Food spoils when the refrigerator won't cool, chefs can't cook when the oven won't heat, and power tools are useless when you're off the grid. Whether electrical access is unavailable or the power goes out in your building, you need a way to keep things running. That's where generators come into play.
A generator is a machine that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. Unlike electrical outlets in buildings, a generator generates its own electrical energy with no connection to a power grid. Usually it relies on gas, much like a car.
Because a generator does not require connection to a local power grid, it is a common go-to for outdoor use when outlets are scarce or unavailable. Consumers around the world rely on generators to power equipment during electrical power outages, which happen at the grid-level.
Usually quieter and smaller in size than other types, an inverter generator is known for its fuel efficiency. Instead of producing a consistent output of power, it adjusts to the power demand. If demands are low, the machine only uses the fuel required to provide the needed power. This type of generator is more limited than others in its total output due to its efficiency and compact size. Its quiet operation and lightweight design make it the preferred generator type for food trucks.
Less expensive than a standby generator, a conventional portable model is not installed permanently. It does have placement limitations though, as it produces carbon monoxide; it should always be at least 20 ft. away from a building or AC unit, and its fumes should never be directed towards a building. It also requires coverage in the rain.
A portable power station serves more like a giant battery pack than a generator. It runs on a battery or solar panel and does not require gas, making it safe for indoor use. It is not a smart long-term back-up, though. They produce less power than other generators and must be recharged.
A standby generator is permanently installed to kick in during a power outage. It’s a robust option that must be installed by a professional. It tends to be at a higher price point than the other options because of its permanency and required expert installation.
1. Consult the owner’s manual. The manufacturer knows how to best (and safely!) use their product.
2. Position the generator for use. A generator should always be located outside on level ground at least 20 ft. away from buildings and AC units. Be mindful of where the fumes are directed, too. They should never push up against windows, vents, and doors. Plus, because generators can rust or short-circuit, make sure that it is properly protected from rain or snow.
3. Check the oil. Whenever you start the generator, check the oil. While some models include a low-oil shut-off, others don’t. Running it without enough oil can damage the generator.
4. Fill with gas. For best results, use fresh gasoline without ethanol. Replace the gas in the tank at least once every 6 months.
5. Make sure all loads are unplugged from the generator. When starting the generator, it should have nothing relying on it for power. Only after it is running are loads safe to plug in.
1. Turn on the fuel valve. This allows gas to flow to the carburetor.
2. Turn on the choke. Depending on the generator, this may involve turning the choke to “on” or “full.” If there is a choke rod, move it from right to left.
3. Turn on the ignition or engine switch. If the generator features electric start, then this step should start the engine and power the machine.
4. Pull the recoil cord straight out. There will be some resistance, and it may take several tugs to start the engine.
5. The engine should start. Wait just a few seconds to allow it to warm up. Then move the choke between “on” and “run”, and give it a few seconds before moving it to “run.” If the model does not allow for half-way adjustments, simply move the choke directly to “run.”
1. Run the cords safely. They should be out of the way of puddles and other water.
2. Plug empty cords to the generator. The cords should not be plugged into anything else. Make sure the cords are rated for use outdoors and that they match the receptacle used; if the outlet is a 20-amp receptacle, it requires a 20-amp cord.
3. Plug the cords into the equipment.
When using a portable generator, it connects directly to equipment through a cord and plug. This is one reason why this type of generator is great for outdoor events. It does not require an electrician and can be transported from place to place with mobile equipment; however, keep in mind that it must be grounded to prevent electrocution.
If a portable generator is robust enough, it can be paired with a manual transfer switch to power hardwired equipment. This requires a licensed electrician and involves installing the switch next to the building’s electrical panel. The switch connects to the circuits in the panel that the generator will power. Essentially, the switch acts as a buffer between the building circuits and the generator. It is required if using a generator to directly power a building.
Never plug a portable generator directly into a facility’s outlet. Doing so is incredibly dangerous and can lead to an electrical fire.
There are several steps you can take to reduce the noise of a generator. These include soundproofing the machine, increasing the distance from where it’s placed, and placing it on a firm, sturdy surface. To soundproof, consider soundproofing enclosures and noise deflectors. Replacing the baffles and adding rubber feet can also help. To increase the distance, look into investing in a long-distance generator power cord. As for the surface, anti-vibration mounts can help permanent installations.
If these tricks don’t work, think about upgrading the exhaust muffler. Like on a car, the muffler helps dampen the noise of the motor, and some mufflers are more effective than others. Large mufflers are usually most successful in reducing noise. They can also help lower the pitch of the generator.
Using water can also help. With just a hose and large bucket of water, you can easily quiet the machine. Simply fit the hose or flexible pipe to the exhaust. Make sure to cut a small hole far up in the hose to serve as a buffer between the water and the generator. Then, direct the hose down into the water. This funnels the noise into the water, which can quietly absorb the energy.
Installation depends on the type of generator used. Standby generators must be permanently installed by a professional. Portable and inverter generators are temporarily installed by walking through the 3 Ps – prepare, power up, and plug in.
Always have a professional electrician wire a standby generator to a facility’s breaker box. They will ensure that the wiring is safe and in compliance with electrical codes.
The amount of gas used depends in part on the capacity of the fuel tank. It also depends on the load, or the percentage of its potential power output that it uses. Running at full power will require more gas than running at half power.
Most generators run for up to 9 hours on a full tank and at a 50% load. That means that running at a full, 100% load will deplete the fuel tank in less than 9 hours.
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