Buying and maintaining your generator

After Tropical Storm Isaias and the recent tornadoes along the shoreline, many Connecticut residents probably gave some thought to their electrical service, and what to do if the power goes out. If you already own a generator, there are a number of steps you should take to maintain it properly. If you don’t already own a generator, there are resources available to help you find the perfect fit for your own home.

State Rep. Tim Ackert (R-8), who also happens to be a licensed electrician from Coventry, offers some advice regarding choosing a generator for your home. If you can, buy local, said Ackert.

“I always encourage people to purchase locally if they have a nearby generator sales place or hardware store, or company that also can service the generator and do warranty work on it,” he said.

When you’re trying to decide what size you need, do your research. Ackert has found to be helpful in determining the correct size portable generator for a home.

“If a customer is considering purchasing a portable generator, I suggest no smaller than a 7500 watt portable with electric start and a large gas tank,” said Ackert. When looking for an automatic standby generator, Ackert said you should consult a professional.

There are two different levels of pricing for generators– one for a portable and one for an automatic standby.

“The type a customer chooses depends on the customers’ ability to move the generator and hook it in,” said Ackert, noting that you can get a good portable generator and legally connect it to your electric panel for about $2500.

The next level up is for individuals that do not want to have to start up, and plug in their generator. An automatic standby system is a more complex and higher-priced installation.

“I let my customers know that it starts at about $7000 and goes up from there,” said Ackert. Ackert said that the average customer that purchases an automatic generator is someone who is either not comfortable buying and storing gasoline, or is physically unable to move and hook up a portable version.

“I have seen many unsafe and illegally wired installations,” said Ackert. These installations can harm electrical linemen and potentially damage your home and generator. “Please have a licensed electrician assess your generator needs and current installation to be safe,” said Ackert.

Once you’ve purchased and/or installed your generator, it needs to be maintained.

“Proper maintenance schedules can be found in your owner’s manual from when you purchased your generator,” said Eric Cummings, owner of Brakes and More LLC, a Colchester business that performs basic generator maintenance. However,a good rule of thumb is to perform maintenance once every two years or 200 hours.

“Change out your spark plug, clean your air filter, clean your carb if you have one, and change the fuel,” said Cummings.

If you’re not comfortable doing your own maintenance, there are a lot of great small engine repair businesses where you can bring your generator for service. Brakes and More, for example, provides basic oil changes and tune ups on generators. However, “Most major repairs should be done from someone who deals with big generator issues on the regular and is insured,” said Cummings.

Always try to store your generator on an empty fuel tank or with fuel stabilizer. “If the fuel must sit more than 6 months, make sure to drain it and put fresh premium grade fuel into it,” said Cummings, adding that less ethanol is better to ensure the generator starts up the next time its needed.

“Also, you should start up your generator for five minutes once a month, and plug something into it to ensure everything is working properly,” said Cummings. This will keep all parts moving and freshly lubricated, and will prevent damage in the long run.

While in use, be sure to check the oil every 8 hours and change the oil after every 100 hours of use. “If this is not possible, at the very least, check the oil every 24 hours,” said Cummings. Proper oil levels and maintenance are essential to avoid damaging your generator.

When it comes to safety, make sure that you operate your generator outdoors in an area with plenty of ventilation.

“Never run a generator in a home or garage,” said Cummings. Generators produce carbon monoxide, which is poisonous and can lead to death.

“It also may be a good idea to have a carbon monoxide detector plugged in on a wall close to the generator, to ensure no carbon monoxide is making its way into your home,” added Cummings. Make sure the area is known to stay dry and no puddles or rain can get into it.

Do not plug a generator into the wall to avoid back feed, said Cummings, and use heavy-duty extension cords to connect appliances to the outlets on the generator.

“Turn the generator on before plugging appliances into it,” said Cummings. “Once running properly, start to turn on appliances and other electronics one by one to make sure you do not overload it. Generators are for temporary use and you should prioritize your needs.”

Before refueling your generator, ensure that it is off and preferably cool.

Cummings echoes Ackert’s concern regarding wiring your generator into your electrical panel.

“Too often people take shortcuts on this and put people at risk by back-feeding the grid, which is illegal and highly dangerous,” he said. “Therefore, a trusted licensed and insured electrician is your best choice.”

Cummings offers a few suggestions of his own regarding what to look for when you’re shopping for a generator. He suggests checking for noise level, as well as fuel type (propane, diesel, gas, solar). “Some generators have the option of running on two [types] in case one is hard to find,” he said. You will need to consider watts (the higher the watts the more you can power) and THD.

“THD level needs to be below 6% to protect electronics like your computers, cell phone chargers, tvs, etc.,” said Cummings.

Other things to consider include voltage options (120 V or 240 V) , number of plug-ins and warranty.


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