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Does My Generator Need Maintenance?

There are countless great reasons to purchase an electrical generator for your home. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for homeowners to simply let it sit idle without any routine maintenance or servicing. The problem with this is when the time does come for the generator to kick in, it may work – or it may not – leaving our homes and families in the dark.

Why Does an Electrical Generator Require Maintenance?

Whether you have a standby or a portable generator, maintenance is essential for solid, predictable performance. According to a survey by Consumer Reports, 9 percent of portable generators don’t start when they’re needed – and that’s a major red flag for poor maintenance.

How Often Should a Generator Be Serviced?

The sort and frequency of maintenance depends on the generator type. Since portable generators are much different than standby generators, they require a different approach:

Portable generators

These generators aren’t going to power your entire house at once, but they’re popular for their lower price and portability. A couple of general maintenance tips include never letting a gas-powered generator run dry while it’s actively powering something (this can lead to a visit to the repair shop to reenergize the coils), and always using fresh, stable fuel. 

Meanwhile, the battery of an electric generator always needs to be topped off with distilled water, which you may need to check as frequently as once a month. Many manufacturers recommend maintaining a portable generator with 20-minute powering sessions once every three months.

Standby generators

Just like a car, servicing a standby generator involves routine professional maintenance. Similar to portable generators, part of maintaining a standby generator is engine exercise — even up to 30 minutes of use monthly, depending on the size and model; some generators will do this automatically, some will not.

Every six months to a year, it’s important to check the coolant level and battery levels, change the air/fuel filters, and recondition if necessary. Leave it to the pros to do this maintenance; you will receive product-specific semi-annual and annual recommendations during installation. Some modern standby generators even perform programmed maintenance, self-diagnosing, and automatic alerting by themselves

Maintenance of both portable and standby generators also depends on the frequency of use. For example, a standby generator may need an oil change every 100 operating hours, which could look very different for someone who lives in an area with frequent power outages than someone who does not. 

If a generator is starting to require lots of maintenance, or if breakdowns (or failed tests) become frequent, it’s probably time to consider a replacement unit. With good maintenance, a portable generator can put out thousands of hours of power, and a standby generator can last up to 20 or 30 years.

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