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Running Your Generator in Cold Weather - Top Tips

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In the event that snow and ice cause a power outage, a generator can keep the lights on at your house or place of business. 

In the dead of winter, there are a number of problems that might arise from using portable generators.

A portable generator's engine can be destroyed by repeated "cold engine starts."

When temperatures drop, oil forms a thick, sticky gel that makes moving engine parts more likely to scrape against one another and cause damage.

During the colder months, the portable generator's engine needs more time to warm up before it can start producing adequate power.

Because neither their batteries nor their engines are designed for use in subfreezing temperatures, generators can struggle to function properly.

However there are things you can do to help. 

Here are my Top Tips for running a generator in the winter:

Always do a pre-check

Check that everything is in working condition before you use the machine. Carry out this procedure regularly not just before a storm hits.

Review the guidelines

Always follow the instructions given by the manufacturer. Read the owner's manuals (or look them up online if you can't find them) before using the generator for the first time.

Put a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home

Kidde Carbon Monoxide Detector, Battery Powered CO Alarm with LEDs, Test-Reset Button, Low Battery Indicator, Portable

This alarm will sound if dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are detected in the building or your home.

Keep it off snow and water

The generator should be kept in a dry location away from the possibility of snow and rain.

Snow and engines are not a good combination. Period.

If you start your portable generator in the snow without first winterizing it, you run the danger of doing serious damage to it.

Please allow me to elaborate. A portable generator's engine may have intake and exhaust pipes to run efficiently. Unfortunately, as snow or water filters through these, there is no way to remove fumes. If enough water or snow gets inside the motor, it could flood and become useless.

Second, a portable generator's electrical system is highly susceptible to being wiped out by contact with water or snow, so avoid doing this if you want to keep it running (such as a voltage meter, electrical outlets, etc.).

Finally, if water or snow gets into the gasoline lines or other internal engine parts, it can cause corrosion, either to the fuel or the parts. You'll have to replace your expensive portable generator far sooner than you'd like because of the shortened lifespan of the engine.

Make sure the generator is inside where it will be out of the snow and rain before you start it up.

Don't do anything that could hurt your expensive portable generator.

Boost your equipment installation 

2 Pcs Silicone Car Engine Heater Pad - 4 x 5in Self-Adhesive Oil Pan Heater Pad with 194°F Thermal Protector, Battery Heater Pad Engine Block Heater Pad with 68" Long Power Cord 150W 120V

There is a wide variety of equipment available to winterize a portable generator, ensuring that it continues to operate reliably even when exposed to subfreezing temperatures. Some of the most common are as follows:

The best way to prevent engine oil gelling, which can cause damage to the engine by no longer lubricating engine parts, is to use an engine block heater. This apparatus warms the generator before starting the engine to better lubricate the moving parts and protect the motor from the cold.

Heating pads measuring 4 by 5 inches can be placed on top of an engine or battery for ten to fifteen minutes to warm it up.

Because of this, both batteries and engine oil are restored to their original levels of performance and efficiency. Because of how cheap they are, I recommend them to anyone who needs to winterize a portable generator but is on a tight budget.

Cold weather kits are available

Briggs & Stratton 6567 Cold Weather Kit 12kW to 20kW, Orange

If you live in a northern area where temperatures drop below 10 degrees, you should install a cold weather kit to make sure your standby generator will turn on.

Preheating the battery

You've seen the advertisements where cars with dead batteries have trouble starting because of the cold. The same holds true for emergency power supplies.

Cold weather kits typically feature thermostat-controlled battery warmers. The warmer is installed on top of the battery and turns on automatically when the temperature falls below 40 degrees. That it can be automated and forgotten about is fantastic.

Preheating the oil

The oil in your generator acts as a lubricant when temperatures rise. During the winter, it might morph into a sludge that helps to lower friction.

A crankcase warmer is typically included in cold weather kits to prevent oil gelling.

Generators are filled with standard 10W-30 oil in the manufacture. Changing to 5W-30 Synthetic Oil is recommended by manufacturers when installing a heater.

The right synthetic oil standby generator maintenance kit is also a need. During setup, you can skip using the filters and instead make use of the oil.

Don't run out of the right kind of fuel

Don't risk ruining your expensive investment by using anything other than the fuel suggested by the generator's maker. It is illegal to operate outdoor power equipment on fuel containing more than 10% ethanol.

While fresh fuel is always best, gas that has been stored for more than 30 days in a gas can will benefit from fuel stabilizer. Proper storage of gas requires that it be maintained in approved containers, well away from any ignition or heat sources.

Examination of Batteries and Charging Equipment

ML18-12 - 12V 18AH Rechargeable Battery for Champion Generator 9000 7000

The most common reason a generator won't start and run properly during a blackout or a workout cycle is dead batteries. The following factors often contribute to such failures:

Discharged batteries

As a battery ages, the internal acid coats the lead plates with sulfate, reducing the amps it can produce and thus its capacity to start an engine. If the lead dust from degradation makes contact with the plates at the base of the cell, the same operation could cause shorts.

The absence of a battery charger

The most common cause of a dead battery charger is a tripped circuit breaker. After any preventative or routine maintenance has been finished, double-check that the breaker for the battery charger has been turned back on.

