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Keep portable generators at least 25 feet from house

When power fails in the wake of a hurricane, a blizzard or some other disaster, the electrical power produced by a portable generator can be lifesaving. But, according to a new study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, portable generators are a tremendous source of deadly carbon monoxide and setting one up even 15 feet away from a house can be deadly.

A single generator, powered by gasoline, “can produce a hundred times more of the colorless, odorless gas than a modern car’s exhaust,” the NIST report said.

To ensure that deadly levels of the gas don’t enter a home through windows or doors — even those left open just a crack to allow in a power cord from the generator — generators should be set up at least 25 feet from the building. Some of the guides that come with generators recommend they be kept at least 10 feet from open windows, but NIST researcher Steven Emmerich said the safe operating distance actually depends on the house, the weather, and the generator itself.

NIST did its study by tracking how air flows around the outside of a one story house. The next phase is to study flow around a two story home. But regardless of the house or building, Emmerich said, “people need to be aware that generators are potentially deadly.”

Jim Dawson reports for Inside Science News Service.

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