Last Updated on January 29, 2021 by John Smith
A portable generator is supposed to give power to your most important electric gadgets when power is out or when no power outlets are close (i.e. on a construction site).
In that context, if you don’t have your portable generator winterized beforehand, there’s a strong possibility that it could break when exposed to low winter temperatures.
There are lots of issues regarding running portable generators during the cold winter, such as:
- The so-called “cold engine starts” can completely break a portable generator’s engine
- Cold weather turns the oil into a slimy gel causing engine parts to scrape against each other when in operation which could ruin the engine
- It takes a while to turn on a portable generator’s engine during winter and it takes even longer for it to get warm and run appropriately
- Their engines don’t run smoothly as batteries and engines don’t do well in winter
For these reasons and many more, I made it my mission to build an easy-to-follow step by step article on how to winterize a portable generator.
How to Winterize a Portable Generator
This is my simple step-by-step process that guides you on how to winterize a portable generator and make it weatherproof.
1. Put the generator on a snow-free and rain-free area
Snow and engines don’t mix well. Period.
If your portable generator isn’t yet properly winterized and you started it in a snowy area, there’s a strong chance you might end up wrecking it.
Let me explain, a portable generator’s engine can take in air through its air intake and send it off through the exhaust pipes. However, when snow or water filters through these, there’s no way for them to get it out. If enough water or snow gets in it could flood the motor preventing it from running.
Secondly, any electrical system that a portable generator might have (i.e. voltage meter, electrical outlets, etc…) will get completely destroyed due to electrical shortcuts if running while in contact with water or snow.
Last but not least, if the fuel lines and other internal parts of the engine take on water or snow, there’s a big possibility the fuel or the parts themselves will corrode. As a result, the engine’s lifespan will be substantially reduced demanding you to replace your expensive portable generator sooner than imagined.
So… my recommendation is to make sure before even starting up the generator that it’s in an area where it’s isolated from both snow and rain. Otherwise, you might wind up ruining your expensive portable generator.
2. Make sure your battery keeps its charge
It’s common knowledge that when a battery’s temperature drops below 40 degrees, it starts to function incorrectly.
Thus, it’s better to monitor if the battery is well charged or if it’s time to replace it.
3. Install additional gear (DO IT!)
There’re a lot of gadgets aimed to winterize a portable generator to properly work when exposed to cold winter temperatures. These are the most common ones:
- Engine block heaters: This is the best solution for preventing the engine oil from gelling up as it could ruin the engine itself as it stops lubricating engine parts. Specifically, it’s an instrument that warms the oil before starting the engine, which allows it to properly lubricate the engine’s internal components, thus, stopping the cold from breaking the engine
- Heating pads: These are 4 by 5 inches pads that one puts on top of the engine or battery for about 10 to 15 minutes to warm them. As a result, the engine oil recuperates its lubricating abilities, and batteries become better prepared for functioning. They’re by far the cheapest alternative and I recommend them to anyone who wants to winterize a portable generator on a budget
- Cold winter kits: These kits are a basic combination of the previous two gadgets. They combine heating pads, which function as battery warmers, and engine block heaters that take care of heating the engine. These kits represent the easiest way to winterize a portable generator, but, they are a bit pricey.
Even though all of these three gadgets can be a bit expensive, they might be among the most efficient ways to winterize a portable generator. I’d definitely recommend people to get any of these if they have a bit of money to spare.
Pro-Tips for Using a Portable Generator During Winter
I took it upon myself to make a list of tips I would’ve loved to get when first starting to use portable generators during cold weathers.
Before starting a generator make sure everything is working fine. As a guide, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there fuel in the tank?
- Does the portable generator have enough oil to run?
- Are any of the components frozen by the snow?
After answering those questions you’ll get the guarantee that your portable generator is ready to be turned on.
Give it time
When a portable generator has been exposed to cold temperatures for more than a few hours its internal components will be cold, on some occasions, they could even be frozen.
In that context, one must be wary of the risks involved. If you cold started a portable generator that’s been sitting outside for the entire day while exposed to winter temperatures and you started loading right away, there’s a strong possibility that you could destroy it.
I mean, there’s a reason why you must let your car engine get warm on snowy mornings, right?
Well, the same happens with portable generators. You must turn them on and leave them running for 15 to 20 minutes without plugging anything. This way, you’ll let the engine and fluids get warm which will lubricate all internal components to prevent such a piece of expensive equipment from breaking apart.
