How CO Sensors Impact Generator Use

Posted by Kristen S. on Dec 28th 2023

How CO Sensors/Shut-Offs Impact Portable Generator Use

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a lethal gas commonly referred to as "the silent killer" because its effects often go unnoticed until it's too late. Many household appliances, especially those that burn fuel or use gas, release carbon monoxide as a result of combustion. A standard portable generator can emit CO at a rate equivalent to that produced by hundreds of cars, posing a significant risk for its users. Thankfully, the availability of carbon monoxide detectors, sensors, and automatic shut-off mechanisms provides a safer means of utilizing a portable generator.

What Are CO Sensors or Shut-Off Switches?

Generator manufacturers included a built-in carbon monoxide detector as a safety mechanism to prevent CO poisoning. When the CO sensor detects high levels of carbon monoxide exceeding a certain amount, it automatically switches the generator off, protecting those in the house from harmful emissions. It is essential to check your shut-off switch regularly to ensure it works properly.

Under Portable Generator Manufacturers' Association (PGMA) G300 standard, portable generators should switch off when CO levels reach 400 parts per million (ppm) in 10 minutes and instantly shut off when CO levels rise to 800 ppm. In contrast, the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 2201 standard states that generators should automatically shut off within a 10-minute period when CO levels reach 150 ppm and instantly stop at 400 ppm.

How Do CO Sensors Impact Portable Generator Use?

No matter how severe the weather is, using your portable generator indoors is never a good idea, even if you have a functional CO sensor. CO levels still reach alarming rates in a garage with open doors before triggering the CO shut-off. During multiple simulations, CO sensors failed to switch portable generators off in ventilated rooms despite CO levels reaching harmful levels. 

These simulations highlighted that using a portable generator indoors is unsafe regardless of the CO sensor. While PGMA and UL standards state that portable generators should stop running when CO levels reach 150-800 ppm, symptoms of CO poisoning start showing at 70 ppm and become deadly at 150 ppm over a long period. Sadly, most homeowners are unaware of the risks associated with using their generators inside a ventilated room. Homeowners should always run their portable generators outside to avoid CO poisoning for this reason. 

Although CO sensors and shut-offs are an important fail-safe advancement and feature,  they can provide a false sense of security and as with all electronics,  can malfunction.  Should you experience continual shut-offs or alarms even when the generator is running outdoors, it is best to immediately contact your portable generator manufacturer.

How to Use a Portable Generator Safely

Homeowners should not solely rely on CO shut-offs to prevent CO poisoning since they cannot mitigate the risks of using a portable generator indoors, even in a well-ventilated area. In addition to using the CO shut-off safety feature, you can follow a few guidelines to ensure you keep carbon monoxide out of your home, including these rules:

  • Do not operate your generator indoors, even if doors and windows are open.
  • Keep your generator at least 20 feet from your house.
  • Ensure the exhaust faces away from your home.

These best practices are timeless safety guidelines that you and your family should always keep in mind to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Protect Your Generator From the Elements With an NFPA Portable Generator Tent

We understand that leaving your generator outside exposes it to heavy rainfall, strong winds and snow. That's where we come in. GenTent Safety Canopies offers durable NFPA rated generator tents to keep your generator safe in harsh weather conditions so you can enjoy peace of mind while leaving your equipment outside. We provide a range of canopies to fit over 3,000 generators, so you can protect your investment and, more importantly, your family. Browse our selection of GentTent portable generator covers and order yours online!

Graphic for GenTent stating that GenTent generator safey covers can help protect your NFPA portable generator from the elements and that the tents can fit up to 3,000 different generator models