If you own a generator, there are certain things that need to be done to keep it in good working condition.
There is always a chance that the generator could break down for any number of reasons, or even just fail and stop working. If it does come to this point, you will need to take care of some basic maintenance tasks before the generator can be repaired.
What is Generator Maintenance?
Generators are machines that use something other than electricity (such as diesel, gasoline, propane, or natural gas) to produce power for individual homes.
They are powered by heavy engines, which allow them to turn large gears and shafts inside the generator. The gears and shafts turn an alternator or a battery, which generates electricity.
There are two main categories of generators in terms of maintenance – permanent portable generators and seasonal portable generators.
Each has different features too. A permanent portable generator powered by propane is smaller and lighter than a gasoline generator (a seasonal portable generator). It also produces a fairly limited amount of power compared to its heavier counterpart.
However, a seasonal portable generator is more expensive to use because it expends a lot of fuel, so you have to refuel it often.
Why Would I need to do this Maintenance?
Permanent portable generators are used when an electrical power source is unavailable such as in the case of a storm or extended power outage.
They are also used in many rural areas where there is no electricity available but you still want the option of running your refrigerator and lights if electricity should ever return.
The main difference between permanent and seasonal generators is how long they run between refueling times.
A permanent portable generator runs continuously while it’s fueled (a home gas appliance uses propane to produce heat and light). A seasonal portable generator runs until its fuel runs out. It is fueled by a propane tank which powers the generator when the power goes out.
When you own a permanent portable generator, you need to do some maintenance on it periodically in order to keep it in good working condition. This will ensure that it can continue to run consistently and safely for as long as you’ll need it.
What Maintenance Does a Permanent Generator Require?
- Check the oil level every couple of months; if it gets low, add more.
- Check the oil’s color and viscosity every two weeks. If it’s dark or smoky, change it immediately.
- Change the air filter as needed (it should be changed every two months). Otherwise, clean when dirty or monthly before maintenance diagnostics.
- Check the main control board (which switches the generator on and off) to make sure that the burners are lighted by turning on a light in your home and watching for a glow in each burner head for 30 seconds to one minute.
- Make sure that the gas-release mechanism opens smoothly and doesn’t leak.
- Make sure the exhaust stack is not blocked with leaves, debris, or snow.
- Check the outside of the generator for rusting or corrosion and repair it if necessary (it should be painted to protect it from the elements).
- Check all wires for damage and repair them if necessary. All loose wires should be tied up to avoid a fire hazard; contact an electrician for any wiring that needs attention beyond your abilities.
- Do a self-diagnosis of the unit to determine if there are any problems with the unit (see below).
- Check the fuel level and tank level every couple of months, but no more than 10% above the maximum. Use a fire extinguisher on leaks if necessary. Make sure that there are no leaking seals or covers when fueling it.
- Clean the area around the generator and remove any debris or trash that could melt and possibly start a fire.
- Cover your generator when you are not using it to prevent dirt and moisture from entering it. You do not want to have to clean the entire unit when you only had to cover it up! Make sure that the cover you use is appropriate for a permanent portable generator (it should be strong enough and weather-resistant enough).
- Check voltage output regularly. Should be less than 110 volts per phase but within 10% +/- of rated voltage for utility power up to 25,000 watts; below 25,000 watts, below 10% +/- of rated voltage is acceptable.
- Inspect the fuel system for leaks or other problems.
- Check sparkplugs and cables for condition and replace them if damaged or missing. Use proper spark plugs (for example, Blue Thunder, NGK or Champion).
- Check fuel system pressure and clean the carburetor if necessary (a new carburetor should be installed at this time).
- Test voltage outputs of all electrical circuits (lights, outlets, etc.) to make sure that they are functioning properly; check for voltage drop in each circuit and make any adjustments as required.
- Adjust output voltage to 110 volts per phase for a 50 Hz generator and 120 volts per phase for a 60 Hz generator by using the voltage regulator on the back of the generator.
- Check and set output frequency if you have a 60 Hz generator (should be 60 cycles/second); check and set input frequency if you have a 50 Hz unit (should be 50 cycles/second).
- If there is any damage, such as dented or bent parts, replace them during this time along with any fouled spark plugs or clogged filters (see diagnostic procedures under seasonal generators).
- If there is any damage, such as a torn spark plug boot, replace it during this time along with any fouled spark plugs or clogged filters (see diagnostic procedures under seasonal generators).
- Inspect the oil system for leaks and ensure a proper level of oil in the reservoir. Oil should be changed every two years or 3,000 hours of operation (whichever comes first) if it has not been changed recently (the older the engine oil, the more effective it is). The fewer times you have to stop running your generator because it needs an oil change, the better!
- Check the air filter periodically and clean or replace it as necessary (The more times you have to stop running your generator because it needs a new air filter, the worse!).
- Check for oil leaks.
- Check for any loose belts or broken engine parts.
- Have your operator’s manual handy whenever you are using your generator to provide reference to the diagnostics and maintenance procedures that are most applicable to your unit.
Older models of diesel generators will run on straight vegetable oil, but new models require a coproduct like biodiesel or other synthetic diesel oil in order for their engines to function properly.
Weekly Generator Maintenance Checklist
- Check for adequate levels of water, oil, and fuel in the engine.
- Check for any loose belts or broken engine parts.
- Clean or replace the air filter as necessary (The more times you have to stop running your generator because it needs a new air filter, the worse!).
- Inspect the air cleaner for any damage. Replace the air filter if necessary; if it isn’t replaceable, clean it as best you can and check for debris clogging it off periodically during operation (The more times you have to stop running your generator because its air system is clogged off, the worse!).
