generators have different wattage," said Rhonda Vanderford, a Senior Underwriter at PEMCO Insurance. "So, you need to make sure it's got enough wattage to run. What most people would think about running is a refrigerator, maybe a few lights, space heater and possibly an electric fry pan to cook on."

Vanderford also said if you want more wattage, you can get a permanently installed standby generator that runs off your home's natural gas or propane. However, these can cost thousands of dollars and require professional installation.

Here are some suggestions on how to pick the right generator:

  • Use a calculator. Appliances are marked with the number of watts they draw when they are running.
  • Add up the wattage for all the things you would like to run off the generator at the same time
  • Add a buffer because many appliances draw more electricity when they first kick on

Remember, an overloaded generator is a fire hazard, so don't be tempted to plug in "just one more thing" if it is near capacity. Depending on the size, you will pay anywhere from about $600 to $2,000.

After you buy the right generator, PEMCO wants you to keep a few safety tips in mind.

"The single biggest thing to remember is that you never want to run your generator in an enclosed area such as a garage, car port, or a porch," said Vanderford. "You want to make sure the generator is at least 10 feet from any door or window opening."

Here are more safety tips:

  • Use only heavy-duty outdoor extension cords
  • Never plug a generator into a wall outlet
  • To eliminate the risk of explosion, never gas up a generator that has been running. Allow it to cool first.
  • Run the generator a few times a year to keep it working properly


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