Generator maintenance: How to care for your generator
Performing standby generator maintenance
Once you’ve installed your new generator, it’s tempting to sit back and relax. After all, you’ve earned it, right? You’ve researched and found the very best backup generator for your home, you’ve had it installed in the ideal spot, and you’ve tested it, oiled it, listened to it hum. You deserve some time to relax with a glass of wine. Before long, however, you’ll need to create a preventative generator maintenance program to keep the engine ready to run smoothly in a power outage.
A generator maintenance plan involves performing a weekly set of small, easy-to-perform tasks, checking the engine oil and coolant levels each month, and hiring a professional every 6 to 12 months to perform a more detailed inspection. Caring for your generator is just as important as installing it. But if you do it right, maintenance doesn’t have to take up much of your time or money.
Below you will find a guide of how to properly maintain a new generator. Your dealer may be able to provide you with more information specific to the individual generator you install, but we hope you find this outline helpful. If you are still looking for the right generator for your home, you may also find our generator sizing calculator to be helpful. It provides you with a personalized assessment of your household power needs. It will help you find the best standby generator to keep you comfortable during the next power outage.
Why perform generator maintenance?
Many people imagine installing a backup generator and leaving it alone until the next power outage. In reality, however, like any internal combustion engine, a standby generator requires a little attention in order to perform optimally. Not only does regular generator maintenance help the engine run more smoothly, but it also allows you to identify any potential issues as they come up.
The last thing you want to do is invest in a standby generator only for it to fail when it is most needed. That’s why it’s so important to take care of your generator. No matter how unnecessary maintenance may seem to you, a poorly maintained engine will not function properly. On the other hand, if properly cared for, a generator could last anywhere from 20 to 30 years, keeping your home safe and comfortable during severe weather and power outages.
Designing a preventative generator maintenance plan
The best way to make sure you give your generator the care it needs is by creating a preventative generator maintenance plan. Generator manufacturers and dealers usually provide a maintenance schedule for each type of generator they sell. Follow it. It’s up to you, however, to determine how best to incorporate the provided generator maintenance program into your schedule.
Start off by scheduling a time each week to exercise the generator. Whether it’s after breakfast on Saturdays or before Sunday night football, make it a part of your routine. Each week, you should check the air intake and exhaust systems and the starting system to ensure that the battery and charger do not have any loose connections or frayed wires. In addition to a visual inspection, exercise your generator on load to make sure everything is running smoothly. If anything seems wrong, call your dealer or a third-party technician to learn if it could be something serious.
Running your generator every week
You wouldn’t buy a car only to leave it in the garage for months on end without using it. It’s the same with a backup generator. A few minutes a week is all it takes to keep your standby generator fresh and ready to use. We recommend running your generator at load (i.e., at full capacity, as opposed to running idle) for about 15 to 20 minutes once a week. This allows the lubricating oil to heat up to operating temperature and for the lubricating oil to circulate within the engine. Both of these are vital to the continued strength of the generator.
After you run the standby generator, verify the unit ran and has signaled no warnings or alarms. Be sure to double-check that the generator has adequate fueling levels and there are no fueling leaks. It’s also a good idea to make sure your generator is set to “auto” for automatic startup in case of a power outage. Then, check to see that the circuit breaker is closed. If all is well, you know your generator is healthy and ready to kick in at the slightest hint of an outage.
Checking the oil and coolant levels
Once a month, you should take a second to check the engine oil level and the engine coolant level. Both of these fluids are essential to the functioning of any power generator. In fact, one of the most common reasons a generator stops functioning is low oil or low coolant. Many generators have a low-oil shutdown feature to prevent damage to the engine. Low coolant will result in a malfunctioning and overheated engine. If your generator seems to be malfunctioning, check the oil and coolant levels first.
Checking the coolant and oil levels is easy. To check the coolant level, simply look at the level in the catch tank inside the engine. If it is running low, add a little extra coolant. To check the engine oil level, locate the dipstick, which typically has a yellow ring or handle at the top. Remove the dipstick, wipe it clean with a rag, then replace it. When you pull it out again, you’ll be able to judge how much oil is in the generator based on how high the oil reaches on the dipstick. Note you should not check the oil immediately after running the engine; wait at least 10 minutes after you have shut it off.
Generator maintenance by a technician
We know you take pride in your standby generator and your ability to care for it. And you should. You’ve been able to keep your generator in tip-top shape for 6 months. Nonetheless, there are some tasks you’ll need a professional to complete.
Every 6 to 12 months, you should hire a technician to perform a more detailed inspection of your backup generator. Think of it as bringing your car in for an oil change and inspection. The technician will lubricate the oil and oil filters and check for oil leaks. They will also check fuel line filters and air-intake filters, replacing them at regular intervals, while also inspecting the belt drives, batteries, and spark plugs if needed.
Most dealers offer maintenance packages for the standby generators they sell. If you go through a third-party service provider, make sure the technician is qualified to perform generator maintenance. You may also have to decide for yourself exactly how often you want the technician to come. If you use the backup generator often or if the generator is frequently exposed to extreme heat, cold, dust, or moisture, you will want to schedule appointments every 6 months. Otherwise, you may be able to go a year without an inspection, provided you perform the other tasks every week.
Other generator maintenance tasks
Depending on where you live, you may need to perform a few additional generator maintenance tasks to ensure your generator is fresh and ready to use. Any generator needs plenty of air to work properly. If your generator is in an area with substantial overgrowth, take time to clear away vines, leaves, and other foliage. In the winter, you may need to clear snow away from the generator after a storm. In an enclosed system, you should also check to make sure no rodents have taken up residence. Like leaves and snow, small critters will interfere with the functioning of the engine.
Regardless of the climate you live in, you should always perform a visual inspection on your backup generator after a power outage. If necessary, refill the oil and the coolant. You should also double-check the air intake and exhaust systems and ensure the battery and charger are functional and have no loose connections or frayed wires. Finally, check that the starting battery is free of corrosion and ready to start during the next power outage.
Portable generator maintenance
A portable generator is like a mini version of a standby generator. It has the same function, but unlike a standby generator, it can be moved from place to place. There are other important differences too: a standby generator will ideally start automatically after a power outage, but a portable generator must be turned on automatically; additionally, while a standby generator is connected to a home’s existing gas lines, a portable generator requires gas to be poured in separately. This means you must store gas at your home. For reference, during an outage lasting 5 days, a standby generator would burn through about 70 gallons of gas.
Though portable generators require gasoline storage, in most ways, portable generators require less maintenance than standby generators. Rather than running your generator every week as you would for a standby generator, you need to exercise a portable generator once a month. You should also perform a brief visual inspection. Check that there are no visible leaks, the oil and coolant levels are sufficient, the battery is not corroded, and that there are no loose or frayed wires. Additionally, you may need an oil change. Portable generators require an oil change every 100 hours of run time and new air intake filters and spark plugs every 200 hours.
Maintaining peace of mind
If you experience power outages, the advantages of owning a functioning standby generator vastly outweigh the consequences. Though the list of maintenance tasks may at first seem daunting, do not let this deter you from purchasing a generator. The peace of mind that comes from knowing your house will always have power is worth the effort. After the first week or two of maintenance, you’ll find it easy and rewarding to run through the quick checklist of tasks. The most important thing is to remember to exercise the generator every week.
If you are unsure what kind of generator to get, or are still deciding if you want to invest in a generator at all, check out our free and easy-to-use generator sizing calculator. The tool will help you figure out the size you need and the amount it will cost. If you decide to purchase a generator, up to 3 independent dealers will compete to give you the best deal. Reach out to us today with any questions!
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