10 tips

By Laura T. Coffey, Times Correspondent
Published May 27, 2007

Hoo-boy - it's hurricane season again. That means it's time to stock up on supplies that could come in awfully handy over the next few months. One bigger-ticket item you might want to consider is a portable generator.

1 Skip the taxes. Thanks to a hurricane supply tax holiday, you can spend up to $1, 000 on a portable generator without paying taxes from June 1-12.

2 Think about wattage. Before shopping around, add up the number of watts you would need to use simultaneously in the event of an emergency. A refrigerator requires about 600 watts, a window air-conditioner takes about 1, 000 watts and lights use anywhere from 60 to 200 watts.

3 Know the limitations. Most portable generators can keep appliances and lights working, but they typically can't support anything as intense as central air conditioning. Check the manufacturer's estimated run time carefully.

4 Stock up on gasoline. Portable generators can use up 12 to 18 gallons of gas a day. Since fuel can become scarce during a blackout, it's a good idea to keep gasoline on hand. Store it correctly by preserving it with stabilizer and keeping it in a well-vented area away from the house or an ignition source.

5 Invest in a power-transfer switch. For safety reasons, the generator should never be plugged into your home directly with extension cords. Instead, use a transfer switch to connect it to your home's wiring system. It costs about $500 to have a manual switch installed and $1, 000 to have an automatic one installed.

6 Buy from a reputable source. Avoid buying a generator from a salesperson who materializes in the wake of a big storm. Check company histories with the Better Business Bureau of West Florida www.bbbwestflorida.org or toll-free 1-800-525-1447 and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (-800-435-7352).

7 Don't overheat. Make sure your generator stays dry and clean, and don't let it get clogged with leaves or debris. Follow instructions to prevent water from getting into the fuel system. When operating, the generator should have at least 3 feet of clearance so it can cool properly.

8 Keep it running. Do all of the regular maintenance suggested in the owner's manual, such as changing the engine oil, carburetor air filter and fuel filter. Turn the generator on every few months to make sure it won't let you down in an emergency.

9 Steer clear of carbon-monoxide poisoning. You can't smell, taste or see carbon-monoxide gas, and it can be lethal. Never use gasoline- or propane-powered equipment or burn charcoal inside your home. Don't even do it on your porch. Use such equipment only when you're completely outdoors and at least 15 feet away from your home.

10 Buy a carbon-monoxide detector. Another tax-free purchase you can make from June 1-12 is a carbon-monoxide detector for $75 or less. Install them in bedrooms and where you spend a lot of time.

Laura T. Coffey (laura@tentips.org)

Sources: American Red Cross (www.prepare.org); Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org); Eric Johnston, senior vice president of Americas Generators in Miami (www.gopower.com); U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB /PUBS/portgen.pdf)