In recent years, the Pittsburgh area has witnessed adverse weather events in the late fall and early winter that caused power outages. Some people have purchased portable generators to provide temporary power to their homes during these outages. If you’re one of them, make sure you have the facts you need to keep your family safe when using a generator.

Due to its ability to provide temporary power for heaters and appliances, the generator may seem like a life saver, but if placed in the wrong area, the generator can expose you and your family to carbon monoxide (CO), a colorless, odorless, and toxic gas. Carbon monoxide can kill you in as little as 5 minutes if the levels are high enough, according to safety guidelines from the National Institutes of Health.  Unfortunately, in the past decade, carbon monoxide from generators has killed at least 770 people in the U.S.

Consumer Reports, a national leading consumer advocate, recommends only purchasing a generator that has an integrated CO safety shutoff that triggers when the generator is used in an enclosed space.  This safety shut-off switch will help prevent the accumulation of CO in the immediate area.  However, the presence of the CO safety switch should not be the sole safety measure taken when using a generator at your home.

Follow these practices to stay safe when using a portable generator:

  • Generators should be used outdoors.
  • Never use a portable generator indoors, or in enclosed spaces such as garages, crawl spaces, and basements.
  • Never place a generator near doors, windows, or ventilation shafts where CO can enter and build up.
  • Always direct the exhaust away from your home.
  • Inspect the generator for damage or loose fuel lines.
  • Keep the generator dry. Maintain and operate it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Make sure the generator has 3 to 4 feet of clear space on all sides and above it to ensure adequate ventilation.

  • If you or others show symptoms of CO poisoning—dizziness, headaches, nausea/vomiting, tiredness, confusion, unconsciousness—get to fresh air immediately and seek medical attention. Call 9-1-1. Do not re-enter the area until it is determined to be safe by trained and properly equipped personnel.


  • OSHA Alert: Portable Generators: Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning While Working with Portable Generators
  • Consumer Report: Generator Safety Tips That Will Get You Through a Storm and Maybe Save Your Life, September 21, 2022.