October 26, 2022

Severe Cold: How to Prepare a Backup Generator for This Weather


The cold has a way of making things tough to operate. This difficulty is particularly true for internal combustion engines that rely on various materials with different reactions to low temperatures. The prevalent temperatures present a severe challenge for backup generators that brave the winter weather. 

Backup generators are an essential part of getting through winter storms. You may lose grid power, forcing you to rely on an alternative power source for cold operations. However, if you can't turn on the generator in severe cold, you'll be in trouble.


Why Won't Your Generator Start? 

Because the severe cold due to the winter weather affects generators and their components in various ways, it's good to understand why. Here are a few reasons your generator won't start in cold weather.

  • Cold battery: You may recall how temperature affects chemical reactions from your high school chemistry. In such chilly weather, batteries, especially lead-acid ones, lose 46% of their rated capacity. This weakened battery may not have enough juice to run the electric starter.
  • Cold Oil: Oil thickens at lower temperatures. If the generator has been sitting for some time, all the oil will have dropped into the oil pan. The thicker oil becomes challenging to distribute around the engine. Also, the cold oil could end up triggering the low oil sensor. The tripped low oil sensor implies your generator cannot run for long periods as it will shut down to prevent damage or stop you from starting it.
  • Cold Electronics:  If your generator model has an electronic control panel, prepare for some problems. Cold electronic panels cannot effectively function due to parts shrinking and being misaligned in response to the frigid weather. 

These three are the most common reasons your generator will not start. However, a few others, like blocked air intakes or unburnt fuel mixing with soot deposits from the exhaust, may cause the engine not to start.


How Can You Prepare Your Generator for Winter?

It's imperative to find ways to counter the above causes. The following techniques can help you prepare your generator for winter operation. 

Install an engine block heater

Installing an engine heater, also known as an engine pre-heater or a water jacket heater, is crucial when you need to use the generator. The purpose of this device is to keep your generator warm when idle or not in use, thereby averting dangerous cold starts.

You can install control panel heaters, air inlet heaters, and coolant heaters if your backup generator operates outside in winter weather. These, in conjunction with the engine block heater, will make for a smooth operation of your outdoor generator. 

Use Winter-Grade Oil

Although the winter cold turns engine oil into a gel-like substance that's difficult to spread around the engine some types of engine oils exist that are designed to operate in severe temperatures. Depending on the temperatures you face, you may opt for 0w30 or 5w30 fully synthetic oils. 

Keep Your Battery Charged and Warm It

As you may know, lead-acid batteries tend to run flat when left idle for more than a month. Coupled with the frosty temperatures, you will encounter a troublesome battery if you attempt to start the backup generator. 

Keep your battery in top condition by recharging it regularly, or switch to one with a larger capacity. You can also rely on a warming blanket connected to the mains to keep it warm. In this way, you know it will function in cold seasons. 


Need Help with Power Systems?

There's no better way to handle your power system needs than to use Power System Services. Our commitment is to fulfill all your generator demands, from design to completion. If you'd like to know more about how we can help, please get in touch with us.