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Are RV Generators Safe?

As with many things in life, generators are great if used properly. They provide power for the low, low cost of gas – but there can be other costs if you’re not careful.

While RV generators (and generators in general) are safe when used as designed, they are extremely dangerous if used indoors. Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is no joke – so don’t screw around with it.

Now let’s break down how to use an RV generator safely, shall we?

Generating Safety

As stated above, the most important part of generator safety is knowing when and where to use it. Now, this can’t be stated clearly enough – the notes I make in the following list will save your life. Do not ignore these, or think they’re overstated – carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly and absolutely not to be taken lightly.

And one final note – this is about portable generators. In-built generators (those that are physically built into your RV) are generally safe to run. But before you run off thinking you’re safe – maybe familiarize yourself with the below information first, just in case?

Best Safety Practices

  1. Never, ever run your generator indoors, period. This includes, but is not limited to: garages (open or closed), porches, near windows, under your RV, or anywhere similar. Carbon monoxide is a gas, meaning it can travel and disperse – so it’s fine to have it on in an area where it can do so.
    1. That also means it can build up in areas close to enclosed spaces, hence no open windows.
  2. Have a functioning carbon monoxide detector. If you don’t have one in your RV – go buy one. Seriously. They cost $12 at Walmart or $19.50 at Home Depot.     
    1. Do not come back to this list until you have a functioning CO detector and backup batteries. Okay – you say you’ve got it? Let’s move on.
  3. This goes for anything that burns fuel – fires, generators, cars/trucks, and yes, your RV. Do not ever use one of the listed things indoors, or risk the consequences.

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by burning gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel. Improperly ventilated appliances and engines, particularly in a tightly sealed or enclosed space, may allow carbon monoxide to accumulate to dangerous levels.”

Symptoms And Treatment Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

If you or someone you know is concerned they may have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning, here’s what to look for:

  • Dull headaches
  • Abnormal weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision (beyond normal, for those of us with glasses)
  • Loss of consciousness

If you’re experiencing any of these, let alone multiple, it’s vital that you contact a doctor. Don’t waste time checking the detector, don’t try to brush it off – get yourself and others outside to fresh air (away from any burning fuel source, at least fifty feet) and call emergency medical aid.

Cause Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Basically, carbon monoxide poisoning results from an excess of CO in the air. It replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. This means that your organs don’t receive oxygen – you know, the thing you need to stay alive?

This can be especially dangerous for sleeping individuals – hence the need for a carbon monoxide detector.

While there are ways to safely burn fuel (obviously), it’s important that you know why it can be dangerous. Assuming you make sure to follow safety practices, you should be fine.

Generator Safety Tips

One of the more common things I’ve seen with RV owners is finding creative ways to strap a generator to their RV to prevent theft. But as we’ve just discussed, having your generator anywhere near your RV’s open windows can be extremely hazardous – so how can you prevent theft?

  • Place the generator in the bed of your tow vehicle, if you have one. It can then be chained and locked to the vehicle to prevent theft.
  • Chain the generator to a bumper or other fixed item on your vehicle.
  • It should not go under your RV, either squeezed in the space beneath or in an actual generator slot. Too close to windows and vents.
  • Always keep the running generator at least (preferably more) 10 feet away from open windows, vents or AC.
  • On that note – air conditioning will not stop carbon monoxide poisoning. AC units and the like do not remove toxins from the air, no matter their claims. Always rely on best safety practices, not on marketing claims from gadget salesmen.
  • Don’t run portable generators while driving, period. If you absolutely need to power something that your RV’s battery can’t handle, pull over and consider investing in solar panels. There is literally nothing that runs on batteries that is worth your life, no matter how you feel about it.

Final Thoughts

RV generators are, when used properly, extremely safe. However, the same thing that makes them damaging to the environment is damaging to you. While it is inconvenient and unfortunate, there is nothing that your generator can power that’s worth your life.

If you don’t have a CO detector, buy one. Familiarize yourself with the causes and signs of CO poisoning to ensure you can recognize it if it happens. And as always, stay safe on the road – please.

Is It Safe To Run An RV Generator While Driving?

Maybe. If it’s a portable generator, no. However, if it’s in-built into your RV’s exhaust, then yes! Always be sure before doing so, and if you aren’t, just pull over and take a nap while it runs safely away from your RV.

Are There Safer Ways To Power An RV Than A Generator?

Yes. Solar panels are not only environmentally friendlier than generators, but they don’t run the risk of poisoning you. They also have the added benefit of saving you money on fuel in the long run, as well as being much quieter.

How To Tell If My Carbon Monoxide Detector Is Dying?

Your CO detector will beep if it detects gas. It will also do it if it’s dying –  the difference lies in how urgently it’s beeping. A dying detector will beep periodically (~once a minute), while one that’s warning you will sound like a fire alarm – i.e. lots and lots of noise.

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