- Check for any loose belts or broken engine parts.
- Check engine oil level; add oil as necessary (The more times you have to stop running your generator because it needs an oil top off, the worse!).
- Check the cooling fan for damage; replace if necessary (The more times you have to stop running your generator because the cooling fan is damaged, the worse!).
- Check exhaust system for leaks and obstructions (A malfunctioning exhaust system can also cause a generator to overheat and fail prematurely).
- Replace belts as necessary (The more times you have to stop running your generator because its belts are broken, the worse!).
- Check the generator’s battery (You will need a voltmeter and an assistant to do this).
- Check the voltage regulator (You will need a voltmeter and an assistant to do this).
- Do any additional preventive maintenance that is necessary.
Monthly Generator Maintenance Checklist
- Inspect the air filter and the oil level, checking for dirt or debris. Replace if necessary.
- Inspect, clean, and lube the engine and drive train components (transmission, differential, driveshaft). Be sure to check for loose bolts or cotter pins.
- Check the spark plug gap using your gap gauge (remember it’s a vital part of your safety system!). In case of a spark plug change or head, replacement consults your owner’s manual regarding time intervals between changes. If you are using conventional spark plugs check this procedure from your owner’s manual too!
- Check the oil level; add oil as necessary.
- Check the fuel system for leaks and ensure that there is sufficient fuel to power your generator for at least 20 to 25 minutes of operation.
- Check the air filter periodically and clean or replace it if necessary (The more times you have to stop running your generator because it needs a new air filter, the worse!).
- Inspect spark plugs; replace if necessary (Remember to follow manufacturer’s recommendations regarding spark plug replacement intervals and a number of miles before replacement).
- Check the cooling fan for any damage. Replace it if necessary (The more times you have to stop running your generator because the cooling fan is damaged, the worse!).
- Inspect exhaust system for leaks and obstructions; replace as necessary.
- Check shaft seals and dirt shields, fuel filters, and oil filters; clean or replace as necessary (The more times you have to stop running your generator because these components are leaking, the worse!).
- Check belts; replace if necessary (The more times you have to stop running your generator because its belts are broken, the worse!).
- Replace any damaged or worn-out components, such as spark plug boots, fuel filters, air filters, and oil filters.
- Check the engine oil level; add oil as necessary.
- Check the gas tank; ensure there is sufficient fuel to run your generator for at least 20 to 25 minutes of operation. If you own a transferable gas delivery system, check for leaks and obstructions in the gas line(s).
- Inspect the battery (You will need a voltmeter and an assistant to do this).
- Check that all wires are in good condition and secured properly (loose wires can cause short circuits which may pose serious hazards to you).
Here is another list of essential items that should be checked every time you are using your generator: the fuel filter, exhaust filter, oil level, spark plug gap, engine type, and hours on the engine. The list goes on with more checklists for other important tasks.
Some Important Task to Maintain Generator
If you have sealed batteries, use a voltmeter to see if they are holding a charge; if not, replace them (These batteries should be in tip-top shape when the SHTF!).
If you have open or standard flooded batteries, check the specific gravity of each cell with hydrometer; add distilled water as necessary to bring each cell up to 1.225–1.230 (If the batteries are not of good quality, this may happen quickly).
If you have lithium batteries, all of them need to be checked for a charge; after adding distilled water as necessary to bring each cell up to 1.225–1.230, take the batteries out of the generator and store them in a cool place (this would prevent damage from extreme temperatures).
Check battery electrolyte level; add distilled water as necessary to bring each cell up to full charge (The sooner you do this, the better!).
If the battery is disconnected from the generator, make sure it’s clear of any debris or corrosion and clean it and reattach it.
Keep you generators well maintained and free of corrosion, damage, etc. to avoid battery failure in the future.
Keeping Your Generator Running Smoothly
Adequate lubrication is an essential part of making your generator run properly, as well as keeping it ready to go when you need it most.
When transistors are operating in their normal range of voltages they are “hot”. Because they are operating at much higher temperatures when hot, they require more lubrication than when cold (This property is known as leakage behavior).
Check the oil level and add as necessary.
Check the power at startup by using a volt meter on the output of the generator. Turn off and remove your battery before doing this so that you don’t accidentally damage anything.
Make sure your external fuel lines are clean, tight and no leaks anywhere in them. Fuel lines become clogged with grease, dirt, debris and sand, etc., which greatly shortens their life span (This is especially dangerous if you’re running your generator for long periods of time with no interruption).
Make sure all controls are set to the proper settings (with a digital multimeter check for voltage drop between any two points on the system’s output circuit).
If you are running a digital multimeter on the output of your generator, make sure that you do not have the tester set to auto-ranging; otherwise, it may damage your generator’s electronics and make them malfunction or even shut down!
It might be best to use an analog voltmeter on the output of your generator when making these checks if you don’t know how to use a digital multimeter effectively.
Make sure all loose belts are firmly in place and that the generator is running smoothly.
If there is any damage, such as a torn spark plug boot, replace it along with any fouled spark plugs or clogged filters (check diagnostic procedures under seasonal generators).
Check and set output frequency if you have a 60 Hz generator (should be 60 cycles/second); check and set input frequency if you have a 50 Hz unit (should be 50 cycles/second).
Keep your operators manual handy whenever you are using your generator to refer to the diagnostics and maintenance procedures that are most applicable to your unit.
Hopefully, after reading this guide generator maintenance checklist, you now understand, you can extend its life span which will approximately double its total service life (Based on the number of hours that have been used).
Also, remember that most manufacturers’ recommendations for maintenance vary from model to model. It is recommended that you consult your owner’s manual regarding any items or procedures that are not specifically listed here.