Use a fuel stabilizer
There are many risks involved with leaving a portable generator exposed to cold winter temperatures for prolonged periods of time. I mean, its engine could get corroded which is the worst thing to happen to a motor.
This is why I recommend putting a fuel stabilizer into the portable generator’s fuel tanks, especially if one thinks the generator will be left unattended for a couple of days, or even weeks, while exposed to cold conditions.
The reasons behind this suggestion are many, however, these are the most important:
- a good-quality fuel stabilizer keeps fuel injectors and carburetors clean from rust and corrosion and, most importantly, lubricated (which is crucial for portable generators exposed to winter temperatures as the cold roughens most internal components preventing the generator from working properly)
- it allows for a quick cold start even when the portable generator hasn’t been used for a considerable period of time
How to store a generator in winter?
A lot of people don’t go outside during winter which is why storing their portable generators until this season pass is the best idea for them.
Don’t get me wrong, it is. However, there’s a specific procedure one must follow to store a portable generator to make sure it’s still working by the time you take it out.
How to store a portable generator
1. Put fuel suplements
If you’ve got a diesel portable generator:
Diesel fuel is made of a component named Paraffin which helps lubricating injectors, fuel pumps, and other parts of the engine. When not in use and exposed to cold temperatures, Paraffin turns into some kind of gel losing its lubricating capabilities. Due to this, corrosion of internal engine parts starts to appear pretty quickly.
Additionally, the lack of lubrication and the resulting corrosion makes for a dangerous combination for the lifespan of the portable generator.
Putting an anti-gel supplement for diesel fuel is the best solution for this particular issue portable generators suffer when stored during winter times. What this substance does is preventing the diesel from gelling up which keeps the engine well-lubricated and ready to be stored for a few weeks or even months. That way, the generator will be up and running as soon as you take it out of your garage.
If you’ve got a gasoline portable generator:
Instead of using an anti-gel supplement, gasoline portable generators need fuel stabilizers. These fuel additions keep the fuel “fresh” for up to 2 years, and, they’re pretty cheap so there’s no reason why you wouldn’t use them.
Thus, spending 15 bucks and buying the best fuel stabilizer you could get your hands on is what’s going to be best if you want to store your gasoline portable generator for a few months!
2. Replace water-absorbing filters and drain the water separator
The next step for storing your portable generator is making sure it has no water residue inside its engine.
When water stays on metal surfaces (such as internal engine components) and doesn’t evaporate (which usually happens during winter) it tends to corrode these surfaces. As you may already know, corrosion is substantially negative for engines as they’re supposed to be well lubricated to perform at their best.
This is why I recommend replacing water-absorbing filters and drain the water separator before storing a portable generator during winter times. If you do this, you’ll have the guarantee that no water will corrode the engine, this will let you save hundreds of dollars in the process.
3. Check all fluids (i.e. anti-freeze coolant)
This is a must-do step for anyone thinking of placing their diesel portable generator in storage for the winter season. I mean, fluids are essential for substantially improving the lifespan of portable generators.
Checking the fluid levels of, for instance, the anti-freeze coolant is very important as you’ll make sure your portable generator is set to be stored in the best way possible without getting corroded due to exposure to cold temperatures.
4. Check the battery
There are three big issues with portable generators’ batteries and cold temperatures.
- Corrosion: Cold is a big reason why battery connectors get corroded. That’s why I recommend cleaning these with a dry rag before storing the portable generator. That way you’ll make sure the corrosion won’t be worse by the time you take the portable generator out of storage
- Drainage: Cold temperatures dry batteries faster. To get an idea, at 0ºF a battery loses 60% of its strength. That’s why I advise portable generator owners to remove the battery completely and place it in a warmer environment. If you do this. you’ll make sure the battery will be in better shape by the time the winter passes. Pro-tip: re-charging, or jump starting, the battery periodically might be advisable if you’re planning to store the portable generator for more than a month
5. Clean and grease the generator’s surface
Cleaning the exterior is a perfect method not only to keep the generator clean before storing it but also to protect it from rust which might end up damaging internal engine components. Additionally, it’s a good idea to grease internal components making sure they’re well lubricated.
Here’s is what you’ve got to do both things:
- Take a clean rug and clean the portable generator’s surface removing all dirt and dust. Thus, substantially reducing the chance of corrosion. I like to wipe a bit of car wax to give that added level of protection against water and snow
- Grease the metal parts of the portable generator to keep them lubricated, preventing them from scraping each other
If you take your time and do this, you’ll have the guarantee your portable generator is going to be stored in the best shape possible.