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Winter Weather Readiness & Planning for Standby Generators


A Winter Weather Readiness Program should be developed to establish an operational framework to ensure that your Standby Generator is ready for service in the event of a cold weather power outage. Your Standby Generator, to the extent reasonably possible, should be ready to operate consistently and effectively during seasonal winter weather and severe winter weather events.  The results of a freezing weather and winter storm backup power failure can have catastrophic consequences. Depending upon your installation, broken pipes may be the least of your problems.  For additional information on how to plan and be prepared we have outlined the primary details below.

Have a Plan

A good Winter Weather Readiness Program/Plan for your Standby Generator should have three separate parts.

• Pre Winter Weather Preparation
• During Severe Winter Weather Events
• Post Winter Weather Event

Pre Winter Weather Preparation

Pre Winter Weather Preparation can consist of the following:
Training - Review your Standby Generator’s operating instructions.

Inspections - Standby Generators covered by the plan must be inspected prior to each winter weather season and again prior to each winter weather event.  A check sheet should be used to mark off each individual item that is being inspected so that there is a record of the inspection. Coolant levels, battery cell levels and battery specific gravity should be checked.

Maintenance - All scheduled maintenance should be completed prior to any Winter Weather Event. For diesel generators the most important parts are keeping the fuel from gelling, the coolant heaters/block heaters running, oil heaters maintained, and making sure the batteries are still good and they are fully charged.  To prevent gelling and ensure optimal performance the fuel tank should be cleaned, polished and treated.

Operations and Testing - Run Standby Generators immediately prior to winter weather events to help ensure availability and also to review fuel quantity and quality.

Supplies - Ensure inventory of fuel, fuel stabilizers, lubricants, batteries, coolant and spare parts are available. If your Backup Generator is not equipped with an oil heater, now would be the perfect time to install one. A battery warmer and coolant heater is also a great idea in extreme climates. Also, a snow hood may be an option for outdoor installations. If your Generator requires a starting fluid, keep it at room temperature.

Have a Backup Plan - What will you do if your Standby Generator does not start?

During Severe Winter Weather

During Winter Weather Events:
Access - For an outdoor installation, make sure to keep a pathway open to your generator.

Inspections - Keep an Eye on Your Backup Generator sets. Consider increasing the frequency of the Standby Generator equipment checks.

Documentation - Keep a record of starts and run durations of your Standby Generators if they are started. Document any problems that occur or repairs that have to be made.

Generator Operation - Use the following options to keep the machine warm:
• Safely use portable heaters for enclosures and compartments.  
• To assist in warm-up, temporarily block the radiator. Blocking the radiator will restrict air from the fan.
• Running the engine at idle will keep the engine compartment warm.

Only use starting fluid while the engine is cranking. Check the air cleaner daily before starting the machine. If you operate the machine in heavy snow, consider attaching a burlap sack loosely to the air intake. By moving freely, the sack will prevent the snow from accumulating around the inlet filter. Keep the burlap sack away from heated parts. The hot exhaust piping may ignite the burlap sack so use extreme caution. Also, make sure that the burlap sack does not touch any moving parts.  Caterpillar also offers a useful PDF file with additional tips for operating commercial engines in cold weather.

Post Winter Weather Season

Post Winter Weather Preparation can consist of the following:
Review Documentation - After the last freeze of the winter season is the time to gather your information and see what worked and what didn’t work with your Winter Weather Readiness Plan. Update your plan with any changes you feel need to be made.

Maintenance - perform scheduled maintenance. This includes an oil change, coolant change out, filter replacements and so on. Be ready for the summer weather before it arrives with its own challenges. 

For more information on winter related considerations with power generators be sure to also read our previous article on Winter Power Outages that includes details on the hazards and types of winter storms and weather that can cause problems to backup generators if not properly maintained for extreme cold.

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