Generator maintenance

Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2016 @ 9:26 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 10, 2016 @ 9:26 PM

Every week, consumers take their portable generators to local stores hoping for good news.

They swear they’ve been performing the recommended monthly maintenance on the machines so loud, but so valued when the power goes out following a storm. But the tell-tale thick brown sludge in the generator’s carburetor gives them away.

It’s OK, say local generator store owners. There’s no need to lie — especially now that we’re in the height of the hurricane season.

The important thing, they add, is to bring in that unused generator to be serviced before a storm is on the way.

For fees typically ranging from $65 to $125 — depending on the amount of work to be done — local generator “specialists” say they can get that neglected piece of equipment back on track.

“I get a couple of generators a week that come in for maintenance,” says Justin Suggs, general manager at Stuart Lawn & Garden. “They won’t start. People have left gas in them, or they are not doing the monthly run on the engine.”

His standard generator maintenance advice: Once a month, put a half gallon of gas in your generator and run it for at least a half-hour. A month later, do the same thing.

Even a generator that’s out of gas still has vapors that create a blockage in the carburetor, says Suggs, whose also owns and operates Suggs Lawn Equipment in Royal Palm Beach.

There are easily hundreds of portable generators idled in garages and storage sheds that haven’t seen the light of day since Wilma left town four years ago. What’s more, the current recession has moved generator maintenance to the back-burner for many owners.

Still, in one week last month, customers dropped off five generators to be brought up to snuff at Blast Off Equipment Inc. in West Palm Beach, co-owner Felix Finnegan Jr. says.

He said that’s a sign that despite the recession, the storm season is making folks recognize the need for maintenance.

“People have … left gas in them and gummed up their carburetors,” Finnegan says, which can lead to a generator mechanic having to remove the fuel completely and dry out the system with an air compressor.

One area of generator sales that has jumped during the recession is “whole house” or stand-by generators.
Jon Andio, co-owner of 1 Stop Generator Shop in Palm Beach Gardens, said since people can’t sell their homes, they figure they might as well install a generator.

He says while the store sells portable generators, sales of stand-by units — which start at $8,000 — are up 65-70 percent over 2008 and make up the bulk of his business.

But, he warns that the stand-by generators, which operate automatically and start instantly in the case of a power outage, also require maintenance.

“The big ones are car engines,” he says, “And just like a car mechanic tells you to change your oil, you should change the generator’s oil every six months.”

Power station
Generator neglect is common, say mechanics. But there are some basic maintenance tips to avoid a bill that could easily top $100.

  • Always empty fuel from a generator when it is not in use.
  • Put in a half-gallon of fresh gas and run it once a month.
  • Plug in a lamp, drill, or a small appliance to make sure the generator works.
  • If it has an electric start, keep the battery charged.
  • Cover it when not in use to keep out dirt and dust.
  • For specifics, refer to your generator’s manual.Helpful Web sites:
  • Find the right generator for you
  • Honda generators
  • Consumer Reports (Search for “generators”)
  • Running the basics
    Generator size: 5,000 watts
    Price: $1,000 (average)
    What it will run:

  • Refrigerator (1,200 watts)
  • Electric fry pan (1,500 watts)
  • Microwave (1,000 watts)
  • Three lamps (180 watts)
  • Computer and monitor (1,000 watts)
  • Television (300 watts)
  • Neglect vs. proper care
    Cost of generator: $1,000
    Cost of proper do-it-yourself maintenance: a half gallon of gas ($1.50) for 12 months = $18
    Cost of neglect: A dead generator that takes $65-$125 in service. And if it requires parts …
  • New carburetor: $100 (plus labor)
  • New battery: $60.
  • New oil and air filters: $50.

    - Susan Salisbury

  • Related

    Pools: Before and after tips

    Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 @ 9:15 PM
    Updated: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 @ 9:15 PM

    Don’t drain water from pool

    Leave water level alone. Draining, so it won’t overflow, is pointless. If you drain it more than a few feet below normal and the ground gets saturated, the pool’s shell could pop out of the ground (even with concrete pools). Water provides weight to hold the sides and bottom in place.

    Turn off power to the pump motor, lights and other equipment at circuit box. Disconnect gas from heater; if possible, have your gas supplier or pool service disconnect it to be safe.

    Consider removing diving boards or slides if you fear they won’t be secure in high winds; if you decide to remove them, try to have a professional do it.

    If the motor is exposed and you live in a flood-prone area, remove the pump and store it indoors. Otherwise, try to wrap it up with a waterproof cover and tie securely.

