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How to Run an Emergency Generator

Before running an emergency generator, read the article How to Set Up a Portable Emergency Generator. If you take the steps suggested in that article, you’ll be much better prepared to get the generator up and running quickly and easily.

To make sure your generator will start when you need it, maintain it in good shape and keep fresh gasoline on hand. Photo: © Lisa F. Young | Dreamstime.com

When setting up the generator, check the oil and fuel levels and top them off as needed. Roll the generator to the dry, well-ventilated place that you’ve chosen, and gather together the various extension cords you’ll need.

Start the generator before you attach the extension cords. Plug in the cords and then run them into the house. It’s okay for the cords to get wet, but any connections—for example, where you plug two cords together—must be kept dry. Adjust the motor’s speed as needed to sustain the appliances or lighting you want to power.

Consult your owner’s manual to determine how long the motor will run before you need to refuel. When you do refuel, first turn off the motor and unplug the cords. Wait a few minutes for the motor to cool down before adding the fuel.

If the power outage might last days rather than hours, plan your energy usage so you can give the motor a rest. Keep in mind that a refrigerator or freezer does not need to be run constantly, especially if you do not open the door often.

If possible, run a generator only one- quarter to one-half of the time. You might, for example, turn it off when everyone has gone to bed. Exceptions include a sump pump that needs to run continuously to clear out water in the basement or a furnace or gas boiler needed to heat the house on very cold nights.

Maintaining a Portable Generator

Nothing is more frustrating during a power outage than wheeling out your portable emergency generator only to discover that it won’t run.

A sturdy cover can protect your generator when it sits unused for long periods. Photo: Classic Accessories

Keeping a generator operable through the weeks or months when you don’t need it is critical. If you typically use your generator only once in a blue moon, strongly consider buying a cover for it to protect it from weather and debris.

First, consult the owner’s manual for proper maintenance directions so you can be confident the motor will start up when you need it. Manuals typically advise:

• Periodically cleaning and/or changing the spark plugs

• Cleaning the screen on the spark arrestor

• Maintaining a sufficient amount of oil

• Changing the oil after a specified number of running hours

• Periodically cleaning and/or changing the air filter

If you will not be starting a portable generator for more than a month, add fuel stabilizer to the tank to keep the carburetor from getting gummed up. Many manufacturers recommend that you run the motor for about 10 minutes every two to three months.

If your generator has an electric starter, be sure to keep the battery charged. (If the battery does run down, most models allow you to start the generator with a hand pull.)

Keep the generator clean. Cover it to keep it dry. If it needs cleaning, avoid using a hose; use a soft brush, or wipe it with a barely damp cloth.

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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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