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Safely Setting up and Using a Residential Standby Generator by Craig Elliott

One of the most tragic stories after a big storm is the inevitable tale of a family that was poisoned by carbon monoxide or electrocuted by an improperly installed or operated standby generator. These tragedies can be easily avoided by just following a few simple rules to ensure adequate isolation and ventilation.

Since they are most often used in the event of a storm or weather related events, residential standby generators are often forgotten until they are needed. This is, of course, the wrong time to find out that the suggested maintenance regime hasn't been properly followed. A improperly maintained generator may simply not start, send a spike that damages all your equipment and sometimes unlucky operators suffer severe shocks or burns. Careful testing when the storm season can mean the difference between being prepared or not.

However, it's not such a major project to maintain a standby generator that's only used in emergencies. This can usually be accomplished in a once-per-year check. When properly stored outdoors and undercover - an outbuilding or shed is an ideal location - this will likely entail little more than annual attention to the oil. In the case of portable generators or those systems used on a very regular basis, it's best to check on them on a more regular basis as you might an automobile.

In the case of gasoline or diesel generators, they should be treated like motorcycles being put away for the winter. If left alone, the fuel could turn into varnish and render the engine useless. There is likely a recommended maintenance regimen for managing the storage of fuel, that came with your standby generator, as generators from manufacturers such as Winco, Gillette and Pramac do. A yearly draining or treatment with an octane stabilizer is the usual course.

Portable generators are very nearly always gas, diesel or propane and require no major installation. However, it's often a good idea to have them on wheels since even so-called portable generators can be quite heavy. Most residential generators are at least semi-portable, so they may be moved into a suitable position before a storm or they may be essentially anchored to a location in the backyard. Thanks to modern satellite weather, such disasters are rarely a total surprise, so there is almost always time to bring the generator into position for use if necessary. Portable generators are often brought into the home or basement to ride out the storm in the case of severe weather.

Since appliances and devices will be plugged directly into the generator, you'll also need some thick gauge extension cords that are free of defects and nicks. Never try to plug the generator into your house grid. This is dangerous and rarely effective. It is unlikely you took every single appliance in the house into consideration, and the possibility of having no power at all is very real.

Heavy duty power-strips are suitable, but be sure and check on the maximum recommended current levels for any given device. You can easily figure this out if the rating is not given in watts. Since you know how much power (in watts) will be used, you can easily figure out the current (measured in amperes or amps) by dividing the number of watts by 110 volts (in North America) or 220 volts in the rest of the world.

Another type of problem that can occur is the result of a gas or propane generator that isn't properly installed. Natural gas powered standby generator installations are stationary by definition. The additional need of plumbing" for the gas lines and valve maintenance is sometimes problematic and absolutely must be attended to yearly and inspected on a regular basis. If one isn't familiar with such work, it is often best to include the price of hiring a professional to assist in the install in your purchase price of this type of residential generator.

Most generators take as long as half a minute to power on completely. You can rely upon the protective circuits of a new standby generator, but with older models, they could be faulty, and that means disaster. Also, when large devices that have lost power and discharged completely, the initial power up could result in current draws that are nearly three times the normal load, as the very large capacitors fill back up like sponges.

When turning on a residential generator, a good plan of action is to let the generator power up for a moment, until operation stabilizes. There is very often an indicator that monitors the electrical performance. When everything is all settled down, you can then plug your essential items in one at a time.

Of course, for very expensive or critical gear, such as computers or medical equipment, it is imperative to have a battery backup system that will keep these devices running while the standby generator can be coaxed into life.

Maintaining and carefully operating a standby generator will allow you to feel confident when storms are bearing down upon your community. From the massive natural gas generators that power hospitals to wheeled and portable generators keeping your frozen food from melting, each has its own set of concerns.

About Author:
Craig Elliott is a writer for is a leading provider of Kipor Generators | Winco Generators | McCulloch Generators

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