BROOKINGS, S.D. - Extreme winter weather brings with it many challenges, including an increased potential for power outages.
"Although we are not able to control the weather, there are things we can do to be prepared when we are struck with a power outage," said Jeff VanderSchaaf, Precision Agriculture Machinery Research Coordinator at South Dakota State University.
A generator is first on VanderSchaaf's list - and he says not to wait until the next power outage to purchase one.
"When a major storm knocks out power across the region, local retailers quickly sell out of any size generator in stock. If you do happen to beat your neighbors to the store during a power outage, the available choices may not completely meet your needs," he said.
What to consider when purchasing a generator
Connection: As you contemplate the purchase of a back-up generation system, the first consideration is how it will be connected to the equipment you want to operate.
"If you are willing to make-do during the power outage with a few portable lamps and a microwave or electric skillet for cooking, a small portable generator could supply these loads with extension cords," VanderSchaaf explained.
Home heating: If you are wanting to utilize the generator to provide household heating during a power outage, you will need to keep a few additional things in mind.
In order to utilize your existing household heating system, you will need a licensed electrician to install the proper switches and connectors that allow a generator to be connected to a home electrical system.
If you plan to use portable electric space heaters, you will need to find a properly sized extension cord in order for them to safely operate. They consume large amounts of power and if a portable electric space heater needs to be placed 50 to 75 away from the portable generator, the properly sized extension cord will likely cost more than the heater.
If you already have a generator, one way you can be better prepared is by making sure the generators are ready to go.
There are a few simple checks that can be made to help ensure you will not have additional problems when the power goes out.
Doing some simple preventative maintenance would be a good place to start.
- Checking the air filter
- Check the battery to ensure it's in good condition and charged,
- Check fluid levels
- Check fuel supply
"Keep in mind, that a lot of motor oils, in use today, have a limited life span. So even if the oil doesn't have a lot of hours on it, you may still want to consider changing it if it has been a while," said VanderSchaaf.
If you do decide to change the oil, make sure the oil you use will work with the fuel used to run the engine and for the air temperature range the engine will be operated in.
If the incorrect oil is used, accelerated engine wear will result. If you are unsure what oil to use in your generator, consult your owner's manual or contact your local generator dealer for assistance.
Starting the generator up and simulating the load it would face during a power outage would be another good exercise to do in order to prepare for a power outage.
"Giving your generator a trial run, and even simulating a power outage, will help purge out numerous potential startup and operational issues," VanderSchaaf said.
He added that simulating a power outage would also provide a better understanding of the rate of fuel consumption.
Local electricians can help set up a power outage simulation.
Along with reading and following the safety guidelines listed in the generator's owner's manual, there are a couple other safety factors to consider.
- Be aware of where the exhaust fumes from the generator are being distributed.
Exhaust fumes should always be distributed or ventilated to outdoors.
Exhaust fumes contained to areas like an attached garage have a high potential to leach in to the house and have potentially deadly effects on the occupants
- When using a generator don't attempt to use it to feed power to a household or building's electrical system unless it has been setup to do so by a licensed electrician.
Improperly feeding power to a buildings electrical system not only creates potentially deadly hazards to you and other occupants, it also has the potential to create a deadly hazard to the linemen working to restore power to your home or building.
To learn more, or for more details, contact your local electrician.