Valley News -

By Diane Sieker

Generator care helps avoid headaches


Last updated 8/22/2018 at 3:23pm

James Hilzman

A portable generator can provide electricity to power up refrigerators and lights in the event of a power outage.

The power outage caused by the Cranston Fire brought the need to understand portable generators to the attention of almost everyone in the Anza Valley. When the electricity was down, the steady rumble and purr of small generators was eerily apparent.

Many people had their first experience with the compact power-creating machines, and some learned the hard way about maintenance. Experts have a checklist of things to do to maintain and operate the unit in excellent condition and avoid headaches the next time it needs to be brought out and fired up.

Simply put, small generators create electricity by running a gas- or diesel-powered engine that turns an onboard alternator, or "genset" to generate electrical power. Built-in outlets on the unit provide a way to tap that electricity and use it to power refrigerators, fans, lights and other light use appliances.

Some safety tips must be observed when using generators in the event of a power outage.

Carefully follow all owners manual instructions to safely start and operate the generator. 

Do not use a generator indoors, as the exhaust is poisonous to breathe. These machines are designed to be run outside, in well-ventilated areas.

Do not overfill the fuel tank. Always allow room for fuel expansion due to temperature changes. Never fill the tank while the unit is running or hot. Allow the engine to cool completely before fueling.

Overloading the generator can seriously damage appliances and electronics. Do not operate more equipment than the output rating of the generator is designed to handle.

Connecting a portable generator directly into a home's wiring is not advised. It can "back feed" power into the power lines connected to the home and injure neighbors or electric cooperative workers.

Plug individual appliances into the generator using heavy-duty cords with a wire gauge rating adequate for the appliance load. Overloaded cords can cause fires or equipment damage. Do not use extension cords with exposed wires or worn insulation.

Always start or stop the generator when electrical loads have been disconnected.

The generator must be properly grounded, if is not, there is a risk of electrocution and serious injury.

Allow good a clearance of at least 5 feet on all sides of the generator when it is operating.

Keep children and pets away from portable generators at all times.

Protect the unit from the elements such as snow or rain.

Local mechanic Bud Elmore offered even more tips.

"Always use 91 octane, high-test fuel with a stabilizer when in use," he said. "Ethanol fuel is the No. 1 killer of fuel system components, and California fuel has the most ethanol, especially the 'summer blend' available now. Oil changes should be done per the manufacturer's specs and with a high quality oil. While in storage, try to keep your generator covered, if not sealed in a container, to prevent dirt and rodent damage. Dirt can settle in components and cause damage to not only the engine but to the electrical genset itself. Cycle your unit a few times during storage, especially if it has a battery, as batteries do not like to be dormant. Most importantly, always drain the fuel before storage. Empty the fuel system by draining the tank and then running it dry. Next time it's needed, use fresh fuel, and all should be just fine and dandy."

Adherence to the owner's manual guidelines and common sense helps a homeowner to have a nearly painless experience when the lights go dark. Generators are a common addition to the garages of many homes in the Anza Valley, now more than ever. Take good care of them, and they will be fully operational in times of need.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at [email protected]


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