Using a Portable Generator Indoors Can “Kill You in Minutes”

According to the CPSC, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of deaths caused by people using portable generators indoors, so a new label is being required on all portable generators. ” The CO produced by one generator is equal to the CO produced by hundreds of running cars. It can incapacitate and kill consumers within minutes.”

Don’t use these indoors. —MEGHANN MARCO

New Danger Label Required on All Portable Generators [cpsc]


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  1. I actually can’t believe people try this.

    Screw the portable ones and get a gas powered static generator with automatic cutover. They rock and aren’t that expensive. We installed ours in a day, and that included pouring a concrete pad for it, running new gas line, and redoing some of our breaker panel.

  2. Kornkob says:

    Agreed– I don’t understand what makes people think running a generator (or a propane heater for that matter) indoors is a good idea.

    However, your solution isn’t that simple. Some folks (even some pretty handy folks) aren’t comfortable or qualified to break open their electrical panel or cut into their natural gas lines. (Any monkey who can use a shovel can put down a concrete pad)

    For instance, I’m comfortable running romex, figuring out circuits, adding outlets, snaking wire and other rough in and finish electrical but I hire a pro when I need the circuit breaker wired up and installed. (Hiring a pro often means giving a local electrician a few bucks and a six pack) I’ve never had reason to consider putting in a gas line but I don’t think I’d do that myself unless I had someone experienced working with me, just to make sure I didn’t do something stupid.

  3. homerjay says:

    Okay, I’m in the same boat. How is this not already obvious???

    That being said, back in the 80’s my uncle set one up in his basement and almost killed the whole family. Back then it was a very new thing and it made the news. Never really asked him what the hell he was thinking.

  4. Myron says:

    How does a portable generator throw off more CO than several hundred cars? Lack of emmisions control?

  5. Kung Fu Cantona says:

    When you dont have money to pay the heating bill people tend to do some pretty drastic / stupid things.

  6. JuliusJefferson says:

    How does a portable generator throw off more CO than several hundred cars? Lack of emmisions control?

    No catalytic converter, very inefficient, inadequate cooling. And I assume that the “100 running cars” are considered to be idling, which means the engine is running at

    Lawnmowers are also major green house contributors, even though they’re only run part of the year, an hour or two at a time, and once every week or two.

  7. JuliusJefferson says:

    That 1 rpm was supposed to be

  8. JuliusJefferson says:

    Damn html, LESS THAN 1 rpm.

  9. JuliusJefferson says:

    Damn HTML…

    LESS THAN 1 rpm.

    Forgive me.

  10. Here’s a tip on working with gas lines: Put down the cigarette.

    Seriously, I knew a guy who didn’t understand why.

  11. Sheik says:

    I guess these warning labels are for the same people who didn’t know McDonald’s coffee was hot. Maybe they should also put a warning not to lick the outlet while the generator is running.

  12. Darwinism, thinning the herd, etc., etc.

  13. ValkRaider says:

    Maybe we don’t need so many people around who don’t get this type of thing…

    And Natural Gas is one of the easiest things to work with because it is low-pressure. It is really really hard to screw up a natural gas line. Now propane or something like that might be harder.

  14. JennifARGH says:

    This is one of those “WELLL DUUUUHHHRRRRR moments.

  15. Keter says:

    [sarcasm on]
    But, JackieTreehorn, we mustn’t enable natural selection to run its course, it’s inhumane. We must do all we can to protect the idiots, er, insurance companies, er, innocents.
    [sarcasm off]

  16. velocipenguin says:


    I don’t know where you get your numbers, but my car idles at 750 RPM.

    The high carbon monoxide output probably has something to do with the cheap two-stroke engines found in many generators, which are far better at spewing toxins than car engines. (Unless you drive a Trabant.)

  17. Framling says:

    We had a lot of this going around a few weeks ago in the Seattle area. A couple of big storms came through and knocked out power to about a million people, because, I can only assume, the power lines and related equipment are made out of cotton candy and hope (I’m originally from the Midwest. No one gets worse weather.) and so a lot of people were running their generators, and a lot of them decided to just leave them inside for whatever reason.

    I remember there was one family that all died except for one kid who was at college at the time. Home much would it suck to find out that not only is your entire family dead, they were also idiots?

    It seemed like every night the news would have another story about someone else that had died, it was like a freaking epidemic or something. They kept warning people not to run them indoors, but the people watching television obviously weren’t the ones without power…

  18. Michael says:

    Last winter just down the road from me, a couple of guys were hired to tear out the fixtures from a closed McDonald’s to prepare the building for a construction crew coming in to remodel the place for a bakery taking over the building, and they dragged their portable generator inside and had it running with all windows and doors closed. I don’t know how long they were in there like that, but they were lucky one of their wives stopped by to bring them lunch and found them passed out but not dead on the floor.

  19. RulesLawyer says:

    Dear Seattle:
    You’re dumb.
       The Seattle Times (December 20).

    (click to enlarge)

  20. RegularGonzalez says:

    Can we call this the idiocracy effect?

  21. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I can’t believe anyone would actually run an internal combustion engine indoors, but just recently a woman died from asphyxiation from this. She was a drywall contractor, and either she or her co-worker had set up a generator in the basement of an unfinished home. The sad thing is, the only thing it was powering was the radio. (There was already a propane heater running).

