Plumb Safety: Heating

Keeping Warm… and Safe: Generators and Alternative Heating Sources

With severe winter weather wreaking havoc across the country, the likelihood of power outages increases. A generator or alternative heat source can be useful for your insureds’ businesses in these situations, but only if these machines are installed, maintained, and used properly. It’s particularly important for wood-related businesses to be aware of how to safely use generators and alternative heating sources, as these businesses tend to have increased exposures to fire risk. Generators and alternative heat resources, such as warming barrels, wood stoves, and space heaters require specific care and precautions to be used safely. To help you assist your clients in reducing their risk exposures, we’ve provided some helpful instructions from PLM and our risk management partner, the Insurance Institute for Business Home & Safety (IBHS).

Portable generators should always be used with a heavy-duty outdoor-rated extension cord that exceeds the total expected load. This will prevent excessive heat buildup and degradation of the power cord. Also, remember that a generator should never be used indoors or placed outside near windows, vents, or air intakes that could allow dangerous carbon monoxide to come indoors. Additionally, users should be sure to maintain plenty of space for air flow around the generator. Further, users should know that when using an emergency electric power generator, they should get fresh air immediately if they begin to feel flu-like symptoms, sick, dizzy or lightheaded. Finally, users should make sure portable generators are properly grounded and kept dry. If needed, users can operate a portable generator under an open canopy-type structure, as short circuits can occur in wet conditions, resulting in the generator catching fire.

While warming barrels may seem to be an option when power is lost, they are an extreme fire hazard and should not be used.

For businesses using a wood stove during a power outage, they should maintain at least a 36-inch clearance between the stove or space heater and any combustible materials. Prior to using a wood stove, business owners should place a layer of sand or firebrick in the bottom of the firebox.

In addition to these devices, some businesses might make use of space heaters or kerosene heaters in an outage situation. These business owners should keep in mind that space heaters should only be used with heavy-duty extension cords marked with a No. 14 gauge or larger wire. For liquid fuel-powered devices, such as kerosene heaters, users should never substitute gasoline or any other fuel for kerosene. Further, with kerosene heaters, users should always allow the heater to cool down prior to refueling and be sure that additional fuel is stored outside the building in an approved container or holding tank designed for such use.

More can be found on winter storm preparation at