Reposted from i.e., the Center for Energy and Environment's Innovation Exchange blog -- http://mncee.org/Innovation-Exchange/ie/
Some energy efficiency improvements can create safety concerns, so our quality assurance staff keep up to date on proper ventilation and combustion safety. Normally, we focus on potential problems with the residential appliances our programs promote, but the following statistics caught our eye:
According to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report, engine driven tools (including electric generators) cause more non-fire CO deaths annually than gas furnaces, water heaters, and ovens combined. In fact, since 2005, there have been over 72% more CO deaths from engine driven tools (EDTs) than from heating systems.
As we take steps to prepare our homes for power outages, are we actually making our houses less safe during disasters?
Increasingly extreme weather correlates with growth in generator sales
Typically, electric generators are used in the home during power outages. The following CPSC chart shows the growing impact of electric generator usage on CO deaths in the U.S:
The blue line in the graph shows that generator-caused deaths increased by about ten times from 1999 to 2005. Notice that the surge of deaths in 2005 occurred during the year of Hurricane Katrina. One article noted that more electric generators were sold during the 2005 hurricane season than the previous four seasons combined. Similarly, this past fall after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, portable and standby electric generator sales also surged. But are homeowners using these generators properly?
The following CPSC graph shows the number of fatalities that are associated to generators used during power outages:
Their report notes that from 1999 to 2011, 84% of non-fire, CO poisoning deaths were associated with an EDT at fixed-structure residences such as single-family homes, apartments, townhouses and mobile homes. Of the EDT-associated fatalities reported from 1999 to 2011, 79% were solely associated with electric generators. According to an article by NIST, a generator can produce a hundred times more CO than is exhausted from a car. As more and more homeowners purchase generators, it is imperative that they understand the dangers and risks.
Educational efforts and opportunities
A few groups have created consumer resources on the proper installation and use of electric generators. NIST has produced a short video on the subject:
and CDC has published the fact sheet Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After an Emergency. The key takeaways are:
The increased frequency and heightened severity of weather crises has raised public consciousness about impacts of global climate change. And the increase in generator sales suggests that a segment of the public anticipates prolonged power outages. This concern is fostering a movement of disaster preparedness and what might be coined as an era of the Mad Max Economy.
As public concern about energy security increases, program providers have an opportunity to demonstrate the role of efficiency in energy independence. It may not be far-fetched to think that this trend could fuel the adoption of energy efficient retrofits and net zero homes. Food for thought.