The Importance of Winterizing Backup Generators

When dealing with power outages, backup generators are often heavily relied upon to keep day to day operations running smoothly. Power outages can occur for any number of reasons, such as severe winter weather, natural disasters, failing power grids, aging power grids that cannot keep up with increasing population, man made disasters, or even your friendly neighborhood squirrel. Backup generators are usually the first to kick in during these outage events and can keep these interruptions in check while power is being restored to the main power grid, but they are only robust solutions so long as they are properly maintained.

While routine testing, service, and maintenance is the key to ensuring your backup generator can reliably provide power in the event of a power outage, have you ever taken into consideration any environmental effects that could negatively impact generator performance?

Extra care must be taken in areas that experience cold climates and severe storms to ensure that the generator is not only properly maintained, but steps are taken to winterize the generator as well. Though winterizing your backup generator is not the cure-all when it comes to facing extremely cold temperatures and climates, this process can help mitigate many issues that can impair a generators ability to run and function properly. If the backup generator is not properly prepared to face off against the cold, it can result in the generator struggling to start, experience trouble operating, intermittently shutting down, or can completely fail altogether.

In areas that experience extreme cold, there are certain times of year that can put a greater strain on the power grid than normal. When this occurs, power companies will often face many difficulties in meeting the increased demand in power and can lead to blackouts. In some instances, there may be planned intermittent blackouts in which the power company shuts off power to part of the grid, then rotates to another part of the grid at timed intervals and in other instances, complete large scale power outages may be experienced altogether. A backup generator that is properly serviced, maintained, and winterized can help to provide backup power and mitigate some of the negative impacts that result in these situations.

If you’re looking to winterize your backup generator, be sure to include these items:

Change the Oil

Cold temperatures can change the viscosity of the oil. As the oil thickens, it makes it more difficult for the oil to flow as it normally would. Additionally, cold oil can trigger the generator’s low oil sensor and prompt the generator to shut off intermittently and can keep the generator from running for extended periods of time. In worst case scenarios, the generator may fail to start entirely. It’s often recommended that when you’re looking to winterize your generator, that you make it a priority to change the oil and filters. There is also a special winter-grade oil that is thinner and typically used during winter. These oils are used by those who run their generators frequently during the winter months. Keep in mind that once it warms back up, it’s important to change the oil back the regular type that you typically use.

Maintain the Batteries

Batteries are often a main culprit when it weather gets cold. Due to decreasing temperatures, the battery could fail to hold a charge and cannot deliver sufficient power to the starter. A way to combat this is to install a cold weather kit, which includes a battery warmer that will turn on once temperatures drop below a certain degree. This can help in preventing what’s known as battery drain.

Invest In a Engine Block Heater

An engine block heater, also known as a water jacket heater, can prevent cold starts by keeping the engine oil warm while the generator is idle. It must be noted that you cannot simply purchase any engine block heater and install it onto your generator engine. It is highly advised that you check the manufacturer recommendations or consult with an expert that can provide insight and help you find the right fit for your generator.

Examine Exhausts & Intakes

If your generator is located outside of the facility with a generator enclosure, it’s important to examine the housing for any ice dams or buildups that can block air intakes and exhaust that can prevent proper venting and airflow. If snow is heavy or there are multiple rounds of freezing/thawing periods, ice has a higher chance of building up or snow can pile on and completely cover these areas and prevent the generator from functioning properly. While there are parts that can be installed to help reduce the buildup, it’s important to regularly examine these areas to ensure that they are properly clear of any obstructions.

Consult the Manufacturer

We usually like to review the general items that should be accounted for as you start the process of winterizing your generator, but this is one of the most important. When it comes to proper service and maintenance of your generator, it’s vital that you adhere to any guidelines or best practices that may be issued by the manufacturer. Every generator make and model differs from one another, so it’s best to see if there are any additional steps that you advise you to step when you’re preparing your generator to face off against colder climates. These can often be found in the owner’s manual or on the manufacturer website. If you’re having trouble locating the manual, it’s possible to request more information from the manufacturer directly.

While there are many items to consider and steps to take when the time comes for you to winterize your generator, these are some of the biggest areas to put at the forefront of your planning.

If you’re looking to winterize your backup generator or have more questions on what you can do to better prepare your generator for cold weather, please reach out to us at Woodstock Power Company!


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