Poorly connected batteries

The connections between the battery and its terminals must always be tight, clean, and free of debris. Damage to the battery cables and wiring, shortened connections during the cranking cycle, and eventual battery discharge are all possible outcomes of rust and debris buildup.

Take care to maintain a sufficient airflow near mobile generators

No generator should ever be operated inside a house, building, or garage, even if the windows and doors are open. In order to prevent carbon monoxide from seeping indoors, you should position the generator outside, away from any openings.

The generator must be dried out

Don't run a generator if it's raining outside and the generator is exposed to it. Provide proper ventilation and a protective covering for a generator. Tents and generator covers tailored to certain models are widely available at hardware stores, home improvement centers, and easily found online.

Regularly replacing the fuel

The generator should be turned off and allowed to cool down before any new fuel is added.

Give it some time

After being out in the cold for more than a few hours, the interior components of a portable generator will be cold; in extreme cases, they may even be frozen.

There are dangers there that one must be aware of. If you leave a portable generator outside all day in the cold winter weather and then start loading, you risk damaging it by performing a cold start.

Portable generators are subject to the same issues as standby and backup generators. They need to be started and let to run for 15–20 minutes without using them to power anything. Doing so will allow the engine and fluids to warm up, which will lubricate all internal components and prevent the costly piece of machinery from coming apart.

Add a stabilizer to the fuel supply

STA-BIL Fuel Stabilizer, 1 Gallon

There are many risks associated with storing a portable generator outside in the cold winter weather for a lengthy period of time. Corrosion in the engine is the worst possible outcome for any generator.

Therefore, if you plan on leaving your portable generator outside in the cold for several days or weeks, you need to add a fuel stabilizer to the fuel tanks.

There are some things to consider when choosing a fuel stabilizer. 

A high-quality fuel stabilizer prevents the buildup of rust and corrosion in the engine's fuel delivery system (which is crucial for portable generators exposed to winter temperatures as the cold roughens most internal components preventing the generator from working properly)

Portable generators can be started up more quickly from cold even if they haven't been used for a while, but I would always recommend using a premium brand fuel stabilizer. 

Use transfer switches

EZ GENERATOR SWITCH - The Original, Patented, UL/CSA Approved Manual Transfer Switch

If you don't have a transfer switch installed, you can still use the generator's outlets. As you can easily plug your appliances directly into the generator. 

If an extension cord is required, one should be used, one that is both durable and designed for usage in the outdoors should be a priority.

Its power output (in watts or amps) must be higher than the combined demand of all of the devices it is powering. You should check that the cord is not cut and that there are three prongs on the plug.

However, if you are not moving the generator around, I recommend a transfer switch when using the power in the home. 

A transfer switch connects the generator to the electrical panel, allowing hardwired equipment to be powered. Most transfer switches help prevent overload by displaying current power consumption levels.

Keep check of the oil

Generac 5-Pack Full Synthetic Motor Oil 5W-30 SN Quart Bottle Part# 0J5140

Either a diesel or gasoline generator has to have adequate oil. When the oil level becomes too low, certain generators will switch down automatically to prevent damage to the engine. To keep yours safe through the winter, check the oil level often.

Keep checking replaceable parts

As well as keeping an eye on the oil. The owner's manual for a portable generator recommends keeping an eye on many other things, things like the carburetor, air filter, fuel filter, and spark plug. To ensure the highest level of functionality and security from your generator, be sure to follow the recommended maintenance schedule.


To keep your generator running well over the winter, you should leave some space around it so that it can get enough air. Due to the accumulation of leaves and snow over the course of the long, cold winter, you may need to clean the area on your own.

In the event of snowfall, it is recommended to clear a path to the area in case any maintenance or repairs are required.

Regularly Using Your Generator

Avoid having it break down over the chilly winter months by making sure to run it for around 10 minutes after long periods of inactivity. If your generator hasn't been maintained properly or used frequently enough, it may not start or may take a long time to start if the temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. 

It's recommended that you give your generator a quick 10-minute spin once a week to keep it in tip-top shape. This will keep all of the moving parts well-lubricated and in good working order. Your generator will serve you well for many years providing reliable power if you follow these guidelines and perform routine maintenance checks.

Be careful of backfeeding

Backfeeding, or connecting the generator directly to an electrical outlet, is a potentially dangerous method of using a generator to power your home's electrical system. By doing this, you may endanger the lives of neighbors and utility workers.

Risks of fire or electrical damage to electronics are increased because of backfeeding, which bypasses standard safety features of electrical circuits.

Power outages in the dead of winter are never pleasant, but they are especially unpleasant when combined with sub-zero temperatures. A backup generator is an excellent precaution to take to avoid spending the night in an uncomfortable motel or, even worse, at a relative's house!!! because the power went out.


Consider the top tips above and you should have a generator that provides reliable, efficient, and quiet power, ready for whenever you need it.

About Tom Bell

Hey, I’m Tom, the owner of Generator Reviews! I built this website to help you get the very most out of your generator and select the correct one for your personal circumstances. This site contains reviews of virtually every generator, detailed buying guides, as well as maintenance advice to help you keep yours in tip-top shape!


Generator.Reviews is an independent review business. I am not affiliated with any manufacturers and do not accept paid reviews. When you buy through my links, I may earn a commission which helps me to maintain this website and keep the reviews coming your way!

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