With winter on the way, and already here in some places, many of us who live in more rural settings rely on a generator for emergency power. Three years ago we were without power for almost a full week. At the time we didn’t have a generator. Fortunately we have a wood stove for heating the house, cooking and heating water to wash up with. The biggest concern for us is always the food in the fridge and the freezer. At the time of our week long blackout we were fortunate to have temperatures running below freezing so keeping food frozen or cool wasn’t the problem. That week was a wake up call for us however. Since them we got a freezer that we fill up with grass fed beef and fresh caught salmon so a power outage for any length of time with temperatures above freezing would result in a lot of spoiled meat that we couldn’t readily replace. We went out and got a generator and with it a whole new set of headaches because unfortunately a generator isn’t something that you just place somewhere, forget about and start up when you need it. There are a few things that you need to know about maintaining and running a generator safely.
1. Pay attention to the wattage. Start by ignoring the top number; it means nothing of any value to you. What you want to look at isn’t the “starting Wattage” but the “running wattage”. Add up all the items that you want to run at the same time and make sure that they don’t exceed that number.
2. Make sure that it is far enough away from the house and located in such a manner that exhaust isn’t going to blow back into the house. Way too many people die each year from CO poisoning. At the same time it needs to be close enough that you aren’t running extension cords that exceed 100′.
3. Make sure that the cord you are using is rating for the power you need it to handle.
4. Bolt your generator into a concrete pad or use a good chain to anchor it solidly. Generators are worth a lot and, because they are stored outdoors, they tend to sprout legs and walk away. It isn’t very fun to spend $800.00 over more on a generator and found it has vanished when you need to use it.
5. Old gas is your generators’ worst enemy. It is best to drain your generator once it is no longer needed and refill it when it is needed. Additionally make sure you use gas additives to keep the gasoline from breaking down and giving you problems.
6. Start your generator every 3 months and run it for 20 minutes. This habit will keep the generator in good working order.
7. Plug the fridge and freezer in only intermittently. These appliances tend to be the biggest drain on your generator and don’t need to be run continuously. Most freezers can keep food frozen for almost 24 hrs so you only need to plug them into the generator long enough to make sure that everything is well frozen and then unplug then and use the available power for lights and heat instead of running the fridge and freezer continuously and having little to no power for anything else.
8. Make sure that you let the generator cool down completely before you refill it with gasoline. Don’t risk a fire by trying to refill it when it is still hot. Trust me, you’re going to spill some gas refilling it and if the engine is still hot you run a big risk of igniting the gas.
9. Stock up on gas additive, motor oil and filters. Anticipate long power outages and stock up accordingly. It’s better to have more than you need than not have what you need and not be able to run the generator in an extended emergency.
10. Store the gasoline safely. First of all, look up regulations for your area to find out how much gasoline you’re allowed to store in your home or attached structure. Secondly understand the dynamics of pouring gasoline and get several small containers that you will easily be able to lift and pour and get a larger container with a spigot to refill the smaller one. Don’t even try to put the 10 gallon container, you’re just asking for a heap of trouble.
11. Be aware that running out of gas with power cords still plugged in can actually drain the generator and render it useless at generating power, especially the cheaper generators. It will run but it won’t actually be generating power because the magnetic coil of the generator has been drained. You’ll need to take it in and get it “recharged” because it can be used again. So make sure that you unplug the cords before you turn it off and/or before it runs out of gas.
A few steps in maintenance and safety can help make your generator something that saves you a lot of headaches when the power goes out instead of actually being one of the headaches.