You know you have to get your generator ready for winter storm season because you’ve heard that the upcoming winter may be a doozie. You keep a generator in storage for just such an emergency. You dig it out from the cluttered garage, dust it off. Now what?
Preparing your portable generator each year should be a ritual. We should come up with a name for it. We have “spring cleaning”, what about “winter precautions”? If we had a crystal ball, we could tell that an upcoming winter was going to be a bad one and could prepare. Unfortunately we don’t. The boy scouts said it, “Be Prepared.”
In fact, the following article should change that motto to “Stay Prepared.” Why should we only worry about the maintenance and readiness of our portable generator before the winter storm season? Sure that’s when most power outages occur, but when the safety and comfort of my family is concerned, I prefer to “stay prepared.”
OK you’ve convinced my, What do I do first?
Regardless of when you read this article, if your portable generator has been sitting idle for any length of time, the time to take action is now.
Don’t wait until it’s zero degrees, the snow is piling up, or the roof is leaking, the trees are blown over, or the power lines are down.
It’s more than just inspecting and tuning up your generator. Most of the following is assuming a 4 stroke gasoline generator. Regardless of the fuel that you use to power your generator, fuel is the number one consideration.
No Fuel, No Power
We know that we are supposed to drain the fuel tank if we are going to store our generator for any length of time (months). We don’t want the gasoline to separate which can occur with ethanol mixes. If we didn’t use fuel stabilizer and we left fuel in the tank for several months, we need to get the fuel system cleaned out.
Drain most of the fuel in the tank. See if it will start with the fuel in the tank. If it does, add fresh fuel with stabilizer and run it for a few hours. This is if you don’t have time to do a thorough cleaning of the fuel system.
If you have stored gasoline, rotate it with fresh gasoline. You can most likely safely use that stored gasoline in your car as not to waste it. Now your stored fuel tanks (with stabilizer) will be good to go for several months.
What About the Oil?
Change it. Any time your generator sits for a prolonged period, you should routinely change the oil. Old oil is not as damaging as old gasoline, but the reservoir can collect particulate matter that should be discarded on a regular basis. Most generators won’t run when the oil level becomes dangerously low, which minimizes the accumulation of particulate matter. Check the oil level whenever you use your generator and whenever you add fuel.
Now is a good time to make sure that you have a couple of extra quarts. It lasts a long time and is not very expensive.
What About the Replaceable Things?
To keep a generator running at peak performance, it needs a clean supply of air for the combustion. The air filter is easily accessible because it should be cleaned or replaced regularly. Your owner’s manual will tell you where it is and how to clean it. If you need to get a new filter, now is the time to order one.
If your unit has one, check the fuel filter and clean if necessary. Make sure that the fuel line is secure and free from damage or leaks. If you’re handy, now is a good time to check out the carburetor. This is often best left up to a professional.
Clean your spark plug or replace it with one as recommended by your owner’s manual. Your instructions will specify the gap. Make sure that the spark plug wire is secure and free of damage.
Should I Consider a Transfer Switch?
If your generator is large enough (recommend 5000 watts minimum), and you have the time and finances, installing a transfer switch will pay for itself in convenience. You can read about transfer switches on this site for general information. Basically, this allows you to hook your generator directly into your home’s power panel, where in a power outage, the power from your generator supplies your home up to the generator’s capacity.
This is not only convenient in powering your hard-wired appliances, but also eliminates the need for running expensive extension cords throughout your home.
Keep Practiced and Safe
This may sound strange to an active user, but here it is…make sure you know how to operate your unit safely. The truth is, some people purchase their generator “just in case” and that event may not occur for years. If you don’t use it often, it is not second nature like for many users. So run your generator occasionally, if just to keep in practice and to keep the fuel and oil flowing and lubricating.
Keep a flashlight handy and near the generator. You should almost be able to start it in the dark (I hope this never happens).
Finally, KNOW YOUR SAFETY. If you are an infrequent user, you must know the general safe operation that is always highlighted first in any instruction manual. The electricity can kill. Also the fumes (carbon monoxide) can kill. Every year inexperienced generator users die from CO poisoning.
From Briggs and Stratton, the largest maker of generator engines, “Know where you will place the generator when it is time to use it. Know that it should NEVER be used inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, basements, sheds or similar areas, even when using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide (CO) can quickly build up in these spaces and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off. Place the unit outside and far from doors, windows, vents and other openings that could allow CO to come indoors or be drawn into potentially occupied spaces. Direct the engine exhaust away from potentially occupied spaces.”
Have a good idea of what you want to power in an outage. How much power will you need? Know the difference between surge and running watts. Your answers can be found on this site. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me via this site and I will help you as much as I can or direct you to your answer. Good luck and be safe.