April 08, 2020

Heating Your Home> Generators handy, but can be risky alternative

BANGOR — It sounds like a nifty idea during an outage. Buy a gasoline-powered generator, hook it up and you can have electricity.

But the power we depend on daily is nothing to play with, and those who try the project on their own could risk a fire, injury to power-line workers and even legal problems.

“Unless you have the proper disconnects, it’s very, very dangerous” to hook a generator up to a house or other building connected to a power company, said Bill Cohen, spokesman for Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. Cohen added that using a generator without the proper disconnects is illegal.

Home Depot, which sold about 150 generators Thursday and 60 more Friday morning, had electricians at the store to advise those who came in to buy them.

Store manager Pete McGinnity, who expected shipments of generators from around the country throughout the weekend, had praise for customers who planned ahead. One woman, who came in Thursday to buy one for her bed-and-breakfast, called an electrician from the store and arranged to meet up at the inn.

One Bangor resident who bought a generator Thursday was Gaelen Saucier, who spent many years wiring homes and businesses.

Saucier purchased a 1,850-watt, camp-size generator and had it hooked up by a little after 9 p.m. The equipment could run his furnace, he said, adding he warmed up his house and then turned the generator off for the night.

A former electrician, Saucier said he was very concerned about the possibility of people trying this kind of project on their own.

The easy part is buying the generator, starting it up and plugging in the cord, he said. The hard part, which is critical, is separating the wiring circuits that will be run by the generator.

If those aren’t totally disconnected from the electrical service, “you’re back-feeding into the power grid,” Saucier said. That could injure or kill the worker who’s up there restoring the service.

Knowing that, the homeowner might think of shutting off his circuit-breaker panel or fuse panel.

That won’t solve the problem, said Saucier. The “neutral” line still will be hooked up, allowing power to back-feed to the pole.

The safest path is to have an electrician install a transfer switch that will isolate the proper circuits when the generator is to be used.

With older homes, the question of isolating circuits is even trickier, Saucier said. Many have old wiring with numerous interconnections.

Saucier also recommends against using a generator to power computers, stereos, microwaves and other electronic equipment.

As for the gas-powered generator itself, treat it like a car, he suggested. Operate it only outdoors or in a garage with a door or window open.

Gaelen Saucier is the husband of reporter Roxanne Moore Saucier.

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