A standby generator is a smart addition to any home or commercial building. If the power goes out due to a downed line, blackout or any other issue, the generator will ensure that you still have electricity.
Having the power go out during the winter can be an especially serious issue. Without electricity, you won’t have any heat, and the temperature inside could quickly get cold enough for your pipes to freeze and possibly burst. Even if you have a gas furnace for heating, your system still won’t run as electricity is required to run the blower fan and for the thermostat to signal the furnace to turn on.
A standby generator can ensure that you never have to face these issues, as it will allow your heating system to remain on even during a blackout. However, it is essential that you take some steps to protect your standby generator during the winter or else there is a good chance it may not work when you actually need it. With that in mind, here are some important tips to help ensure your generator is ready for winter and will continue to work all season long.
Change the Oil
Just like you should use different weights of oil in your car during the summer and winter, you should also switch out the oil in your standby generator. When your generator was manufactured, it was likely filled at the factory with either SAE 30 or 10w30 oil, as this must be used when the generator is first started. However, these oils are only really designed for use in high temperatures and should never be used in below-freezing conditions.
At low temperatures, the oil becomes too thick and will barely flow. When this happens, it creates friction instead of providing lubrication. This can result in serious damage to your generator if it runs in freezing weather. For this reason, it is always recommended to have your oil drained and replaced with 5w30 synthetic oil instead. Compared to other oils, synthetic 5w30 flows much better in cold temperatures and will ensure your generator is properly lubricated and protected from damage.
If your generator already has 5w30, it is still a good idea to have the oil changed sometime during the fall if you haven’t had it done recently. In most cases, you should change your generator’s oil every two years or 2,000 hours. If you are approaching this time, it is far simpler to have it done while the weather is still nice than to have to do it in the snow and cold.
Install a Cold Weather Kit
Cold weather kits are recommended for anywhere that the temperatures can get below 40 degrees. Considering that Fox Valley frequently sees temperatures well below zero, this means you definitely need to have one installed in your generator if you don’t already.
A cold weather kit includes a thermostatic battery warmer. Batteries tend to perform more poorly in cold temperatures. The cold can also cause the battery to degrade and lose some of its charge. This is why people tend to experience far more issues with their car’s battery dying during the winter. To prevent this issue, the battery warmer works by heating the battery whenever the temperatures are too cold.
The second part of a cold weather kit is a crankcase heater. This works to help keep the oil temperature higher, which is important, as even 5w30 can still become quite thick if it gets too cold.
Have Your Generator Professionally Inspected and Maintained
You should always have a licensed electrician inspect and service your generator at least once a year. Fall is typically the best time to schedule your generator maintenance so you can make sure it is working correctly before it gets too cold. Another benefit of doing the maintenance in the fall is that you can also have the oil changed and the cold weather kit installed at the same time.
Keep the Generator Clear
You should never let snow sit on your generator for any length of time. This means that each time you shovel your driveway, you should also clear any snow off the generator. If the generator runs when it is covered in snow or anything else, it won’t be able to disperse the heat produced by the motor. This will eventually result in overheating and can seriously damage the generator or ruin it altogether.
To ensure the unit has plenty of airflow, you should also shovel a path around it. There should be at least a foot or two of space between the generator and any surrounding snow. It is also a good idea to regularly shovel a path from the nearest sidewalk to the generator. This will help as you will need to test and monitor the generator once a week to make sure it is still functioning as it should.
Exercise the Generator Weekly Throughout the Winter
All standby generators need to be run regularly for at least 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Known as ‘exercising’ your generator, this is essential for several reasons. Running the generator allows oil to flow throughout the motor and ensures everything is well lubricated. It also heats up the unit to prevent moisture from building up inside. Lastly, it allows you to monitor it for any issues so you can make sure it is running properly.
Some manufacturers recommend exercising your generator every two to four weeks, while others say you need to do it weekly. During the winter, we always recommend you do it once a week just to be safe.
You can program the generator to exercise at a day and time of your choosing. When setting this time, you should always have it run when you know you will be home so you can check for any alarms or other issues. You should pay special attention to make sure that there are no leaks, that the generator sounds normal and that there are no alerts, error codes or other signs of any potential issues.
Upgrade to a Remote Monitoring System
If you don’t want to have to stand out in the cold each week when your generator exercises, you may want to consider installing a remote monitoring system. This type of system usually uses a mobile data connection that allows you to monitor your generator from your phone, tablet or computer. The system will show you all relevant information, including oil pressure, temperature and when the generator last exercised. It also makes it much easier to schedule exercise time.
If anything goes wrong while the generator is running, you will instantly get an alert on all of your connected devices. The remote system will also automatically shut off the generator to prevent damage and notify you that it needs to be serviced.
Your Local Standby Generator Experts
At Black-Haak, we install, maintain and repair all types of standby generators. If you want to make sure your generator is ready for winter, we can inspect it, install a cold weather kit, change the oil and perform any other necessary tasks. Our team can also help with any other electrical needs you may have. We have been serving residents of Greenville and Fox Valley for more than six decades. Give us a call today to get your generator serviced and ready for winter.