How to install, clean and maintain a home backup generator

How to install, clean and maintain a home backup generator






If the area you live in experiences frequent power outages, your backup generator is one of the most crucial installments in your entire home. Even if you rarely face power-cut problems, having a backup generator in your home offers you peace of mind because the last thing you want is to be stuck in the dark without electricity, possibly in extreme weather conditions.

Two backup power supply systems that homeowners commonly use in power outages are standby generators and backup generators.

Home standby power generators, as the name suggests, are standing by and ready to serve in case of a power outage. This generator’s system monitors power failures and, through an automatic transfer switch, automatically signals the engine to start up so that your operations are not disrupted. 

In contrast, backup generators are portable devices that provide temporary power backup in times of need. These portable generators can be used by manually setting up extension cords from the backup generator to any appliances you want to supply with power. You must refill backup generators with gas or diesel periodically. This type of home generator is not a permanent installation and has to be manually fired up in an emergency.

Before you buy a generator, you should consider your unique needs and budget. Selecting the right generator for you is an investment worth making and one you will thank yourself for on a rainy day (quite literally).

This article discusses how you can install, clean and maintain your backup generator to ensure it works when you need it.



How hard is it to install a backup generator?


If you don’t already have a backup generator installed and are planning to install one yourself to save generator installation costs, you might want to think again. A whole-house generator installation isn’t a very DIY-friendly project, and you are better off with a professional installation. 

Whole-home generator installation requires knowledge about electrical, plumbing and gas components, and you must be aware of and abide by local, state and federal electrical codes. Backup or standby generator installation is a simple job for an experienced electrician but a risky venture for someone who doesn’t have the expertise to handle the project safely without causing any gas leaks or accidents.

Can you install a backup generator yourself?

While installing a backup generator yourself is technically possible, we don’t recommend it. Here are some factors you should consider before deciding to install your backup generator yourself, classified into three broad categories: regulatory concerns, technical concerns and safety concerns.

Regulatory concerns

  • Noise. Backup/standby generators tend to create a loud noise when running, and the larger the generators are, the louder the noise will be. While you might not be able to compromise on the size of the generator, depending on how large your house is, there are some things you can do to keep the noise at a bearable level. For example, generators with diesel as a fuel source produce excessive noise that is dangerous to the human ear, so you can opt for a natural gas generator that makes less noise. In addition, you can fit the generator into an attenuated sound closure to minimize the disturbance.
  • Placement. According to regulations, you should place the generator at least 20 feet away from the house and any outhouse units you have. The generator must also be at a certain distance from neighboring houses. So, finding the right spot for your generator can be challenging. There are a ton of nitty-gritty details to keep in mind while deciding where to place your generator. For example, your basement might seem like a good option, but that is not advisable if you live in a flood-prone zone. Or you might think your roof is the ideal spot, but you might have to make electrical and structural repairs to tie the generator to the electrical systems on the lower floors. In addition, you should ensure that you place your backup generator in an area with sufficient ventilation.
  • Infrastructure. There are detailed rules governing plumbing and natural gas connections that you should be mindful of before taking on this project on your own.

Technical concerns

  • Load. Before purchasing a generator for your home, you must consider the combined load of the appliances you intend to run simultaneously on the generator’s power. Also, consider the starting wattages of these appliances in your calculations. You should buy a bigger generator if you intend to operate many devices simultaneously during an outage.
  • Electrical knowledge. You must possess sound knowledge of electrical systems, like a circuit breaker, electric panel and power grid, to connect the standby or backup generator to your existing electronic devices.
  • Carpentry skills. Connecting the electrical devices to the generator will require basic carpentry skills and tools.
  • Storage space. Depending on the generator you opt for, storage might be a pressing concern for you. For example, if you opt for a gas-run generator, the generator’s fuel supply can be through a natural gas line and doesn’t need storage facilities. However, a diesel or propane-run generator would require a diesel or propane tank attached to the base of the generator unit, called a diesel or propane base tank. The smaller your fuel tank is, the more frequently you will have to refill it. So, for this type of generator, you would also have to store additional diesel or propane reserves on-site or secure a steady fuel delivery service that would deliver even in an emergency.
  • Plumbing skills. If you opt for a natural gas backup generator, the gas supply must have a water column pressure of 5 to 7 inches. So, to install this generator, you will need to know if that pressure is available in your area and how to access it. Having too little pressure can damage your generator or the supply of gas. So, adequate plumbing knowledge is required for this installation as well.
  • Fuel choice. When installing a generator in your home, there’s one crucial decision that you must make: diesel or natural gas. Professionals will usually recommend generators with diesel as a power source because they’re cheaper than liquid propane or gas-run generators and are less of a safety hazard. However, if you want to thoroughly consider the pros and cons of each, we made a comparative table to empower you to make an informed choice.
  Factors to Consider   Gas-Run Generators   Diesel-Run Generators
  Price of unit  More pricey  Cheaper by around 50%
  Noise  Run more quietly  Create excessive noise
  Fuel storage  Not required; run on a gas-supply pipe  Storage tank and additional on-site fuel storage needed
  Safety  More safety concerns due to highly combustible nature  Relatively safe
  Odor  Natural gas is nearly odorless  Diesel has a pungent odor
  Environment-considerations  Emit more greenhouse gases  More environment-friendly
  Dependency  Comparatively less reliable; the gas line could run dry during an emergency  More assured backup generator because it’s easy to stock up on diesel


Safety concerns

Diesel is among the least flammable fossil fuels and one of the safest to have around. This is because a diesel leak would have a strong odor, and its liquid state makes it easy to spot and safely clean up.