    It’s both tragic and stupid…tragistupid. And it seems to happen every year…the same with people running BBQ grills indoors.

    Wow, have people really become that stupid? (Yes, they have).

  22. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    Running a gas generator indoors? That’s just asking for a Darwin Award.

    Modern cars produce a lot of nasty emissions upon a cold start-up but once the car warms up the exhaust is not that nasty. The reason they do this is because they have hundreds of pounds of emissions equipment, which isn’t an option on a 100-pound (or less) portable gas-powered device, whether it’s a generator, lawnmower, etc… To give you an idea of the power of modern auto emissions equipment, a Hummer H2 produces less NOx than a motorcycle (yes, the motorcycle burns less fuel, but the stuff coming out the exhaust is dirtier).

  23. Sudonum says:

    Carbon Monoxide is a by-product of incomplete combustion. Most generators and lawn mowers use inefficient flat head 4-cycle engines. Newer models like Honda small engines use overhead valves. They are inefficient for a variety of reasons. Most of them are air-cooled and never really reach the optimum temperature for complete combustion. They also lack variable ignition timing to improve conbustion efficiency and, as stated in other posts, pollution control equipment such as Exhaust Gas Recirculation and Catalytic Converters. However the California Air Resources Board and the EPA are looking into possibly installing catalysts and other equipment onto small equipment engines and other non-compliant sources such as Outboards, Motorcycles, Snowmobiles, and Personal Watercraft. As usual, the drawbacks are cost and technology.

  24. FLConsumer says:

    I have one of the newer Honda inverter-based generators. VERY efficient and quiet. Only drinks about 2 gallons/day with air con running. Most conventional generators use 0.5-2 gallons/hr depending on their size. As far as using natural gas, it doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’re getting a generator for natural disasters, as they often shut off gas after a natural disaster due to the multiple leaks which happen. It may be fine for your occasional blizzard, but in case of a major problem (hurricane/earthquake), your natural gas generator becomes an expensive lawn ornament.

    As to why people run these inside, beats the hell out of me. Most consumer/construction generators are terribly noisy and smelly. Not sure how anyone could possibly stand to be in the room with one, besides the obvious health risks. Darwinism at it’s finest. Screw the warning labels — The gene pool needs some chlorine.

  25. ndavies says:

    Kill people in minutes? Holy euthenasia, Batman!

  26. Coronagold says:

    If you tip these generators upside down you’ll see a little Mercedes/skull & crossbones insignia.

  27. BareFeet says:

    I live in Seattle, where we had a huge windstorm a couple weeks ago, and it seemed like I was seeing the same “Homeowner dies in generator-related accident” day after day. I think, like, eight people died, which is awful, but PEOPLE. It is a MOTOR. You put GAS IN IT.

    That said, I’m not that smart either, and who wants to have to mess with their generator when it’s cold and rainy out? Yeah, in retrospect we’re all “HAHA STUPID GENERATOR USERS LOLZORZ”, but any one of us could have made the same mistake. Who knows, maybe you have a lapse in common sense because of the stress from, you know, not having had any power for a distressingly long time. I reckon it’d be pretty easy to just forget the consequences.

    God. I never thought I’d be sticking up for stupidity. I feel…dirty.

  28. Kornkob says:

    This kind of stupidity does not deserve ‘sticking up for’. Far too often people don’t think about the consequences of what they do and brush it off as ‘anyone could make that mistake’.

    Doing something dangerously lethal that puts yourself and your family at risk to avoid doing maintenece when it is ‘cold and rainy out’ is unforgivable. If it isn’t criminal it sure as hell should be.

    And if you’ve got the forethought, planning time and resources to acquire a generator then you’ve certainly got a spare minute to stop and as ‘okay– what are the consequnces of the decision I am making?’

    The number of situations in which a person is forced to set up a portable generator under such a severe time constraint that they have no time to think through their problem solving process approaches zero.

  29. BareFeet says:

    Hee. Criminalizing stupidity…as if our prisons aren’t overcrowded enough.

    That said, I totally get what Kornkob is saying. In anything other than an emergency situation like the aftermath of the Seattle windstorm, yeah, it’s pretty much unforgivably dumb. But I stand by my earlier statement: When you’re stressed out and you’re trying to fix a major problem as soon as possible, common sense can sometimes take a backseat. It’s really unfortunate, but it’s happened to all of us, and we maybe shouldn’t be so quick to deride people who screw up while they’re just trying to make sure their families are safe and comfortable amid the chaos of an emergency like that.

  30. Kalik says:

    It’s true but sad that many Floridians have done this and died during the aftermath of hurricanes… It’s better that the manufacturers put a warning on the generators before some more southerners put their lives in jeopardy because no matter how many times the news channels tell them NOT to do this, they can’t THINK.

  31. m.c.cookie says:

    How does a portable generator throw off more CO than several hundred cars? Lack of emmisions control?

    Also: MOST generators, lawnmowers, chainsaws, etc. are 2 stroke engines as opposed to a cars 4 which… burns much cleaner.

  32. KAYSTI says:

    Sometimes people do make mistakes…my cousin who was only 18 at the time..died while using a portable generator in the basement of a house they were working on. They had a window cracked but not enough. Anyway, yes maybe stupid but people make mistakes without thinking !!!