How much do you really know about your generator and your generator service plan? Don’t wait until it’s too late and your critical facility has gone down before you take the time to understand required maintenance. The time between emergencies or power outages may be far apart, but is your generator operated and maintained during that time? Maintenance and regular operation of a generator is critical to the reliability and life expectancy of the unit. Here are five helpful tips to making sure you get the most out of your generator.
1. How often should you service your generator?
At minimum, there should be a minor and a major service completed annually by a qualified service technician. There are weekly, monthly and quarterly services available for critical (level 1) generators. It is important to follow manufacturer recommendations as well as NFPA 110 (National Fire Protection Agency) guidelines to know what service plan suits your generator needs and requirements.
2. What can be done to protect your generator from failure?
Proper maintenance, testing and regular exercising of the generator are crucial to preventing a failure right when you need it the most. To ensure easy access during regular maintenance, the unit should be cleaned and the area clutter free. Exercise timers should be set for a window of time when someone is around to monitor the generator operations and alarm indicators on the annunciator or control panel. There are many different types of panels, and these alarm lights can indicate issues such as low fuel, high coolant temperature, or unit not in auto mode; all of which can cause failure.
3. What is completed during a service visit?
The two most common services are a major and minor service. The minor service is mostly an inspection of the generator and transfer switch(es). The technician will top off fluids, test batteries, clean and run the unit, and perform a functional operation test of the transfer switch. During a major service, the technician will change the fluids and filters, test the batteries, clean the unit and perform either a load test a building transfer. A building transfer is when the technician tests the transfer switch and uses the generator to provide power for the building. The normal (commercial) power is still available, but the transfer switch is transferred to emergency for testing.
4. What is a Load Bank?
Load testing is when a resistive load bank (heater/resister) is installed to produce a load on the generator, instead of using the building for a load source. The load is slowly increased in increments until it is near capacity while a qualified generator technician adjusts the load bank according to the requirements of the customer. Placing a load on the generator allow the customer to verify that the unit is reliable and will be dependable during a time of need. Load testing also prevents “wet stacking,” which is when carbon builds up in the exhaust and restricts the capacity of the generator. In addition, wet stacking could also lead to failure and could be a serious fire hazard. NFPA 110 guidelines dictate how often a unit should be tested and how much load should be applied.
5. How long can you expect your generator to last?
The life expectancy of a generator can vary greatly depending on the maintenance program. Generators can last for tens of years and some are in service for more than 50 years. A qualified technician would be able to design a service plan that will be reasonable and extend the life of the generator. It’s important to extend the service life of your generator for cost savings of purchasing a new unit, but it’s even more important to maintain the generator for reliability. With a qualified technician completing a regular maintenance schedule, your generator should be reliable and long lasting.