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Considering a lot of our lives and livelihoods revolve around having a constant power supply, a backup generator can be a lifesaver. Those of us who work from home would find it impossible to function without backup power.
The problem is, though, that since you use backup generators sparsely, we often forget about sticking to regular maintenance schedules for these machines. Just like anything that has a motor and mechanical parts, standby generators require periodic inspection and maintenance.
A recent study showed that the number of power cuts in the country caused by severe weather conditions has doubled over the last few years. You can now expect to have as many as 100 power outages a year, especially in areas that experience extreme weather.
In this short read, we’re going to take you through the process and the importance of backup generator maintenance.
Preventive maintenance tips
Read your owner’s manual
This is the first and probably the most important part of standby generator maintenance. Every manufacturer has specific maintenance protocols for their generator systems, and knowing the difference is important.
For example, your backup generator could be a diesel generator, a natural gas generator, or even a liquid propane model. Each of these uses different types of parts based on the type of fuel.
There are other mechanical aspects as well, such as alternator maintenance and checking the health of the automatic transfer switch. This requires very model-specific instructions.
This is why keeping your owner’s manual safe and referring to it every now and then is of utmost importance.
Test run your generator every week
Irrespective of whether we’re talking about electric generators or diesel ones, all standby generators need to have a test run for at least 20 minutes every week. A lot of generator systems can run these test cycles automatically. Just do it at the same time every week and will notify if anything needs your attention.
This would also be a good time to check fuel levels. After all, who would want to have a backup generator without fuel during power outages?
Check oil levels
You know how you need to periodically check oil levels on your car every now and then. Then change it after it has run a certain number of miles? Since your backup generator is essentially an internal combustion engine, you will need to do the same thing as a part of your annual inspections checklist.
Just like with your car, check the oil levels using the dipstick. If the levels seem low, or if the oil seems to be too thick and dark, it’s time for an oil change.
To change the oil, loosen the wing nut at the oil drain tube and drain out the oil into an old container before pouring in fresh oil using a funnel. If you live in a place with extreme weather, choose synthetic oil over regular oil. This will allow the generator to perform better under extreme heat or when it is very cold.
Replace spark plugs
If your generator has been used fairly often, be sure to check the condition of the spark plugs. Over time, carbon and dust particles settle on spark plugs, making combustion less efficient.
Experts advise that the spark plugs of an external generator ought to be changed at least once every two years irrespective of usage.
The same goes for air filters
Air filters collect a lot of dust as well. Checking on their needs is a part of your maintenance plan.
If the air filter seems to be just a little dusty, you could easily shake off the dust and replace the filter. However, if it’s been a few years since you checked on it, you are better off replacing the air filter.
Batteries are an integral part of providing backup for your electrical system. They tend to corrode and leak if not maintained properly. This makes checking the health of the battery an integral part of your standby generator maintenance plan.
Use a battery tester to check the charge levels after removing the battery from the terminals. Any signs of corrosion can be easily cleaned out using baking soda.
To function efficiently, the generator needs air to enter the air intake and for fumes to exit the exhaust pipes without any blockages. For this to happen, you will need to keep the area surrounding where you have the generator installed free of leaves, dirt, and other debris.
It would also be prudent to not have any plant life close to the generator since the exhaust fumes can be poisonous to them.
Why it is important to stick to the regular maintenance schedule
The average lifespan of a standby generator is between 25 and 30 years, which is a lot more than portable generators last. However, a key factor to that longevity is sticking to a regular maintenance schedule.
There are many factors that influence how often you need to inspect your backup generator. For example, extreme heat, cold, or even dusty conditions call for more regular maintenance. Similarly, how often the generator is used also plays a part in deciding how often things like air filters, spark plugs and oil need to be replaced.
Following a periodic preventive maintenance schedule ensures that your backup generator is always working efficiently when you need it the most, when you get hit by those dreaded blackouts!