portable backup generator

How To Buy And Maintain A Backup Generator

When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012, an estimated 8 million homes across 17 states lost power, and only a tiny portion of them reportedly had an emergency generator. Afterward, not surprisingly, generator sales soared.

Whenever devastating hurricanes and winter storms are in the news, generators are again top of mind. But having a generator won’t help you if it doesn’t work. And without regular and proper maintenance, there’s a risk of it breaking down, says Jeffrey Yago, an engineer specializing in home design and a national emergency preparedness expert.

Of course, this may happen exactly when you need your generator most. “After using a generator during a storm,” says Yago, “many people are surprised if it doesn’t start when the next power outage strikes a year later.”

Here’s what you need to know to avoid that problem.

GEICO can help protect your home.

Know It

First things first: A backup generator is an electrical system that allows homes to maintain power on some (or all) appliances during an outage. Larger, permanent “standby” generators generally run on propane or natural gas, require professional installation and cost well into the thousands of dollars. Portable generators—which range from small units you can carry with one hand to wheeled units that take a couple of people to move—run on gasoline or propane, have plugs for extension cords, and generally cost between $400 and $1,500.

Portable diesel generator on the streetBuy It

When it comes to purchasing a generator (or making sure the one you have still fits your needs), figure out your priorities. To run major energy hogs like central air-conditioning, you’ll need a standby generator. Portable generators usually offer between 2 and 8 kilowatts; 4 to 6 kW is usually enough to power a home’s essential appliances, like lights and a portable heater, says Yago.

Store It

It’s fine to keep your portable generator in a garage, even in winter, as long as it stays dry. Yago recommends letting the fuel run out completely before storing, to keep residual fuel from fouling up the fuel system, and refilling with each use. He keeps five-gallon, non-ethanol gasoline cans nearby; always be sure to store gas in a well-ventilated area away from the house. And be aware that generators can go through gas pretty quickly—even a portable generator can use more than five gallons a day. Also, keep heavy-duty outdoor extension cords accessible, so you can easily plug in appliances when needed.

Portable electric generator with white electric wires on the backyard of a summer house outdoors. The generator provides the house with electricityExercise It

Yago recommends running your portable generator for about a half hour every few months. This provides the necessary “exercise” to keep moving parts lubricated and the fuel and air passages clear. (Larger generators have automatic controls and exercise at regular intervals.) He also advises that you check your owner’s manual to learn the proper intervals for changing the oil and filter, either on your own or by a certified technician.

Use It

When it comes time to use your portable generator, the recommends placing it outside at least 15 feet from any open windows, to prevent exhaust fumes from entering the home. Ideally, operate it on a dry surface covered by a canopy to keep off rain.

To keep appliances safe, research the wattage requirements and electrical loads before powering them up through a generator. While most large generators can power even the largest household appliances, smaller generators may shut down if asked to power high-load appliances such as a washer or refrigerator. They also won’t power anything that runs on more than 120 volts; for items like central air-conditioning or a water heater, you’ll need a larger generator with a 240-volt option.

Know what else is helpful in case of emergency? Home insurance through the GEICO Insurance Agency. Get a free quote today.

Read More: Natural disasters often cause power outages. Here are other ways to prepare for a hurricane.

By Alina Dizik

GEICO can help protect your home.

    Leave a comment

  1. A Atkinson says,

    Have used a Home-lite portable generator off and on for 18 years. Always run it completely out of gas before storing. Keep in cool dry place between uses. Always starts with new gas.
    After 50 hrs or so replace oil on 4 cycle engines. Always check oil when refueling. If generator is loaded it will use more gas and oil. As noted a relative small gasoline generator will last for years if carefully maintained. If storm expected, get it out put in small amount of gas and start it up. Keep gas in 4-5 plastic 5 gal containers. If not using for mower just keep empty cans and fill if storm anticipated. Use stabilizer if don’t plan to use in 3 months. Put in car and leave cans empty. If possible outage forecast, fill cans, check generator.

  2. AzIzNoWarranty says,

    Information not stated clearly in this post.

    A few of the generator manufacturers have power calculators available to help find the correct size. Choice of extension cord gauge and rating is more critical with a generator as it will generally be used for longer periods of time than normal. Some appliances are dangerous when used with long extension cords due to an overheating risk especially with a larger house and longer cord.

    Cheers !

  3. Luis E. Santyos, Rochester NY says,

    excellent advise on proper procedure and maintenance of portable generators. I’ve used them for many years in Florida but did not know of use of non-ethanol gasoline.. Thank you for the info. Now I have to find a gas station that carries non-ethanol fuel.
    Luis E. Santos

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