Generators provide backup power in case of power outages. They are especially useful in areas that are prone to blackouts, or during adverse weather or seasonal conditions where power loss becomes likely.
However, like all home appliances portable generators need proper maintenance and use. An improperly used generator can cause more than an inconvenience: statistics show that portable generators kill up to 70 people in the US each year, and injure thousands.
In this guide, we discuss how to properly care for your generator to ensure it works safely and correctly when you need it to.
What are the Types of Home Generators?
For residential usage, there are two types of generators: full house generators (also called whole house generators), and portable generators. Their differences lie in their size, fuel types and power capacity.
Full house generator
As the name suggests, a full house generator generally possesses enough power output to service the entire house during a blackout. Unlike portable generators, these standby generators are installed permanently.
Such generators typically have a capacity between 8 to 100 kilowatts. They can be powered by diesel, natural gas or propane.
Portable generators possess only enough power for single appliance use. They are cheaper than whole home generators and can be moved, thanks to their relatively lighter weight between 50 to 150 lbs.. Most are used to power essential appliances like lights, AC or heating systems, and other critical household items or electronics.
Portable generators have an average output of 1,000 to 25,000 watts and are powered by diesel, gasoline, natural gas or propane.
Home Generator Checklist
The best time to perform a generator maintenance and test routine is during calm weather. This ensures the genset is ready to go before it may be needed, such as during winter, storm or hurricane season, or summer outages.
In general, maintenance should be performed annually, but this interval may be increased in case of frequent usage.
- Visual check
- Examine casing and chassis for signs of damage or cracks
- Check for signs of rust or corrosion
- Inspect surrounding area for leaks, indicating a coolant or engine oil leak
- Check battery cables for damage
- Make sure AC wiring and alternator are dirt-free
- Remove cell port cover and check for corrosion or dirt
- Exterior cleaning
- Wipe down exterior with rust preventative
- Wipe off dust and debris in intakes and exhaust areas
- Clean terminals and cell ports with baking soda to ensure good contact
- Make sure dials and displays are clear and readable
- Fluid check
- Check engine coolant levels. Concentration is ideally 50% coolant, 50% water (purified)
- For colder regions, antifreeze can be as high as 60%, but it is not recommended to go any higher.
- Check oil for dirt and viscosity.
- Refill oil in case of low levels or dirty color. Fill close to full without overflowing the reservoir.
- After refilling, check the oil and coolant lines and floor for signs of leaks or drips.
- Annual parts replacement
- Change oil filter
- Replace fuel filter
- Change spark plugs
- Function check
After completing the maintenance, do a functions test for each of the following:
- Load test: use a load bank to run the generator for 1 hour
- Electrical conductance test
- Auto mode
- Transfer switch
When to replace the following fluids and components:
Oil: Every 100 hours of use (30 hours after first use)
Oil filter: Annually
Air filter: Every 200 hours
Spark plugs: Every 200 hours
Generator Warning Signs: What to Watch Out For
Any stains in the wiring or floor can indicate a leak in the oil or coolant lines.
This could indicate a problem with:
- Air intake
- Fuel source (low fuel or low purity)
Low power output
Check battery cables for damage. Also ensure the electrolyte levels are sufficient, and the cell ports are free of dirt or corrosion.
Abnormal noise or vibrations
Can be a serious issue, may require a professional inspection.
How to Store Your Generator
For portable generators, make sure the space is dry and free from the elements. Use a floor cover to catch any leaks and prevent hard to remove stains. It should also have low humidity to avoid moisture buildup and damage.
For long term storage, drain the fuel to prevent safety issues, line clogging, and avoid premature wear and aging of the fuel line.
Separate the fuel
Store generator fuel in a fuel-specific container. Keep it a safe distance from the generator as well as combustible materials.
Use a generator cover
Most genset issues are caused by dirt or debris obstruction, followed by rust, corrosion and water damage. A generator cover can greatly reduce these risks and prolong the life of the generator.
Recommended Generator Accessories
Generator Cover / Generator Tent
Generator covers and tents provide outdoor protection for your portable generator. We carry a wide selection of GenTent running covers that protect your genset while allowing convenient access to electrical panels and fuel ports.
GenTent is the only engineered product on the market safe for use in rain and severe weather. Each is independently lab tested and rated for:
- Up to 70 MPH Forecast Winds
- Hurricane Force Precipitation (12″ per hr)
- 18″ Snow Load (55 lbs.)
The covers are made from waterproof dual coated vinyl that uses rip-stop material and welded seams for improved durability. The materials have Flame Retardant (NFPA 701) rating.
Full Coverage Kit for Storage
GenTent GenSkirt Outdoor Full Coverage Storage Kit
Because of their many running parts, generators need to be well-protected from the elements during storage. This kit transforms GenTent running covers into a full coverage shelter for long-term storage.
The storage skirt can be easily added to the running cover via velcro fasteners and does not require any tools. It is constructed with NFPA 701 FR rated vinyl coated polyester, rated for -45°F – 185°F (-45°C – 85°C). The vinyl is also UV treated for long lasting protection.