Homefix: Dwight Barnett answers home-improvement questions. This week's topic is on home generators.

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Almost all the questions I have received lately revolve around the damage caused by the severe weather of 2010 and 2011.

Even many of the homeowners not directly affected by wind or water damage have found themselves living without electricity for several days to several weeks because of downed power lines or damaged substations.

When it’s time to clean and repair the home, it is essential to have a power source for all the tools and equipment needed for restoration. Renting or purchasing a generator seems like a simple thing to do, but misuse or improper installation can be deadly.

There are safety rules that must be followed when using a portable or permanently installed generator:

1. Never operate a gas-powered generator indoors, near a window or door or under the roof’s overhang. Exhaust fumes contain carbon monoxide, a tasteless, colorless, odorless poison that is a silent killer.

2. Protect the generator from rain or snow.

3. Do not try to refill the gas tank while the unit is running. The generator’s motor must be off when refueling. Consider using earplugs when working near a running generator.

4. Use heavy-duty extension cords rated for 20 amps or more for all 120-volt equipment.

5. Do not use more than one appliance for each outlet on the generator.

6. When connecting the furnace to the generator, disconnect the wiring from the home’s electric panel to the furnace. When the power to the home is restored, it can feed back through the generator, or more importantly, a generator connected to the home’s main electric panel can injure anyone working on the outside wiring to the home. An unsuspecting lineman could be electrocuted by your generator.

7. When not in use, add a gasoline stabilizer. Drain the tank before storage.

8. Use only approved storage containers for the fuel supply. Never store gasoline indoors.

A generator cannot be connected to a plug in the home or garage. Any generator used for backup can only be connected to the electric panel by a transfer switch.

A transfer switch disconnects the home’s electric panel from the meter when the generator is in operation and reconnects the panel to the meter and disconnects the generator when power is restored. The switch takes the human ability to cause errors out of the equation.

Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home-improvement questions at d.Barnett@insightbb.com.