It has been an active summer storm season, and many homeowners are grateful to have portable generators to get them through power outages. But an unlucky few discover every year that their generators can’t perform in their time of need because of overdue maintenance or improper use.

Compared to standby generators, which are permanent installations, portable generators are high maintenance. Standby generators do require annual scheduled maintenance performed by professionals, but rarely need service in between. Many even run their own diagnostic scans each month to ensure everything is in good operation.

But with a portable generator, it pays to be prepared and take good care of it all year long. Here are some of the most important steps to know:

Read Your Manual

Every portable generator has its own features, warnings and maintenance steps. Don’t assume you know how a new one works just because you’ve used other generators in the past. Read and fully understand your generator’s manual while the power is still on, enabling you to be ready for operation and maintenance when the power goes out.

Stick to the Schedule

One of the most important things to observe in your user’s manual is the maintenance schedule for your generator. Just like your car, your generator needs oil changes, spark plugs and air filters, and it needs them a lot more often. Oil change intervals are around 50 hours for many portable generators, which means that if you have a prolonged power outage, you should be prepared to change the oil every other day. Keep plenty of maintenance supplies on hand, and track all of your completed maintenance on a blank page in your manual.

Don’t Run Dry

Some high-end generators have safety features to guard against this, but most generators can be damaged if they run completely out of fuel. This can drain the generator’s coils and shorten the life of the unit.

Avoid Stale Gas

Whether it’s in a gas can or already in your generator, fuel can go bad in a matter of weeks. To keep fuel fresh, add a fuel stabilizer to your stored gas. And at the end of the storm season (or after each use, if you use your generator infrequently) drain any remaining fuel before storing the generator.

Gimme Shelter

To keep your generator running during inclement weather, it’s important to protect it from rain and wind -- but the challenge is that you can never, ever operate a generator indoors. A temporary structure that allows lots of airflow, such as a canopy tent that is open on all sides, is a cheap and easy solution. If you use your generator every year, you might consider building a more permanent shelter from scratch.

Know Your Limit

Every appliance requires a certain wattage to run, and every generator has a rated wattage limit. It’s important to calculate your total wattage load and make sure it’s below what your generator can handle, or you can cause permanent damage.

Charge Up

Like your car, your generator’s starter battery will die if it sits dormant for too long. When not in regular use, make a point of running your generator for about a half hour every three months. This will ensure that it will start up when you need it to.

Ban on Backfeeding

There is a dangerous (and illegal) method of generator use called “backfeeding”, in which users plug the generator into a standard outlet with a male-to-male power cord to provide power to the entire home. This can irreparably damage the generator, but worse, it can cause a dangerous fire.

Need help taking care of your generator, or perhaps you’re ready to make the upgrade to a hassle-free standby generator? Call up your local Mister Sparky for expert assistance!