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Can You Cover a Generator With a Tarp?

Can You Cover a Generator With a Tarp?

Sometimes, a storm or other event catches us unprepared. The power might go out, requiring a generator, but you might not have an enclosure or shed for it. In a pinch like that, can you cover a generator with a tarp?

You can cover a generator with a tarp, so long as the generator isn’t running. Running your generator with a tarp directly over it can cause carbon monoxide poisoning, start a fire, or cause your generator to stall and stop working. If you’re desperate, however, you can hang tarps around or over it.

In this article, I’ll go over why you shouldn’t run your generator under a tarp, and the potential dangers of doing so. I’ll explain how to protect your generator while it’s running, and briefly talk about how to safely run a generator. If this sounds good, read more.

Why You Shouldn’t Run Your Generator Under a Tarp

So, why shouldn’t you run a generator under a tarp? How exactly is it dangerous? What might happen if you do so anyway?

You shouldn’t run your generator under a tarp because it can cause carbon monoxide to build up. A generator’s parts get hot and can cause fires. Smothering your generator can damage it, too, as it needs oxygen to avoid stalling; and when it’s smothering, it produces harmful pollutants.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen if you breathe in too much of your generator’s fumes. Every year, many die all over the world from inhaling carbon monoxide gas after running a barbeque, generator, or stove inside during a storm. It’s an extremely common cause of death, and can sometimes claim entire families at once.

In carbon monoxide poisoning, the affected person develops a headache and feels confused and weak. They may feel nauseous or experience vomiting. This progresses to dizziness and difficulty breathing as the carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in their body and they slowly suffocate (source).

To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, don’t make a fire or run gas-fueled appliances inside enclosed spaces. Close windows near your generator and keep it away from vents into your home. Install a carbon monoxide monitor in your basement, too, as malfunctioning furnaces are also a common cause of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Fire Hazards

Your generator’s exposed metal parts get hot during regular use. Putting a tarp directly on top of a generator causes the tarp to heat up too, and it can burst into flame. If your generator is close to your house, garage, or shed, it can cause that to burn, too.

So, never put a tarp over your generator. It’s not worth the risk, even if you need it during a troublesome storm.

Damage to Your Generator

Your generator uses combustion to make energy, like your car. Combustion requires oxygen; without it, the process starts to create pollutants before finally ceasing completely. This can damage your generator’s parts, as they aren’t working under intended conditions.

In addition, a smothering generator can increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. When combustion doesn’t have the oxygen it requires, it creates pollutants. These are not good for anyone to breathe.

How To Protect Your Generator While It’s Running

So, how do you protect your generator while it’s running? Are there enclosures or sheds made specifically for generators? Can you hang tarps over top or around your generator in an emergency?

To protect your generator while it’s running, use a steel enclosure or purchase a plastic generator shed. In a pinch, you can get away with erecting an overhead tarp using rope, but it provides little protection. Never place a cover or tarp directly over your generator.

Purchase a Plastic Generator Shed

A plastic generator shed is an inexpensive way to store your generator and protect it from storms. You can purchase them at hardware stores, and place them on your property to store your generator year-round.

Beware, though: hot parts on your generator can melt the plastic, and after a certain point, plastic is flammable. Not only that, but burning plastic creates toxic fumes. So be careful with your generator shed—don’t let your generator touch the inside of the shed, and make sure the shed itself is well-ventilated at all times.

Use a Steel Enclosure

Steel is not flammable, so a steel enclosure is an ideal way to protect your generator from storms and keep it from damaging other things. While it’s still important to practice fire safety while using a generator, a steel enclosure eliminates a lot of risks.

A steel enclosure is more expensive than a plastic generator shed, though, and can be cumbersome to move and install. If you can’t afford or manage a plastic or steel enclosure, you can always make one by following the instructions listed on the BigRentz website.

Erect an Overhead Tarp

If you’re caught unprepared by a storm and are in a pinch, you can use a rope to erect a tarp over top or to the sides of your generator to protect it. However, it’s not a good solution.

You need to be careful to secure your tarps so they don’t come apart and land on your generator, which can be a fire hazard. It’s also not advised to run a generator in the rain unprotected, so if your tarps or ropes fail, it can lead to your generator being damaged. Erecting an overhead tarp should be a last resort.

How To Safely Use a Generator During a Storm

But how do you use a generator safely during a storm? What do you need to do to minimize the risks and protect yourself and your family?

To safely use your generator during a storm, keep it outside and far away from your home. Let it cool before you refuel it to prevent fires, and use a transfer switch to avoid damaging your electronics and the wiring of your home. Never plug your generator directly into a power outlet.

Keep Your Generator Outside

Every year, many, many people die from carbon monoxide poisoning after running a barbecue, generator, or stove inside during a storm. The odorless gas becomes trapped in the enclosed space and suffocates those inside.

To stay safe, always run your generator outside and try to keep it away from vents, open windows, and other potential ways it can infiltrate your home. In fact, it’s suggested that you keep your generator at least 20 feet (6 meters) from your home.

Let It Cool Before Refueling

Pouring gasoline in or on something that’s already hot can cause it to burst into flame. This is true of everything from lawnmowers to vehicles and everything in between.

To stay safe, always turn your generator off and let it cool completely before refilling it. Doing so is a pain, but so are burns, so be patient and follow safety precautions while using your generator.

Use a Transfer Switch

Your electronics and the wiring in your home are more fragile than they appear. Houses have safety features that limit voltage to prevent any accidents. When you plug your generator directly into a power outlet, you bypass them. 

So, always use a transfer switch with your generator. A transfer switch will keep you from having to use extension cords or backfeed your house, and while it costs between $500 and $900, one transfer switch can last a long time if treated well (source).

Conclusion

You can cover a generator with a tarp as long as it’s not running. Doing so can cause carbon monoxide poisoning, start a fire, or damage your generator. To stay safe, use a plastic or steel enclosure, install a carbon monoxide monitor, and always follow safety guidelines.

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