Standards Matter
June 25, 2024

Mitigating the Risks of CO Poisoning from Portable Generators


Predictions for the 2024 hurricane season indicate this could be one of the most active in years, prompting concern among those who live in storm zones. One of the top purchases for many who live in areas prone to intense storms is a generator to maintain electricity during extended power outages resulting from hurricanes and tornados.  

Many would assume that once the storm passes, the danger is also gone – but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  

Hurricane Laura, a category four hurricane which made landfall in Cameron, Louisiana, on August 27th, 2020, claimed the lives of 15 people. However, eight of those deaths were due to carbon monoxide poisoning attributed to improper generator use.  This statistic isn’t an outlier either. In 2017, Hurricane Irma claimed 27 lives across Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina with 16 of those being attributed to CO poisoning. In some of these recent instances, more people have lost their lives to CO poisoning than the storms themselves.

Portable generators are expensive, and thefts rise in the chaos and uncertainty following a major storm. Worries about theft may prompt generator owners to place the devices in garages or on porches, failing to consider that carbon monoxide emissions can seep into the home’s living areas where it can poison – and potentially kill – the inhabitants. 

Running portable generators inside a home or closed space like a garage or RV is extremely hazardous and has claimed the lives of occupants or resulted in hospitalization. These devices should be operated at least 20 feet away from the dwelling and consumers should review the safety information provided by the manufacturer. But as these products are often bought in anticipation of a storm, many rushed consumers are not taking the time to learn about safe operation: 34% are not researching in advance of the purchase and 26% did not look up or receive information after purchase.  

For more information and generator best practices, view the official ULSE CO Report here

What We’re Doing 

UL Standards & Engagement has a long history of mitigating hazards for products and systems – even if they result from misuse by consumers. Recognizing the significant hazards inherent to generators, ULSE published UL 2201, the Standard for Carbon Monoxide (CO) Emission Rate of Portable Generators

How it Works 

UL 2201 sets requirements for the CO emission rates of portable generators and establishes thresholds for their automatic shutoff capability in elevated CO environments. This standard provides a test procedure for measuring CO emissions from portable generators to reduce the risk of death and injury due to CO poisoning.    

Specifically, the requirements are based on a two-tier safeguard strategy: 

  1.  Reduction in CO emissions, and 
  2. Shutoff technology 

UL 2201 includes requirements for CO shutoff and reduced CO emissions because each feature is intended to solve different types of known incidents.  

For a portable generator to comply with UL 2201, the generator is required to have an automatic shutoff feature and must meet reduced CO emissions.  During the testing, the portable generator must stop operating at any time when:  

  1. the CO reaches 400 ppm and  
  2. if the average is greater than 150 ppm during a rolling 10-minute period 

In 2022, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the publication of a staff report that determined UL 2201 would have averted nearly 100% of deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning in testing simulations based on CPSC data of fatal incidents with non-compliant generators in enclosed spaces.   

What You Can Do  

Consumers should look for – and only buy – products certified to meet safety standards by independent, third-party testing laboratories.

At ULSE, our standards are developed using a fair, transparent process. We convene technical committees composed of experts who work collaboratively to share their knowledge to guide the publication of standards that optimize safety, security, and sustainability. As a result, consumers can trust that products meeting our standards are designed and built to mitigate risks and hazards such as CO poisoning.   

Learn more about the safety issues our organization is working to address at