    Remove automatic pool cleaners, pool blankets and covers, and take inside.

    Super-chlorinate or double chemicals you normally add to reduce contamination and infestation by insects.

    Stock up on chemicals to “shock” pool after storm.

    Don’t throw patio furniture in pool to keep out of the wind; pool chemicals will harm the furniture and can mar the pool finish.


    After the ‘all clear’

    Call gas company or a pool company to reattach gas line to heater.

    Don’t reconnect electrical equipment until you’ve removed debris from the pool with a net and power has been restored. Make sure electrical equipment is dry.

    Do this as quickly as possible before bacteria starts to grow. Don’t use your vacuum; debris will clog it and the pump. Then, if the area around the pool is dry, start the pump. When draining the pool to proper level, remove cartridge filter or bypass the filter system. Super-chlorinate again.

    Remove vegetative debris before treating water. Add 5 gallons of chlorine (based on a 15,000-gallon pool) and start pump after inspecting electrical equipment to be sure it’s dry. Reset timers, if necessary.

    Closely watch the pump system through complete cycles for any problems.

    Wait 24 hours to see whether water clears and turns blue. If it does, test water and follow instructions. If water is darker or black, pool may need to be drained, or partially drained, treated and refilled. Call a professional

    Balance pool chemicals and monitor a few days.

    Claims: How to file, deal with adjusters

    Published: Thursday, May 12, 2016 @ 10:43 PM
    Updated: Thursday, May 12, 2016 @ 10:43 PM

    What if you have to file a claim?

    Take photos or video of your home to document your belongings for insurance adjusters. A free computer software program, www.insurancevault.net , will walk you through what are the key images to take. Make sure images are easily accessible immediately after the hurricane — not solely stored on a computer.

    Save copies of receipts, purchase dates and serial numbers.

    Start a disaster savings account so that money is available in a worst-case scenario.

    Write down the name, address and claims telephone number of your insurance company, which may differ from your agent’s contact information.

    Keep this information in a safe place and make sure you have access to it if you are forced to evacuate.

    Keep materials such as plywood on hand in case you need to make temporary repairs after a storm. Take photos of the damage before you make repairs. Finally, keep receipts from your repairs so that your insurance company has documentation to reimburse you.

    Also, document any repairs you make to your house after previous hurricanes. If you don’t, and suffer new damage in the same place, an insurance company could dispute that you ever used the money they paid you to make repairs.

    Help adjusters – and others – find you

    If you have to leave your home following a storm, it is helpful to leave a phone number where you can be reached somewhere on the outside of your home.

    You can spray-paint the number on a piece of wood or on the side of your house. Paint your address and the name of your insurance company on the damaged part of your home for adjusters cruising neighborhoods.

    Storm prep checklist for outside the home

    Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2016 @ 2:53 PM
    Updated: Tuesday, May 10, 2016 @ 2:53 PM

    WHEN THE STORM THREATENS:

    Refill special medications.

    Get cash (ATMs may not work for days after). Don’t charge credit cards to the limit; you might need extra cash after the storm.

    Get supplies. Follow instructions in this guide for food and water.

    Don’t fill gasoline cans until right before the storm; they are a fire hazard.

    Fill vehicle fuel tank. Gas stations could run out and some will not have power to run pumps. Check your car’s battery, water, oil. Make sure you have a spare tire and buy aerosol kits that fix and inflate flats.

    Check fire extinguishers.

    If you own a boat, make necessary preparations.

    Prepare your pool. Don’t drain it.

    If you own a plane, have it flown out or secured.

    WHEN THE STORM IS APPROACHING:

    Get shutters, storm panels or plywood in place on windows. If you haven’t installed sockets, attach with wood screws; they’re better than nails and do less damage.

    Don’t tape windows; tape can create daggers of glass and in the heat can later bake onto panes.

    Remove swings and tarps from swing sets. Tie down anything you can’t bring in. Check for loose rain gutters, moldings.

    Move grills, patio furniture and potted plants into your house or garage.

    If you do any last-minute pruning, take clippings inside so they don’t become hazards in the wind.

    Disconnect and remove satellite dish or antenna from your roof.

    Check your mailbox. If it’s loose, secure or remove it.

    Remove roof turbines and cap holes with screw-on caps. Unsecured turbines can fly off and create a large hole for rain to pour through.

    Prepare patio screening. It usually is built to sustain tropical-force winds, but with higher winds, it can separate from the frame. Officials recommend you remove a 6-foot panel on each side to let wind pass through. Pull out the tubing that holds screening in frame to remove screen.