In contrast, natural gas is a highly combustible substance and runs the risk of creating an explosion if exposed to even a small spark. In addition, natural gas is toxic to inhale, so a leak would produce significant health hazards.

So, it’s essential to carefully choose your fuel type when installing your generator and ensure that it is fitted correctly to avoid any leaks and other generator hazards.

These are just a few reasons why installing a whole-house generator yourself is not recommended. It is advisable to hire experts who are experienced in the task and equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge to install the unit safely.



4 tips to clean and maintain your backup generator


Your backup generator is the device you rely on in times of emergency or a power outage. Although you might not use it often, it’s important to maintain it so you can use it when you need it. 

Regular cleaning and maintenance of your generator are essential to ensure that it functions properly during an emergency. If the place you live in experiences a regular stormy season, make it a point to tune up your generator before every storm season.

If you haven’t maintained your generator properly so far, you might find that it doesn’t work anymore. In that case, unfortunately, you will probably have to buy a new one.

If you want to know the most critical aspects of backup generator maintenance to ensure maximum performance, here are some things to check for.

Check the battery and battery terminals  

Most generator failures occur due to problems with the battery. But you can resolve most of these problems before sufficient damage by detecting the issue early.

Here are some pointers to help you check and maintain your generator’s battery health.

  • Check the battery terminals. If they have come loose, tighten them up so they don't hinder the generator from working.
  • Inspect the battery for any dirt or corrosion, and clean it off with a wire brush and a solution of baking soda and water.
  • Power up the generator once every three months for 15- to 30-minute increments. This charges the battery and ensures the generator is in good working condition during an emergency.
  • If your battery isn’t working, contact your dealer or replace the battery. You don’t want to discover that it isn’t working when you need it most.

Change the backup generator oil  

When your power goes out, your backup generator burns oil to produce electricity. So, you should ensure that you have a sufficient oil supply stocked up so it’s ready when you need it.

Typically, an oil generator requires an oil refill every 50 to 60 hours. If your generator is new, you should change the oil after the first 20 hours of use.

When refilling your oil, ensure the generator is cooled down before you pour fresh oil. Only refill the oil when you have enough light to see so you can avoid dangerous oil spills.

Change the air filters

If your central air filter is dirty, it will obstruct the generator’s fresh air intake, and the generator has to work harder to perform its job. Usually, your owner’s manual will have specific recommendations on how often to replace your air filter. Alternatively, you can observe the air restriction indicator as part of your maintenance routine — when it turns red, it’s time to change the air filter.

Regularly cleaning and assessing your air filters is a good safety measure to prevent a generator breakdown during an hour of need. As a rule of thumb, you should replace your air filter every 100 hours, irrespective of its cleanliness and condition.

Check for rust and water damage

Your generator is exposed to various elements that can damage its parts if not regularly maintained. For example, oxygen and moisture cause the metal parts of the generator to rust, which will hinder their performance.

Your spark plugs might clog up with oil residue or carbon buildup and should be cleaned using a spark plug cleaner. If you want to protect your generator to keep it working smoothly for as long as possible, invest in a cover that will keep away debris and moisture.

In addition, you can consider getting a polymer epoxy coating for your generator, which will prevent moisture contamination and rust formation.



Protect your electrical system from costly repairs with Cinch


Having a working generator in your home is an investment, ensuring that you are prepared for a rainy day. However, just buying an expensive backup generator is pointless because without proper maintenance, it might not serve its purpose as a backup power system in an emergency. 

These simple generator tips will help you avoid high generator replacement costs. Along with these tips, you should check the generator’s manual and follow any procedures and maintenance intervals recommended for your specific model.

Your home has numerous costly devices, like air conditioners, water heaters and generators, that all need regular maintenance to maintain optimal working conditions. If you would like to save time and proactively hire professionals for this, the Cinch Built-in Systems plan is for you.

The Built-in Systems Plan offers a warranty on all your electrical and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems. Although backup generators are not included under Cinch’s warranty, it certainly takes a lot off your plate and covers many potentially costly repairs and home improvements for you. If you’re interested to know more, get a quote for your home today.




Want to ensure your backup generator functions properly during an emergency? Learn how to install, clean and maintain your home backup generator.

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