Here are a few tips to get your standby or portable generator ready to use, and some safety and operations tips.
If you own a standby generator
When you first hear that the possibility of a tropical storm or hurricane may affect your weather you should go out to your unit, lift the lid or open the controller compartment and check to see if the unit appears to be on-line. This should be done 3-5 days in advance of the storm. Most generators will have indicator lights on the control board of the generator and a “ready” indicator (often green indicator light will be lit). If there is a code flashing on the control board, or there is a flashing red indicator light, contact your generator service company at once…don’t wait until the storm hits. Your unit is “off line “ and needs immediate attention.
If the unit appears to be on-line, check the oil and (if equipped) the coolant level of the unit. Make sure these are topped off. You must consult your generator operator’s manual for the proper location to check and add fluids and for the type of oil or coolant that is specified by the manufacturer.
If there are any windows near the generator, it is a good idea to have a piece of marine plywood cut to the proper size so it may be quickly put in place to cover the opening in the case that flying debris or the force of the wind causes the glass to be broken. If this window is broken during the storm, and you have no way of covering the opening, you may be forced to shut down the generator if exhaust fumes are being blown into your home.
Make sure your gutters and downspouts in the area of the generator will be functional and channel water away from the generator.
If your generator is powered by natural gas you will have an unlimited supply for the duration of the storm. If however, your generator is propane or diesel powered, you must check the level of the fuel or call for your tank to be topped off. DO NOT WAIT FOR THE STORM TO BEGIN ! Many LP dealers were overwhelmed by our storms of the last few years and were unable to make deliveries in time to keep generators up and running. If you run out of fuel, you may need help in getting the unit restarted.
If your power is out for longer than 24 hours, you should check the oil (and coolant if equipped) level. This is done by turning the generator off, and waiting 10-20 minutes for the oil to cool and drop into the oil pan. Following the instructions in your operator’s manual, check the oil level and add the appropriate type and viscosity oil. ADD THE OIL A BIT AT A TIME and give it a chance to flow down into the oil reservoir before checking the fill indicator to see if the unit requires more oil. Make sure you wipe the indicator stick off with a paper towel before reinserting the stick to check the oil level. Continue with this procedure adding only enough oil to bring the level to the “full” indicator. DO NOT OVER FILL THE OIL. You will add the oil through the oil fill tube that you will find pictured in your operator’s manual. Make sure that you wipe up any spilled oil before restarting the generator.
If you own a portable generator, do not try to connect it to your electrical panel unless this connection is made by a licensed professional. This connection MUST BE in compliance with all local and national code or serious injuries , even death may occur.
When you are first made aware that a storm may be approaching, take your portable out for testing.
Locate your portable generator at least 15’ from your house before adding fuel, checking the oil, and attempting to start it. Once you have it started, let it run for a least 5-10 minutes and plug a test light into the receptacle to make sure the unit is producing power. If power is good, shut the unit off and leave it in a spot where you can easily get to it. If possible, completely empty the carburetor fuel lines by turning off the fuel shut off and letting the generator run until it runs out of fuel. You should do this every time you shut down your portable generator. Make sure you add fuel stabilizer if the fuel will be sitting in the fuel tank for more than a few weeks. Locate the electrical extension cord that you will be using to run into the house from the generator so you will be able to find it when the power is out. It should be at least a 14/3AWG outdoor rated, grounded extension cord in good condition. Have a multi tap surge strip ready to plug your extension cord into and you will be running your individual loads out of this surge strip. If possible, find a surge strip that has an overload circuit breaker built into it. You should purchase a sufficient supply of gasoline to last through the potential outage and store it in an approved container(s). It is recommended that you store the fuel outside your residence.
In either case, if you are not comfortable that the unit (standby or portable) will start when needed, contact your generator professional as far in advance as you can so they may get a chance to look the unit over before the expected storm arrives.