Winter brings colder temperatures and everything from ice storms to blizzards. Your standby or portable generator has to operate when you need it. In winter, that means starting and running reliably in sub-freezing temperatures.
Most engines do not start as easily when it is cold, and the engine in your generator is no different. In addition to parts that don’t move as easily and oil that is thicker in colder temperatures, it is also harder to make the fuel burn efficiently and keep the engine running. Modern engines have seen great improvements in last few decades that help them start and keep running, but making sure your generator is in top condition will help ensure it’s ready when you need it.
Standby generators automatically start and run themselves for a short period even when they are not required. These ‘exercise ‘ cycles typically last less than ten minutes, but that run time helps keep the engine lubricated and maintains the engine’s seals.
While a weekly exercise period isn’t necessary for a portable generator, it is important to run the engine on occasion to move gasoline out of the carburetor and replace it with fresh gasoline. This reduces residue buildup that can block tiny ports in the carburetor or gum up moving parts.
Fall is a good time to schedule generator maintenance. Fresh oil, new filters and plugs, and other maintenance are no less important on your home generator than they are on the family car. They help insure the generator engine will start reliably when you need it most, and that time is often in the middle of the night in the worst kind of weather.
Keep the area around your standby generator clear of leaves and debris. It is especially important that the air vents on the cabinet are not blocked by leaves or snow. When you clear snow after storm, make sure you also clear a path to the generator and clean the snow away from cabinet. Keep blowing snow from accumulating in drifts against the generator.
If you’ve prepared properly, your portable generator connects to an inlet plug on the outside of your home, and you have chosen a location to place the unit when it is in use. Don’t forget to clear a path from the chosen location to the inlet plug when moving snow, and also keep a clear path to the location for the portable generator from your garage or shed.
Cold Weather Operation
The vast majority of the country experiences weather that falls below freezing. Cold weather kits and accessories help your generator engine start and warm up faster. Some cold weather accessories are easy to install, others are better left to a professional installer. In either case, planning ahead now can thwart a problem from occurring when you least expect it.
Cold lowers the ability of a battery to produce energy. By keeping the battery warm with a battery warmer, the battery is able to produce more energy and thus provide more reliable engine starting.
Engine block heaters and oil heaters also provide more reliable starting in cold weather. Some manufacturers have other accessories such as alternator warmers that prevent frost buildup, and shields that keep ice from clogging air intakes.
Most portable generators run on gasoline, and stale gas makes an engine hard to start, especially in cold weather. You can extend the life of your fuel by adding stabilizers. Follow the directions on the bottle, but remember that you still have to use the fuel within a year.
Rotate stored fuel supplies by using them in your car, snowblower, lawn mower, or other engine-powered machine. One good way is to empty a five-gallon can into your car, then take the can to the gas station with you and fill up both the car and the can.
By rotating one can of fuel every month, you can completely replace a 30-gallon fuel supply every six months.
Your generator is an important part of keeping your family and home safe during a power outage, and even more so in winter. Make sure your generator is ready to run when you need it most.