    Secure and brace external doors, especially the garage door and double doors.

    Move vehicles out of flood-prone areas and into garages if possible. If not, park cars away from trees and close to homes or buildings.

    Don’t turn off your natural gas at the main meter. Only emergency or utility people should do that.

    Landscapes: Trees and yard

    Published: Friday, May 27, 2016 @ 9:02 PM
    Updated: Friday, May 27, 2016 @ 9:02 PM

    Trees should be trimmed by early June, before storms threaten. Many municipalities have “amnesty” weeks before storm season, when you can deposit more than the allowable limit of yard debris. Call municipalities for more information.

    Call a professional. Trees trimmed by a professional arborist are far less likely to go down in a storm.

    Thinning a tree allows wind to blow through its canopy, offering less wind resistance in a storm. Prune young trees to create a single leader, which will grow into a strong trunk.

    To minimize damage to a mature tree, eliminate weak branches and reduce the length of limbs at a tree’s sides. Don’t remove interior branches, as this can make a tree unbalanced.

    Hatracked trees become sails. Removing a tree’s canopy encourages bushy growth, which makes a tree top heavy and wind-resistant. Some hatracked trees “sailed” directly to the ground. Hatracking is illegal.

    ‘Lifted’ trees mean broken branches. “Lifting” is a common practice where the lower branches are removed to provide clearance underneath. Lifting contributes to branch breakage and makes the tree top heavy.

    Don’t wait until the storm is threatening to prune. If the trash pickup doesn’t get to your curb before the storm strikes, you’ve created a pile of potential missiles.

    Coconuts behave like cannonballs in high winds. Remove them well before a storm hits. If trees are too tall for you to reach, hire a tree trimmer.

  • More hurricane tree protection tips

    Tips for your yard

    Take in hanging pots and baskets. Secure or take in pots from shadehouses.

  • Secure young trees with additional stakes.

    Don’t remove fruit. If you put it in a trash pile and the pile isn’t picked up, the fruit may fly around in the wind.

    Tree-dwelling bromeliads, staghorn ferns and orchids can be secured with fishing line.

    Take in or tie up any piles of yard or construction debris.

    Take in all garden furniture, grills, tiki torches and other outdoor items. (Do not sink furniture in swimming pool.)

    Consider removing gates and trellises.

    Palms, native trees fared best through 3 hurricanes

    In high wind, palms will bend but not always break. Since they originated in the tropics and subtropics, their supple trunks have adapted to hurricanes.

    Plant palms in clumps around the edge of your garden (not near the house) to block the wind and protect more fragile plants inside. Although fronds will be damaged in a storm, most of these palms will recover.

    Ficus trees come down easily in storms

    Ficus trees are not meant for residential yards. They grow to 70 feet with a massive span of shallow roots, and come down easily in high winds.

    If you already have a ficus, have it professionally trimmed before hurricane season begins. (If you have Australian pine and ficus in your yard, consider removing them.)

    Stake small trees as a storm approaches with stakes driven at least 8 inches into the ground.

    Trim large masses of vines so they don’t pull down fences.

    Lay arches and trellises on the ground and anchor with rope.

    Fast-growing, brittle trees should never be planted in hurricane country, no matter how quickly you need shade.

    STRONG TREES

    Gumbo limbo
    Cocoplum
    Cypress
    Dahoon holly
    Geiger tree
    Buttonwood
    Jamaica caper
    Mastic
    Ironwood
    Live oak
    Sand oak
    Red bay
    Red maple
    Cypress
    Sea grape
    Stopper
    Strangler fig

    BRITTLE TREES
    (Consider removing these trees from your yard.)

    Australian pine
    Earleaf acacia
    Ficus (ficus benjamina, weeping fig)
    Bishopwood (Bischofia)
    Carrotwood
    Hong Kong orchid
    Tabebuia
    Laurel oak
    Melaleuca
    Schefflera
    Black olive
    Jacaranda
    Java plum
    Norfolk Island pine
    Royal poinciana
    Silk oak

    STORM-SAFE PALMS

    Cabbage palm (sabal palm)
    Canary Island date palm
    Christmas palm (adonidia)
    Coconut palm
    Florida thatch palm
    Foxtail palm
    Robellini palm (Pygmy date palm)
    Royal palm
    Majesty palm
    Paurotis palm
    Thatch palms

    Note: Queen palms are the exception. They have a very low wind tolerance.